Sad Spaghetti

Buon Giorno brings sorrow, Italian-style

Yet the thing that put me over the edge was the time I was obviously recognized and yet nearly every dish remained aggressively incompetent. I still received osso bucco ($26) that was so undercooked and unforgivably tough that it tasted like it had come off a prison cafeteria line; bracciole ($23)--rolled beef that's stuffed and stewed and should have the fork-tender texture of pot roast--was as tough, flavorless, and obstinate as a shoe. To say nothing of the mussels on the half shell, which were dry as stones and covered with ashy breadcrumbs. Or the awful zuppa di pesce ($29), a dish I had the misfortune to try twice: Once it was overcooked and smelled like a profoundly troubled aquarium, and on my final visit it was only very salty and very lifeless. Service ranged from obnoxiously absent (nearly a 40-minute wait for wine one night) to merely inexperienced. The desserts are nothing special. The room is chilly and drafty. I have been told repeatedly that the restaurant is Really Roman, but everything I experienced told me it was Tritely Tuscan.

But the olives are fantastic. Big, fresh green ones as bright as limes; wee, cracked herb-covered brown cuties; meaty, resonant black fellows so rich they echo in the mouth. Oh, those olives. They come complimentary at the table, they beguile from the middle of the meat and cheese plate ($12 for a small one, which is big enough for four; $23 for a large one)--marvelous. That plate of cured meats and cheeses is lovely, itself: sweet mortadella, spicy salamis, cured sorts of pork and prosciutto. A dream. The plate of cheeses ($15 for five) is also great--noble aged sheep's-milk pecorino, smooth and creamy Taleggio, lovely sharp Gorgonzola, and many more. It should be: Anything cold and ingredient-based should be near perfect, as Buon Giorno is supposed to be one of our finest resources for Italian ingredients. That is the least I, or anyone, should expect from the place. I also expected more from the pastas, from the appetizers, and, frankly, from everything.

Why anyone would eat in the restaurant when the best things there--the wine, the cheeses, the cold cuts, the bread--can be found on a quick trip through the market is beyond me. Except for the fact that, if possible, the market is even more depressing than the restaurant.

The place is distinguished by large, stone-like floor tiles that make the room feel like a covered piazza; vast, glittering glass cases full of meats and cheeses; and enough marble and rich-looking woods to furnish a jewelry store. Yet where the meat cases used to look like they were crammed full of more bounty than the earth could contain, they now look less exciting than Byerly's. And now this former southern Italian showcase showcases specimen cups of mini-carrots and spinach dip. Spinach dip! The sandwiches, once made to order and worth driving across town for, even in a snowstorm, were, when I tried them, pre-made, wrapped in plastic, softened by the treatment, and thus no longer anything special. Everything that seemed so vital now seems tacky. Everything that seemed like a rare treasure now looks like conspicuous consumption. Did Buon Giorno always sell $30 napkin holders?

Does it matter?

Maybe not: If any other multimillion-dollar Italian restaurant opened that far out from either of the core downtowns, I wouldn't even think of reviewing it. More crap in the suburbs? I am appalled! Why, surely the local residents won't line up for the lowest-common-denominator worst food in town--because every other aspect of their existence has been marked by an unwavering commitment to taste, aesthetics, and the cultural pinnacles of Western civilization, right? I mean, it's not like people move out there because of white flight and the opportunity for untrammeled materialism. Everybody knows that 99 percent of people in third-tier suburbs live there to be closer to their horses. And to get more square footage in their homes. So they might be stranded in them, like chimps in space.

After years of delighting in the old Buon Giorno, I wanted so much more for these cities, for the Marchiondas, for us all. Yet I simply can't recommend that a single one of you take the long, sad drive to Lilydale. Unless you're an Italian wine collector or connoisseur. Or a Tuscan attorney gathering evidence for the coming troubles.

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