An old friend and colleague of mine mentioned this Italian restaurant in Oak Park. I’m in the neighborhood once a week, so last week I thought I’d check it out.
Here are my general impressions:
- Food: 7/10
- Wine: 5/10
- Service: 4/10
- Ambience: 4/10
- Value: 8/10
- Overall: 6/10
Food: Apparently I lucked out and stopped in on $3 appetizer night. Sweet. So I ordered the baked goat cheese and the crabcake. Perhaps not the best choices for an Italian joint, but both sounded good at the time. The crabcake was average. Both the flavor and consistency were good, and the dijon sauce that accompanied was quite tasty; but there was nothing spectacular. The baked goat cheese, on the other hand, was fabulous. It was served in a spicy tomato sauce with basil coated crostini. Really delicious, and the serving was large and filling. There were several more things on the menu that sounded delicious, but I was on a budget and a bit of a time constraint. If I revisit this café in the future I will update accordingly.
Wine: I was confounded that there was no Prosecco on the menu. This is a regrettable oversight and brings my rating down considerably. Prosecco is the aperitif throughout Italy and certainly should be in an Italian café. Instead I started with the only sparkling wine the bar offered: Veuve de Vernay. I thought it fitting that it’s supplied by the friend that had referred me. (You’re welcome.) Unfortunately I could tell the bottle had been open for a day or two and was a little disappointed. However, it was a decent price and a good pairing with the crabcake. To accompany the goat cheese with tomato, I ordered the lone Southern Italy representative: Luccarelli primitivo. It was really tasty, and an exceptional pairing. Later, disovering Paradiso offered no dessert wine options, I went for the traditional limoncello. Yum. Overall I thought their wine program, while sufficient, was predictable and unimpressive.
Service: Having been a server and bartender for years, I tend to cut restaurant professionals an awful lot of slack. I know how hard it is. I know how dull the job can be on a Tuesday. And I know it’s easy to misjudge a patron. However. I still don’t like being on the receiving end of it. As soon as I sat down I felt I was merely an annoyance for this guy. It took him five minutes to even acknowledge me, then another five to get me a glass of wine. He didn’t explain the special bar prices that evening nor took any initiative to help me navigate the wine list. Instead he chatted it up with the two broads next to me who probably would leave him a shitty tip, and doted on some other chick I discovered later was an off-duty employee. Huge mistake. He spent far too much time and energy fraternizing with servers (see below.) My champagne glass was empty for several minutes before he asked nonchalantly “Did you want something else?” Later, when I asked him who supplied the primitivo I enjoyed, he responded “I don’t know, we have a lot of different distributors.” Gee, thanks buddy. I also discovered throughout my stay he was a Sox fan. Yuck. But generally he was sufficient and accurate, and I can only fault him so much for not being wonderfully attentive to a weird single diner at the bar on a Tuesday.
Ambience: I will not sit in the bar at this place again. It was horrible. I sat near enough the service well that I was in firing range of every single conversation between the bartender and other employees, professional and otherwise. One server actually mocked another customer right in front of me. I can’t stress how much this kind of thing bothers me. So freaking unprofessional. I found the wastebasket in the ladies’ room overflowing and water all over the sink and on the floor. Not dirty, but not exactly tidy. The other bothersome detail in this building was there was absolutely no cell signal. geeky I know, but it’s 2010 and that’s annoying.
Value: I happened to stop in and sit in the bar when appetizers were cheap, so my view may be distorted. But prices for regular menu items looked fair, and the portions I received and saw at tables were substantial. The volume of carry-out orders I saw come and go says a lot considering the fairly affluent neighborhood.
Overall: I will give Cucina Paradiso another chance but, as I stated, would not dine at the bar. If given the opportunity I would like to see what the dining room experience is like. Or, I may order and take home some pasta or perhaps a Margherita pizza for Jeff.