Thursday, September 30, 2010

¡Ya Pasta! Spaghetteria Gian Carlo Morelia

I have often emphatically stated that I could see few reasons to order pasta in an Italian restaurant in Mexico. Maybe not in the U.S., either, although I have made several exceptions, I confess.

Why? Because it's cheap and relatively easy to prepare in my own kitchen. Now, I love Italian food, and I won't spurn a side of pasta when it comes as part of my Italian restaurant meal. But in my limited experience*, pasta Italian style is not done that well here. I also cringe at paying $90 MXN for a plate of spaghetti al pesto. One of my motives in dining out is to try some dish I have not made at home. Our one Italian dining experience in Morelia a couple of years ago, at the classy but ultimately unsatisfying Trattoria Bizancio smoldered in my brain.
 Spaghetti? ¡Ya pasta!

*Which for me, is all that matters.

But our friends Peter and Tere, who live in Morelia's Centro, are continually seeking new restaurants to try out. Not long ago, they ate at Spaghetteria Gian Carlo, on Av Aquiles Serdán at the corner of Calle Revolucíon.

Doña Cuevas and I were planning to be in Morelia on Tuesday past, and Peter firmly guided us to Spaghetteria Gian Carlo. Although I had my doubts, I was able to suspend them long enough to enjoy myself.

The restaurant shows lingering traces of once having been a Chinese place, as evidenced by the golden dragons in the entry vestibule. The interior is composed of a main dining room of modest size, a front room, where we sat, and a side room, which I didn't look at closely. The decor theme is "U.S. Retro of the '40s and '50s". There are actually quite interesting displays of genuine collectibles. (By "genuine", I mean actually collected, and not sent up from Chili's or Friday's props warehouse.)

A touch of elegance

Main dining room

Radio City

But enough of window dressing. What of the food?

The well-worn menus at Spaghetteria Gian Carlo are divided into Antipasti, Insalate Panini, and Paste. There are two desserts, Flan and Tiramisú. There are no meat, poultry or seafood main dishes listed. Of the pasta shapes, there are only two listed: spaghetti and penne. (The latter is an Italian word I hesitate to say in Spanish, especially for the heady Penne Arrabiata. One slight mispronunciation, and the waitress is redfaced as you ordered "Angry Penises". But somehow I think that they have heard it all and can take it in stride.)

Our waitress brought two generous baskets of fresh, crusty Italian style bread, real butter and a pitcher of vivid and vibrant chile oil. The bread was so good, I ate too much of it.

There's also a terrific cilantro dressing for one of the salads: tart, garlicky and redolent of clantro. Request a side and get a small dish suitable for dipping the bread or adding to your salad.

Chile oil
We decided to split an Ensalada Romana ($40) of chopped Romaine and red lettuces, anchovies and Parmesan cheese. It's essentially a deconstructed Caesar Salad, sin crotones. We both enjoyed it.

Ensalada Romana
Peter and Tere split an Ensalada Mediterránea ($40): cucumber slices, cheese cubes, lettuce and green olives.

Ensalada Mediterránea
Doña Cuevas decided on Spaghetti Bolognese and I went for Spaghetti Palermo, both $70.The latter has thinly sliced fried eggplant, tomatoes, and generous chunks of swordfish. It was good and it tasted like fish. That's something getting harder to find nowadays.

Spaghetti Palermo
The Spaghetti Bolognese was something I'd often read about but seldom eaten. (Purists take note: this is probably not authentic, but it was enjoyed.) There was finely ground meat, undoubtedly pork; held together by just a little sauce. Cheese had been applied back in the kitchen. (This is NOT a place where the server asks you if you'd like some freshly ground pepper or cheese on your food.)

Spaghetti Bolognese
Peter and Tere also split a Spaghetti Palermo, and also got a very big panino, which they also split, and took most of it home, It looked good, made on a sesame sprinkled loaf.
Peter wrote later about the panini:
"We neglected to give you a chance to get a picture of our panini before jumping in and devouring them. Make sure to mention them. The one we shared the other day was rather typical of what would normally be found anywhere, with salamis and cheeses, but some of their veggie concoctions are worthy of note, in fact I think I prefer them. We're going to try that veggie lasagna that is only available Fri - Funday."

I had a glass of house wine, $35 (the ONLY wine available, as far as I could tell.) and it was fine. A bottle of agua mineral $20; a limonada, and two cappucini, and the final cuenta was $513 before tip.

Here's my ratings, keeping in mind, it's  a casual, moderately priced restaurant serving tasty food. It's not a grand opera kind of experience.
Oh; I almost forgot to mention that the music was Frank Sinatra standards. Someone in management understands these things.

The Ratings:
• Food: ****
• Service: ****
• Price: $70-$120 MXN for mains
• Restrooms: Clean and satisfactory, although compact.
• Decor/ambience: "Fun", Retro '40s
I'd return from time to time when in the mood.


Tancho said...

Well the pictures looked pretty good, gonna have to give the place a try.

Calypso said...

At home I get soy meatballs on my spah-get YUM! Never have seen them eating out.

Don Cuevas said...

If I saw soyballs and spaghetti on the menu, I'd probably get up and leave. It's a sign of worse to come.

Probably the servers would be doused in patchouli oil, too.

Don Cuevas

Michael Dickson said...

You done made me hongry.

Steve Cotton said...

I like your dining philosophy. When I eat out, I do not order anything I can cook at home. Lately, that could mean almost anything, though -- because I have stopped cooking while I am visiting up north.

Lucille said...

To the Don: Your sentiments about soyballs are as mine.

Mike Dunham said...

I just visited Gian Carlos for lunch today. I was pleased. I know many readers of this blog are more aware of the Italian American style of pasta, but I actually found the recipes to be reminiscent of Italian tratorias we visited on our trip to Italy.

I had the crostini and lasagna today - fresh tomatoes, no canned pastes or sauces, good cheese, very good pasta (light, thin, not gummy...) - during our afternoon rain it was very much like sitting in an Italian home.

I recommend it and I will go back!

Don Cuevas said...

Nice comment, Mike Dunham. We ate another time at the Spaghetteria, back in June. We'll need to return more often.

Don Cuevas