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Wednesday, April 26, 2006 

Pazzo G's doesn't hit the spot

When I was younger, whenever I brought home a report card, it always said the same thing: “Mary shows promise but fails to work up to her potential.” I’ve felt the same way about Gambardella’s Pasta Bella. Although I enjoyed my first meal in Fairbanks at the restaurant, the food never really stood out enough to make it into my restaurant rotations. It wasn’t bad, it might have been good, but I always remembered it as run of the mill.

When I heard that Gambardella’s was opening a new restaurant at the site of the old Athenian, I thought this could be their chance to win me back as a customer. So we bundled up and headed off to Pazzo G’s. As I stepped inside, though, I couldn’t help but wonder if the restaurant had changed hands at all. The Greek columns and plates still adorned the walls, though they were joined by framed burlesque albums. “Oh, they just moved it over a country,” Tom said. And though our waitress was friendly, the service was still lacking, as one member of my party had to get his own silverware off another table.

We decided to challenge the kitchen staff with a vegan entrée, as well as a salad, lasagna and appetizer. The focaccia ($5.95) arrived at the table quickly, bringing with it the mouthwatering aroma of fresh rosemary. The bread itself was marvelously soft and floury, with a delicate touch of rosemary. It was lost, however, with the accompanying tomato sauce. Diced onion floating in the sauce seemed to hint at a homemade delicacy, but it tasted like it came straight out of an aluminum can.

I opted to eat light, and selected a pear salad ($10.95). The dish was not only tasty, but stunning as well. “That’s a beautiful salad,” Tom noted. “Very intricately arranged.” The bed of greens was topped with slices of grilled chicken, pears, slightly sweet walnuts and fresh croutons. The promised raspberry vinaigrette never appeared, but the substitute dressing was a creamy Italian with a peppery kick. The crunch of the sweet walnuts was a nice counterbalance to the softness of the pears, and the croutons put the dish into the pleasure zone. Clearly homemade, they were large, crunchy, buttery and salty. What more could a girl ask for?

Tom was finding out that a boy could ask for a whole lot more. His plate of lasagna ($10.95) was large, but bore that trademark Gambardella’s touch: blandness. I suppose the dish was perfectly average, but average never stands out in my mind. The sauce was savory, the portion was large, and that’s about all there is to say about the dish. It takes unusual ingredients, such as goat cheese or sautéed portabellas, for a lasagna to become spectacular in my book.

Jacob, our resident vegan, chose to order a firenze pizza ($10.95), but wanted it vegan. The waitress took the request without complaint, even when he started angling for more vegetables to make up for the cheese. Making vegan pizzas isn’t hard, but they do have a tendency to dry out without the insulating layer of cheese. It is worth noting that Pazzo G’s managed to keep the pizza moist. “I like the flavor,” Jacob said as he bit into a slice. “I would’ve liked more mushrooms, though. I was trying to hint at that.” I tried some of his pizza, and while I missed the cheese, it was perfectly acceptable without it. Layers of vegetables were interspersed with a tomato sauce.

None of the dishes were bad, but none were perfect. My salad came with a strange yellow blob on the plate that Tom guessed was butter. Jacob’s pizza was tasty, yet no better than a pizza from any other restaurant. And so Pazzo G’s falls victim to the Gambardella’s curse: OK food that doesn’t stand out in my mind. In this aspect, Pazzo G’s really misses the mark. In opening a new restaurant with a different name on the other side of town, the Gambardellas had the chance to go out on a limb. They could have tried new dishes, sought out new recipes, or just made crucial changes to their menu. Instead, they opted to serve a virtually identical menu.

In the end, I was not the only one unimpressed. “It’s an OK place to come if you drive two or three miles to get here,” Jacob said, “but not if you have to go any further.”

Review published in The Ester Republic

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Joan Stepsen
Tech and gadgets

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