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Spezie, Downtown at Connecticut and L Streets - Closed


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Another one of those places that doesn't get much discussion here. I dined there once, but haven't been back. I thought the food was pretty good (an item here or there, really good), but I hated the drab dining room decor and felt awkward with such a high server to customer ratio (the place was EMPTY). The bar is a good space on its own, but for my friend and me, it was just to smoky.

Still, I liked the food and feel a little bad for not liking this place more.

Thoughts?

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I dined there a few months ago and thoroughly enjoyed my food. I had a scallop dish (with some of the biggest and well-cooked scallops I've seen in a while) served with proscuitto and I believe some mashed potatoes. Not overly priced (mid-$20s)...about right for what it was given the area of the city it's located in (Farragut West/North). My guest had the halibut, and if I remember correctly it was also well-prepared and reasonably sized. There's was nothing particularly noteworthy about the service for me. Our server was there when we needed her, but didn't go out of her way to do anything special nor was she in any way overbearing nor omnipresent.

I, like JLK, was quite taken aback by the lack of customers. I was there on a Saturday at 8pm and there were maybe two other four-tops occupied at most. I worry that this place won't be able to sustain itself given the menu and wine list it maintains in a relatively high rent area of the city. Perhaps they fare better during lunch?

In any case, the food is certainly of reasonable quality and price...I just hope that they're around long enough so that diners can experience it.

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Spezie is one of my favorite places to eat. The food is excellent and they make my favorite pasta in DC. I'm always shocked that there aren't more people there in the evenings, but it's predominantly a business lunch place. My friend's father has eaten there for about 15 years now so I imagine that longevity isn't such a problem.

I go back there about every two weeks on the average and it seems to get more crowded everytime I go.

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My friend's father has eaten there for about 15 years now so I imagine that longevity isn't such a problem.
Is this the Spezie near 17th and L St.? Because I thought that was opened two or three years ago by the same people who own Il Pizzico in Rockville.
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The space was originally opened as Boccaccio, then Twenty-One Federal, then Ciao Baby Cucina. Perhaps he's thinking of Boccaccio?

Hmmmm.... probably. All I know is that my friend's father told me he has been eating in the same place for 15 years. So I guess that doesn't necessarily mean that Spezie has been there the entire time. My bad.
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It's always nearly empty when we go for dinner; I assume they stay alive doing a brisk lunch business. It's definitely a good business lunch place, not too showy, but good quality food.

I get the ravioli in pistachio cream sauce every single time I go. They also have a nice Montepulciano d'Abruzzo half-bottle which is just right for two people on a weeknight.

Jael

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Had lunch at Spezie today for the first time. It is a very pretty and elegant restaurant with white tablecloths and marble floors. It is also at a great location a 1/2 block from Farragut North metro.

It was a business lunch so while all 4 of us said we enjoyed our meals I wasn't able to try any but mine. I started with Spezie's different take on a Caesar salad - a light, not creamy Caesar dressing on watercress with small croutons to match the mini watercress leaves and a few shavings of parmesan. A nice alternative to a traditional Caesar.

For my main course, I had their ravioli filled with porcini mushrooms and ricotta cheese coated in a pistacio cream sauce. This dish was EXCELLENT. Perfect fresh pasta with the right mix of ingredients so that you could taste each one and enjoy them in combination simultaneously. The sauce was so good I had to use some of their tasty bread to sop it up. I wasn't surprised by this dish as it seems to be the favorite of alot of folks if you do a search for reviews of Spezie. Even the waitress mentioned that I had made a very good choice. So thanks to all of you who recommended it.

For dessert, I chose something that I thought was unusual and would be yummy. I was not disappointed. It was their Crostata...(sorry don't remember the exact name - check out www.spezie.com which has their full menu). This is a small, palm-size (or alittle smaller even) tart with crystallized sugar on top like you would get on a creme brulee. The tart is filled with sweetened lemon curds on top of a base of chocolate ganache. It is a delicate dessert that is just the right size for someone who ate a filling pasta or other main course.

