Above And Beyond
Tutto Mondo Trattoria satisfies on a variety of levels.
Thursday, October 12, 2000
We have progressed so far from basic survival. We take for granted aspects of life that our foreparents could not even have conceived attainable. The very idea of a food reviewer--someone who critiques the quality of one of the three basic ingredients of survival--points to an arrogance in our society that may prove to be one of the barometers that forecasts the collapse of present-day civilization.
But then again, it might not be.
Assuming that it won''t be, I will continue to mete out mercurially meandering, more than merely mundane manifestations of my personal perspectives pertaining to people''s preoccupation with eating in public places.
Presently, we, the human species, no longer make simply consuming life-sustaining fuel such a high priority. Feeding our increasingly diverse needs for life-enhancing substances and experiences has led to the proliferation of establishments that cater to a variety of tastes. Within that spectrum are a surprising number that satisfy on so many levels besides just the quality of the food that they almost qualify as something other than restaurants. Or maybe restaurants have evolved into more than simply places that feed people food.
Tutto Mondo Trattoria, or Mondo''s, certainly fits into that category. Almost invisibly situated out in the open on Dolores, just to the Big Sur side of Ocean, in the hamlet of Carmel-by-the-Sea, this time-tested happy house of standard Italian fare cranks out satisfied customer after satisfied customer. As just a cursory inspection of the endless photos adorning the walls indicates, happiness is the specialty of the house.
The moment you enter, some type of force begins to take hold of you. Time-tempered furnishings warm up the simple rectangular space. When the place fills up, you feel like you''re at a family party (without the dysfunction) as borders between tables blur and conduits of communal comfort connect each person with every other one.
We visited on a Friday night with 6:30 rezzies. It was almost a full house with plenty of action and scents wafting in the air. The maitre''d tucked us into a corner table. As we snuggled in and contemplated our first move, I flipped through the wine book and, as sometimes happens to me when confronted with an intriguing list, fell into a mild trance while the spirit of The Baron Rothschild started channeling through me. Visions of multiple courses of Mama Mia delicacies della cucina, washed down with multiple bottles of good vino had me imagining, not actually experiencing, the world around me. As we sat salivating, enjoying adorable little perfect olives, along with tasty (but cold) Italian bread and free-flowing virgin olive oil (an expensive accouterment), my fantasy was further stimulated.
Pancho, our gallant waiter, suggested appetizers from the specials: calamari, and steamed artichoke. We heartily agreed to both, choosing a bottle of 1997 Talbott Sleepy Hollow. We wanted to impress our guest, Dr. Myagi, who had flown in from Boston to absorb some of the local charm. The calamari looked golden delicious and tasted fine, but were so overdone as to have been rendered rubbery. I didn''t really mind, I kinda like chewy calamari. The artichoke, unfortunately, may have had several connecting flights on its journey from Castroville and arrived on the plate a little tired. Tartar with a slight twist was the dipping sauce for both apps--pretty weak (someday I''ll devote more space to accompanying sauces).
Meanwhile, I had also ordered a bottle of 1988 Bertani Amarone, which, if not still too young, would have been a life changer. As the 1990 (they were out of the ''88) aired out a little, we shared an intermezzo of mixed baby lettuces ($4.75), then another of sliced prosciutto di parma ($7.25) while we finished off the Talbott. Both were good. Entrees would be veal Parmigiana, cioppino and veal scallopine, all specials. By now, more grounded in reality, I was observing the level of happiness throughout the packed restaurant. We too were caught up in it.
The meals were average. The cioppino came with flavorful, well prepared fish, but not enough of it, and wonderful sauce, but too much of it. My veal scallopine, although not the melt-in-your-mouth variety we all crave, was nicely done, packed with flavor, loaded with mushrooms and a good Madeira sauce; thoroughly satisfying. As for the veal Parmigiana, Dr. Myagi had this to say: "If I took this Parmigiana to the North End of Boston, I''d be visiting Jimmy Hoffa."
We finished the night off with a beautifully done crême brulee and watery espressos.
Mondo''s is the perfect example of why food is not necessarily the most important ingredient in the overall quality and/or success (which are sometimes unrelated) of a restaurant. Were I to critique solely the food, this would be an average place. However, Mondo''s is so upbeat--it feels like you''re at a wedding you want to be at--the service is so attentive, and the happiness quotient is so high, any reasonably well-adjusted person is guaranteed to have a great time eating there.
Dolores between Ocean & 7th. 624-8977. Open daily for lunch 11:30am-3pm; dinner 5pm to around 10pm.