Modern Milanese

Silvery chairs, seductive cheese, and a South Dakotan chef

But I've got to admit I wouldn't eat there again if I suspected Sherman wasn't in the house. My single lunch visit was an almost complete disaster. What tasted like stale, store-bought pizza crust ruined a batch of perfectly good fresh tomato sauce and nice fresh, springy mozzarella ($6.95); a panini ($6.95) with an inch of high-quality prosciutto was dwarfed by godawful bread--sweet, doughy, sticky, and pale--which was utterly baffling, since good stirato filled the breadbaskets. Pasta carbonara ($6.95) was overcooked and brimmed over with scrambled eggs. There was nothing to make you think La Bodega was any more than a bar that serves food because it must.

Servers will often do a lot to enforce that impression, even at dinner when they're ringing up $200 checks. "I think I can do this, I think I can I think I can," one woman reassured my table repeatedly during one dinner, explaining that several courses would ordinarily be beyond her ability on a busy night.

Another night, another server flat out told us that appetizers, primi, and secondi would be way, way too much food. So we asked if the primi--labeled on the menu as such--could be gotten in "primi portions," a phrase I made up on the spot. She went back to the kitchen to check, full of doubt. But she returned, assuring us that yes, the primi could come in primi portions! That I never asked if the appetizers came in appetizer portions, I regret even now.

La Bodega Restaurant and Lounge owner Andrea Zanivan, left, and waitress Irena Neffova enjoy a pear salad with goat cheese and caramelized shallots
Craig Lassig
La Bodega Restaurant and Lounge owner Andrea Zanivan, left, and waitress Irena Neffova enjoy a pear salad with goat cheese and caramelized shallots

There's a lot of that at La Bodega. A question about whether they had grappa necessitated explaining what that might be to both the server and the bartender, and sparked musings on how it must be in the restaurant somewhere, since they have the appropriate license and it's right there on the menu in the sea scallops with grappa. But there are times you and a restaurant staff feel like being pitted against one another in fitful games and logic puzzles, and times you don't, so we all eventually agreed to agree that there probably wasn't any grappa after all.

So, we fruitlessly returned to the wine list, which is a bit of a puzzle to evaluate: overpriced, and a little strangely valued at that. If there are five glasses to a bottle of wine and the prosecco costs $7 a glass, but $37 a bottle, do only low achievers in math order bottles of prosecco? Yet the list of three dozen bottles is admirably and entirely Italian--and, being so Italian, is not just food-friendly but food-perfect. The list is composed almost entirely of choices any sensible person would cross the street for: The Icardi barbera ($7 a glass, $32 a bottle) is round and full of berries and acid and offers just the barest prickle of cedar, and if you order it by the bottle you even get the good wine glasses to drink it from, with the long, long glass stem and pretty line.

So there you might be, with the long stemware between your fingers, perched on your high chair in the endless expanse of window. And your thoughts might turn to the punk-rock cyber-coffeeshop La Bodega supplanted, and your eyes might turn to elegantly designed Fuji Ya across the street, or to spic-and-span hip brewpub Herkimer in the other direction, or to old favorite It's Greek to Me, with its fancy new courtyard garden. And if that happens, you might find yourself marveling at how quickly the intersection went from location? to location, location, location! What a difference half a decade makes.

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