Overall, a great meal. However for the non-expense account diner it was somewhat on the pricey side (at least in my book). Lunch Menu: Appetizers were all around $9-12, Side Salads $7, Entree Salads (which might be the best bargain, not sure how big they are though) $13-4, Pastas $15 (although they are probably worth it being as they are fresh and sauced nicely and include lots of unusual shapes and sauces you won't find in most places), Entrees $15-20 (I think, didn't pay much attention I was in the mood for pasta).

Anyone one else had good or bad experiences there?

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Anyone one else had good or bad experiences there?

I've had lunch there several times with a friend. The food is always very good (sorry, I can't remember details at the moment), but my one quibble is that there's no natural light in the main dining room. I hate being cooped up indoors on a beautiful day. And the other room, while light-filled, is full of smoke from the bar. yuck.

Never been for dinner, though I'm only fifteen minutes from Il Pizzico (sister restaurant).

Edited by porcupine
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**NITPICK ALERT** (it's early on Sunday, whaddya want?) :lol:

Rocks, you may want to edit the description of this topic...Spezie is actually located on the west side of Connecticut before 18th...17th Street is on the east side of Connecticut which always seems much farther away whenever I'm trying to navigate the area within my hour or less lunch) So, Connecticut and L, or 18th and L would be a more appropriate description.

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my one quibble is that there's no natural light in the main dining room.  I hate being cooped up indoors on a beautiful day.  And the other room, while light-filled, is full of smoke from the bar.  yuck.

While I too can't stand a smoky bar when enjoying fine dining, I thought the main dining room to be very nice and elegant. You are right that there is no natural light, it was a very bright room with light bounces off the light colored marble floors. Just wanted to clarify in case anyone thought the place was dark - it wasn't at all at least at lunch. They might turn down the lights at dinner for a romantic feel (don't know myself though).

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I was walking by today at lunch and noticed that they are again open. I popped in for a quick dish of pasta at the bar. First the bread is a mixed bag, it has a nice thick and crunchy crust, but the interior is rather plastic. The bread comes with a small dish of tapanade that could have been made with canned ripe olives as it lacked all olive flavor. This did not give me much hope for the Squash Ravioli that I had ordered. My fears were put to rest with the first bite. I make a very similar dish, and this certainly rivals what I have made. The pasta was delicate but had a perfect chew to it, the filling was not overpowered by any of the other flavors and was just the essence of what squash should taste like. Whoever grated the sweet amoretti cookies that topped this dish knew just the right amount to add, it really did a nice job complimenting the dish. To round things out the fried sage that garnished the plate added a depth of flavor to this dish that has been missing from similar dishes that I have had. This is the type of pasta dish I would have expected from Cesare at Tosca.

The room was very attractive, and the bar is just made for dining alone. The bartender was very nice and the poor service I had been warned about was not evident today.

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It's humbling to see Cesare Lanfranconi back in his chef's whites, and owner Enzo Livia made a bold statement in bringing him over to Spezie (for those who don't know, Enzo also owns Il Pizzico in Rockville).

Tonight was only the second night Spezie has been reopen, but Cesare was there, running the show, and putting out homemade pastas as good as anything in town, and for that matter, as good as anything, anywhere (having seen him in action at charity events, I'm convinced that Cesare could make good pasta on a George Foreman grill).

And there are half-orders available!

Bucatini 'chi vrocculi arriminati' e pecorino pepato ($9 for a half-order) is thick, hollow spaghetti with cauliflower, pine nuts, raisins, saffron, and "Sicilian-style pecorino," the interesting thing being that the saffron-tinted cauliflower coupled with the sweetness of raisins makes this a dead-ringer for a pumpkin- or squash-based dish, but it isn't! It sounds like a torrent of ingredients, but everything is basically mashed together into a paste, so it makes for a thrilling, slightly sweet accent to the trenchantly firm bucatini.

