Details, Details

What the Tuscan kitchen at Arezzo really specializes in is botching the details

Witness the restaurant's pizzas. When I first heard about Arezzo, the buzz ran: There's going to be a Punch Neapolitan Pizza knock-off in Edina. "Wow," I said to myself, "and I thought only governments were allowed to mint money. Can't wait." But out of four pizzas I tried at Arezzo, only one was good. The prosciutto di Parma ($13.95) was crisp and smoky from the wood oven, and coated with a layer of excellent sweet and silky prosciutto. I think it was just luck, though, because all the other ones I tried arrived soupy and sodden in the middle, the crusts underdone, the toppings overplayed. The quattro stagioni ($13.95) is a traditional pizza made for indecisives: prosciutto in one quadrant, olives in another, and artichoke hearts and mushrooms filling out the other quarters. Yet, at Arezzo, it all comes piled up in a big mound smothering the entire crust, making soup in the middle.

I did try a couple of the more ambitious entrées from the daily specials menu; these tended to be slightly more successful than the regular menu. Slices of grilled pork tenderloin ($17.95) were arranged prettily on a cylinder of cooked spinach, the plate dotted with pools of truffle-cream-sauce. The meat was good and tender, the sauce rich and creamy, the spinach nice and fresh, and even with all that, it was, at best, pedestrian. Rolls of chicken breast stuffed with porcini mushrooms and ricotta cheese ($14.95) were pretty good, but super-salty; the chicken was accompanied by broccoli so overcooked it was brown. It seemed like chafing-dish food that would have been better if served fresh.

Desserts weren't especially distinguished: Panna cotta ($5.95) was light and had a very nice fresh raspberry sauce, better than the average frozen-tasting raspberry coulis you see so often; and the well chilled tiramisu ($5.95) was fine, but never extraordinary.

Which makes the wine list and the room so much more baffling, as they seem to bear evidence of so much intelligent thought. The list of wines available by the glass boasts a modest seven offerings, but they're not just good enough, they're good: The Montellori Chianti ($6.50) is so pretty and well-balanced, it almost makes you overlook the food, and the list of three dozen Italian reds (mostly Chiantis, super-Tuscans, Barberas, Barolos, and Barbarescos) is so smartly chosen you can just feel a brain throbbing behind the list.

So maybe the big life lesson here (yeah, I get my big life lessons from fancy new Edina-area restaurants--what, you don't?) is something about big super-smart human brains getting undone by details. I mean, just look past your plate to the Legend of the True Cross, an elaborate medieval myth. It is, at base, the story of a piece of wood, a piece of wood which started life as a branch clipped from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and planted on Adam's grave. It grew, and eventually got turned into a large beam that was part of a bridge that the Queen of Sheba tried to use, but she had the gift of prophecy, and so she recognized it, ripped it out and had King Solomon bury it. (The queen's part is what's on the wall at Arezzo.) Years pass. The wood gets dug up, used just like everyone feared and hoped it would, then buried again, then dug up again. Off to perform miracles. Lost. It goes on to figure prominently in several wars, helping emperors first consolidate, then defend through crusades, Christian political power in southern Europe. More to the point, it's a touching sort of Where's Waldo? of God's love for medieval storytellers, found in nearly every historical or biblical situation known to them.

For restaurant-critic storytellers, it's an interesting example of the ability of the human mind to work big-picture wonders, connecting everything imaginable from the Garden of Eden to the Queen of Sheba to the Crusades, details be damned. But it's also a cautionary tale about how you can't disregard the details, because at Arezzo they've got all this great big-picture stuff in place--imported ingredients, a wood-fire oven, a great room, a great wine list--and yet they are undone by the details at every meal.

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