One of my biggest fear whenever I utter the phrase "romantic" spot, the places around my area in the lead for that title was the Macaroni Grill and Olive Garden. Luckily my persistence in finding other spots have finally paid off.
Don't worry not my ladies readers, I'm not off the market just yet, but I do want to find that romantic spot just in case a dive in the hole restaurant of a noodle joint was not good enough. I think this little hidden gem would do the trick.
This place is not really that hidden as it was very popular among my south bay friends for many years. It is however a true gem as the place does put a nice little touch in making sure the mood was just right for the guys to make the little impression. The place was not too pretentious, but yet has all the decor in a dim lighted mood (my pictures were going to suck in very low light situation) with the little candle light in your table.
The wine selections selections at this place was very extensive and yet moderately priced for a bottle. I scoured beer list first before I went back to the wine. Possibly I did that because I was dreading the wine was going to be expensive, but I was relieved to find many of the bottles to be less than $40 while the expensive ones are up at $140. The wine menu was also very detailed on how dry, sweet, or smooth it was going to be. I was grateful for that as a wine novice like me would appreciate that. I settled on the Ruffino Chianti for only $29, which was not too dry and not too sweet as it worked well with our meal.
We started it off with a starter of Alaska Pollack Roe Sashimi and the Seared Beef Tataki. The roe sashimi was thinly sliced and had a little lemon sauce for more flavoring. The beef tataki was excellent. Presented very well on the plate and was an excellent partner for that wine we had picked. The starters have gone very well so far.
The restaurant is a bit of fusion in serving Italian cuisine with a Japanese flair. Very popular among the Asian diners who are introduced to the pastas and Italian fare, but remake it with a Japanese influences on those dish.
The first try we have was to check out their Antipasti with cod and Seaweed. I should be busting out my Spoon House (another place that served Italian with a Japanese influence) review shortly as it will be regarding about the little ingredients that should be left out from the pasta. The Antipasti was very good, but my dining buddy and I felt a little weird having the cod mixed on to the dish. Should we have ordered something else that excluded that? In the end, we did liked it, but we also had put the cod out on the side.
Two big main dishes we have ordered for the night that restored our faith for the place. First off, the beef tongue was our favorite dish of the night. I find it to be savory and cooked to perfection. It could have been a disaster in having this particular dish not as reformed or sophisticated, but it was very delicious and stood out confidentially among the more beautifully plated dishes.
The Country Beef Stew was our other "heavy" dish of the night. This one will probably not win against Suzanne Goin's version at Lucques, but at almost one third of the price she charged, it was a much better value. It was tendered and the beef was stewed in a rich sauce surrounded by string bean and potatoes. Decadent? Probably not, but solid nonetheless.
We ended the night with a creme bulee that fits the entire meal. How can you not go to an Italian restaurant and not ordered a creme bulee or a tiramisu?
This place fit the bill of a romantic place. The small dishes are not in the Hungry Man's portion as it built to the small portions fitting in on what any chic place would have done. The food wasn't terribly bad, but a cute place like this will make most couple forget about the food and just enjoyed the atmosphere.
The service was just great for the night. Very attentive and leave you well alone when you don't need to hang around you. When you do need them, they are there.
Il Chianti won't win any James Beard awards, but if I need to come up with a romantic spot in a pinch, Macaroni Grill won't pop up in my mind anymore after this.