The Risotto tonight ($16 for a half-order) was made with chanterelles and black truffles, and seemed like it also had a very small amount of finely diced onion and even some sort of Indian spice, perhaps a sprinkle of cardamom although I may be entirely off-base here (it doesn't seem in keeping with what I've had from Cesare in the past, and yet...). It was a fine example of a Lanfranconi risotto, cooked to an oh-so-teasingly close level, but then it continues to cook in your bowl for another two minutes and becomes - voila - a bowlful of your deepest, most secretive culinary fantasies.

There's going to be a Chef's Tasting Menu, currently priced at $65 for 4 courses ($30 wine-pairing supplement), and $85 for 6 courses ($40 wine-pairing supplement), and the novel aspect is that the diner can assemble the tasting out of seven savories and two desserts (or have Cesare do it for you).

Almost certainly, given that it's only the second day of being reopen, there will be holdover issues from the old Spezie, but the renovations look good (interestingly, despite its much-larger size, I find the "feel" of this room very similar to Corduroy), and Cesare seems eager to "crack some eggs," so to speak.

I think it may be important here, especially in the immediate future, to let it be known to the waitstaff (perhaps with some degree of subtlety) that you've heard Cesare is now here, and you're excited to try his cooking. Sort of like taking ginseng ... can't hurt, could help.

Cheers,

Rocks.

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I can't believe that nobody has posted about Spezie in the last 3 weeks! The brasserie boom, moule frites, fancy $18 burgers -- that's all so last week. You should RUN over there NOW -- RIGHT NOW -- to enjoy Chef Cesare's honest, fresh Italian cooking. Last Wednesday night after the Post announced its reopening in the Food section, the restaurant was nearly empty. It was great to see the chef looking trim, happy and bubbling over with excitement about this new venture. And the food was awesome. The aforementioned risotto had porcinis in it rather than chanterelles, but chanterelles could be had in the Rigatoni al sugo di cinghiale e gallinacci (chanterelles). We also tried some crab and corn fritters served with salsa verde and seared scallops with roasted beets perfumed with orange zest. Especially while the weather remains nice and the large windows in the front are open, the bar area is a great place to enjoy a more casual dining experience than in the dining room. I was also there for lunch a while back, and the Pasta Casareccia Alla Norma will make anyone who hates eggplant change their ways. As Ah-nold said, "I'll be back."

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I can't believe that nobody has posted about Spezie in the last 3 weeks!

Well I didn't want to be the only one posting about Spezie, but went last week for lunch split the Prosciutto di Parma stagionato con gnocco fritto e taleggio. and found the proscuitto to be delightfully sweet amd yet very meaty at the same time, the taleggio was perfectly ripe and creamy, but the bread was one of the strangest things I have had, not bad strange, just different strange. The bread is a chewy flat bread that has been deep fried until it has a bubbled texture. It was crunchy and chewy all at the same time.

The ricotta gnocchi is not light, but it is good, it is smooth, flavorful, and very satisfying. It is dressed with a simple tomato sauce. And last week they had a Chicken Milanese, which was two chicken breasts bounded flat and fried to a nice crisp crust, topped with arugula and shaved parmesan. I hope that they take this off the specials and make it a permanent addition to the menu.

My previous issue with the bread seems to have been solved and the focaccia topped with caramelized onions was a real treat, but the tapande still tastes like it was made with canned "ripe" olives.

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My partner and I went to Spezie last night for Restaurant Week (and FWIW, I booked it several weeks before Sietsema's 2.5 star review). This is one of the restaurants that I've been aware of for a long time, but never heard anything that compelled me to make it a priority, except a few refs here and there to it being much improved after its makeover last year. RW seemed as good a time as any to check it out. Given the quality of the meal we had last night, I'm a bit shocked that the most recent posts on this board date back to October, though I suspect the WaPo review will put it on more people's radar.

With Cesare Lanfranconi as the chef, it's not surprising that the menu is reminiscent of Tosca, though Spezie's digs are far less elegant. Indeed, I think there at least a few items on the menu that are the same (or nearly) as I remember at Tosca. For RW, Spezie is offering a very full menu; since I haven't been here before this, I can't compare it to the regular dinner offerings, but for the first two courses there was a quite varied selection of at least a dozen choices each, with no upcharges, and five choices for the dessert.

