Tuesday, November 17, 2009. A Tom's Choice Dinner At Ristorante Filippo. The menus for our Eat Club dinners are made up by the restaurants and their chefs. Sometimes I ask them to modify something or other. The most common problem is that same chefs create menus that are clearly meant to impress me more than to address the tastes of the attendees. Ambitious dishes, unusual ingredients, overworked presentations--most of it not even typical of the food they serve. If I don't tone those down, nobody signs up for the dinner.
It was pretty obvious to me that Philip Gagliano, the owner and chef of the fine little Ristorante Filippo in Metairie, assembled the menu for the Eat Club dinner tonight with my tastes in mind. The whole thing was my favorite dishes. But I let it go, because his menu is so appealing and his cooking so deft that it would have been tough for it to bamboozle anyone.
We had a tremendous turnout, including a record-setter. A group of twenty-four people signed up en masse. That was enough for them to have their own room. A factional Eat Club dinner! We had enough others to fill every table downstairs, creating the only significant problem: the noise level was too loud for easy conversation. That bothered some of the older attendees. What can be done? Restaurants are getting louder and louder. Everybody says they'd like to eat in a quiet place, but when they show up in a low-volume place, it makes them uneasy.
We began with Phil's version of Italian oysters al oreganata, served in little ramekins, sizzling and smelling wonderful. I get these every time I enter the place. Next was Italian wedding soup, a vegetable soup with little meatballs of veal bobbing about. Simple, light, good. Next your basic Caesar salad, the one deviation from my preferences. (His house salad, with a dressing so simple it's invisible, is the one I like.)
The entree was veal Sorrentino, a classic dish but not one we encounter in restaurants very often. It's a solid idea: thin slices of veal, eggplant, prosciutto, and mozzarella cheese, stacked up. It's classically served with a Marsala or other brown sauce, but often it comes out the way it did here, with a red sauce. Good anyway. The spaghetti on the side gave it a New Orleans style. I would have preferred that the pasta had come earlier, in smaller portion. And that the veal had been either sliced or pounded thinner. But those are small matters, and like everybody else I ate all I could stuff down comfortably. Which, for most people, wasn't all of it. This was a lot of food.
Fortunately, we were given only a little tiramisu for dessert. We'd had a good bit of wine, most of it coming from the Trinchero family's collection of wines. They're in Napa, but they have Italian wines in their portfolio too. The 2008 Sauvignon Blanc was, as the previous vintages have been, a real delight. It has a perfumed aroma and more complexity than any other California Sauvignon Blanc I know, certainly in its modest price category.
On the way out, Phil chewed me out for always harping on how difficult it is for people to find the place, then to believe that the little café is as good as I say it is. He has done a lot of renovation and landscaping, making for a much more presentable establishment. But for most people, figuring out how to get there is still slightly puzzling, even though it's clearly visible from Causeway Boulevard. I must speak truth, lest I am nothing.
Ristorante Filippo. Metairie: 1917 Ridgelake 504-835-4008. Italian. Creole Italian.
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