We aimed for some of the dishes that TS highlighted in his review, and he was pretty much on the mark in his assessment. I had the fritto misto as the appetizer, and it was perhaps the best rendition of that warhorse I've had in this city (far better than what Johnny's Half-Shell offered at its old Dupont location). Bob went for the roasted pepper salad, which had lovely texture and flavor; both were generous portions. I was disappointed that the lamb carpaccio wasn't on the RW menu, seemingly replaced by the salumi. Lots of green salad options were offered as well.

About half of the entree options were pastas, and Bob ordered a bucatini with a duck and tomato sauce. My quick taste told me the pasta was fresh, perfectly al dente, and the sauce nicely flavored. I went for the seared tuna with mustard sauce and rapini. It wasn't the prettiest cut of fish I've seen, but the sear was thin and perfect, leaving a tasty, deep-red center offset by a not-over-assertive mustard sauce. To my taste, the rapini was more bitter than spicy, as advertised, but a nice accompaniment. I noted the menu also had several ravioli options, and a simply prepared fresh fish of the day.

For dessert, Bob had a panna cotta with strawberries, I the pumpkin and quince strudel, which was strewn with a nice mix of dried and fresh fruits, a small dollop of whipped cream and an amaretto cookie. Wines by the glass go for $10 each for an average-sized pour--some choices seemed a bit pedestrian, others more unusual. The bottle list is pretty pricey, with virtually nothing under $40, and most substantially more. Service was polite though not overly knowledgeable and sometimes confused (the server laid our dessert silverware twice!). The room is a bit noisy, and they seemed rather busy, whether because of RW, the WaPo review, or both, it's hard to say.

Overall, Spezie strikes me as a fine alternative to Tosca or Locanda for good pastas and well-done Italian cuisine. The atmosphere isn't much, but what's on the menu makes up for it. I'd like some more range in the wine prices and offerings, both by the glass and bottle, but it's not a deal-killer. Spezie deserves more attention than it's been getting--maybe that's about to change.

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A comment on Sietsema's chat today regarding a floor manager at Spezie reprimanding a server within earshot of diners reminds me that I witnessed at least a couple of such instances also during our dinner last night. Obviously, it wasn't so bad as to spoil our meal, but it did strike me as crude--the floor manager seemed to show blatant disregard for the sort of impression that this would make. Another example of the sort of refinement and discipline in service that Spezie needs to develop, Restaurant Week or not.

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I stop in to Spetzie once or twice a month for lunch, and today I hit it for my one and only Restaurant Week meal. They have a separate menu for RW, and it is not lacking in choices. Almost everything on it is also available on the regular menu, and there are no up-charges.

I started with a delightful plate of finocchiona topped with shaved fennel salad and served with roasted olives and two types of oranges. Next came the Porcini Ravioli with a pistachio cream sauce. While this was very good this also proved to be my least favorite pasta dish that I have had at Spetzie, I had a feeling that the chef was trying to use the mushroom as a replacement for veal, and the texture of the filling just didn't work for me, but the flavors were spectacular. And finally for dessert I had the chocolate mouse cake that was something akin to the "Kit Kat" bar desserts that you can find at Citronelle/Central or Corduroy, but this was topped with a Clementine orange jelly. All of that and two glasses of Negroamaro is making it quite difficult to keep my eyes open his afternoon.

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Having never been to Babbo (yes, I know), I've often wondered if their pastas can possibly be any better than Cesare Lanfranconi's. I had four different pastas the other night at Spezie, and I could make a case for any of them being on my all-time list.

That having been said, I can't say they're any better than what I've had at Tosca in the past, including under Massimo Fabbri in the post-Lanfranconi era.

Thoughts?

Cheers,

Rocks.

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Spezie's restaurant week menu features a selection of their signature pastas and entrees, making it a good way to sample their food without shelling out $30-$40 an entree. Each of the pasta dishes we tried sang -- the fresh ricotta gnocchi, the pasta twills with eggplant and smoked mozarella -- and the salads were bright, crisp and fresh. The entrees weren't universally appreciated -- the grilled baby octopus was simple and done well, as was the the vinegary cucumber & endive accopmaniement. The duck was slightly overdone, the asparagus risotto cake a bit dry and granular. The "pork korobuta and cheeks roast" was off the bone and similar to pulled pork -- rich, delicious, but a surprising preparation.

If I went back for Restaurant Week, I'd stick with salads and pasta, which were great.

Alex

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It's hard to believe three months have gone by with nary a peep about Spezie. I've had dinner here twice in the past ten days, and Cesare Lanfranconi is doing his usual excellent work in the kitchen.

Spezie's bar menu might be the most interesting in the city right now, with every single dish either $7 or $8, and accompanied by a recommended wine pairing on the menu. In my recent two visits, I tried six of the dishes, and all were very good to outstanding.

Happy hour, anyone?

Cheers,

Rocks.

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The service in the bar is also head and shoulders above that in the main part of the restaurant.

Hmm, my server Luciano (a middle-aged gentleman with reddish hair and glasses) was incredibly passionate about regional Italian cuisine - he's from Venice, and spent a good, long while expounding upon east-cost versus west-coast preparations of Salted Cod, fiercely defending the east-coast method as being the better of the two. Cesare came out and I mentioned this to him - he smiled, shrugged his shoulders, and said, "yeah, he's right." I haven't been so regaled by a server in ages - he was quiet and stately at first, but once you got him going, he revealed an awesome layer of culinary knowledge.

Cheers,

Rocks.

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From Rocks's dining guide, regarding Spezie:

one of the three best Italian destinations in town
I'm wondering which are the other two. Goldoni? Tosca? Obelisk? Does Rocks consider Palena an Italian restaurant? Dino doesn't play in this league, surely? Dupont Italian Kitchen?
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From Rocks's dining guide, regarding Spezie:I'm wondering which are the other two. Goldoni? Tosca? Obelisk? Does Rocks consider Palena an Italian restaurant? Dino doesn't play in this league, surely? Dupont Italian Kitchen?

Since you asked ... Goldoni and Tosca, both of which I prefer to Spezie (although when Cesare wants to crank things up, he's perfectly capable of doing so (also, please note the qualification that I have no recent visits to Obelisk (and, come to think of it, Mio))).

Palena transcends being Italian (so does 2 Amys).

Dino's wine program is the best of all.

You won't go wrong with any of these.

Cheers,

Rocks.

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I had lunch at the bar two weeks ago and was pleased to see the buckwheat tagliatelle w/ swiss chard, fontina, and potato was back on the menu - it's a very dense dish that had gone missing in warmer weather but it was unbeatable in January. The chard is just bitter enough to lift the funky heaviness of the fontina and buckwheat, and much like the porcini ravioli in pistachio sauce it's worth leaving a substantial amount of sauce in the bowl for dipping bread.

Vegetarians can eat very well here - by my count there are ten suitable dishes on the lunch menu, half of them excellent and interesting pastas.

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Four of us tried the Restaurant Week Menu here last night. I've got to say that the food was good but mostly not outstanding. There were plenty of choices. Two people had fried oysters for starters which they really liked. I had a daily special pumpkin soup with a few venison sausage chunks which was unique and very flavorful. The fourth person had gnocchi which he liked. For main courses, we had a beef dish, grilled rockfish and ravioli (all okay) and I had black pepper spaghetti with a wild boar sauce that was in fact spectacular. For dessert, I had rather pedestrian sorbetti. The others liked the cannoli and the creme brulee.

They are also offering some wine specials for RW, and I think they are extending the whole deal through February. Service was excellent and the setting is pleasant and comfortable. Last night it was not crowded.

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Last night I started out at Science Club but had no tolerance for the loud crowd. We began to walk to metro peeking in doors, looking for dinner at an under-crowded place, downtown, on a Friday night, at about 6:30pm. Not easy until we got to Spezie. Although it was Restaurant week, it was not at all crowded when we arrived. The bar tasting menu looked interesting (and the bar empty) but we opted for dinner.

When I opened the menu I was pleasantly surprised to see a restaurant week menu! Wine specials offered up a Sangiovese and a Carta Negroamaro wine. Our server was an older Italian man and he said that the Carta Negroamaro was a fine wine that offered great value now, but he suspected that it would be discovered in the next couple of years. We're going to buy some today, it was so good. Soft tannins even though it was a 2007, and had a complex flavor without being overdone.

As for food, I started with the veal cheek appetizer while my dining companion started with a radicchio salad. The veal cheeks over polenta with a rich red sauce was fantastic and soothed my soul. The polenta was fluffy, creamy, and had a lot of nice flavors and the dish was topped with some crunchy green (Fried parsley perhaps). It added an interesting twist in terms of taste and texture.

As for the main dish, the rockfish and lintels were good/fine even. THe broccoli rabe, however, was next level; perfectly well cooked and seasoned. My husband's venison, though ordered medium-rare, was a bit more rare but we'd prefer that to overcooked. He loved it although I thought it was under seasoned. The greens under the venison, however, were for me, excellent. Baby spinach leaves were mixed with a cream sauce (wine & garlic in there I think).

To finish, we had cannoli (3, bland) and a slice of passion fruit mouse cake served with chocolates. The cake was surprisingly light and the perfect finish to the meal. BTW: The wine stood up to all dishes and even finished nicely with the mouse cake especially. I"d go back.

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We sat down at a table in the half-full bar on a Thursday night. My companions were skeptical... for about five minutes. The drinks were well made, and the menu was promising. They were full-on convinced within 20 minutes. The sausage and polenta, while a little salty, was a great mix of textures and tastes; the broccolini--also a bit salty on top--was cooked perfectly and well complemented by the grape tomatoes and slivered garlic cloves; the antipasto was addictive. But the hands-down winner was the fritto misto. I've never had fried seafood that was simultaneously so light, crisp, greaseless, well-seasoned, and perfectly cooked. I always pass over ordering this dish (unless I'm craving something patently bad for me) because it's always just so gloppy. Spezie shows exactly what it was meant to be.

We were the only ones left in the place at 10:30. GO. You won't regret it.

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Not such a great experience at Spezie last night. I ducked in around 6:30 and took a seat at the bar to grab some dinner. The bar area was about 75% full, and the bartender was slammed. He was running around non-stop, and couldn't really keep up. No surprise it took at least 15 minutes to get a menu and get my order in, during which time at least one couple came and left in frustration. Not that I blame the bartender - he was doing the best he could with an unmanageable situation...what was strange was that the rest of the staff really didn't seem that busy (the dining room was mostly empty), but no one pitched in. Worst of all the manager or owner stood the whole time by the host stand at the door, well in sight of the chaos in the bar, when he could easily have been helping out. Seems to me situations like that call for all hands on deck.

Anyway, the service was more or less a minor annoyance, but what really got me was that I was charged an outrageous $30 for a soft-shell crab entree that consisted of a single very modestly-sized and seriously not-crispy crab. They said this dish was available either as an appetizer or as an entree. What would they have done for the appetizer, give me half a crab? I will say that the sauce it was served with was delicious, a combination of olive oil, parsley, capers, and pine nuts. But the crab was clearly wet when it went into the pan and never got the texture soft shells need to truly shine. Overall a poor value at that price, I felt.

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Anyway, the service was more or less a minor annoyance, but what really got me was that I was charged an outrageous $30 for a soft-shell crab entree that consisted of a single very modestly-sized and seriously not-crispy crab. They said this dish was available either as an appetizer or as an entree. What would they have done for the appetizer, give me half a crab? I will say that the sauce it was served with was delicious, a combination of olive oil, parsley, capers, and pine nuts. But the crab was clearly wet when it went into the pan and never got the texture soft shells need to truly shine. Overall a poor value at that price, I felt.

I'm willing to bet this was a mistake and you should have gotten two softies.

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Good pasta it was, but really overpriced and hit or miss at times. As leleboo noted, this is a shame, but not a shock.

In other news, it is still an hour wait to get seats at Posto during prime dinner hours. :lol:

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