Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Galileo Three, Minus, Minus,

Woody Allen had a wonderful lament in the movie 'Annie Hall': as his character Alvy Singer is flying back from L.A. after a disastrous trip with his girlfriend, Annie, played by Diane Keaton, he talks about their future as a couple. "A relationship is like a shark, you know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies." A restaurant is in many ways like a relationship. It can delight and surprise, or make you fall head over heels, objectivity be damned. It can make you tell tall tales and lie to your friends. But ultimately, there is the cold hard truth. And that is hard to face when one realizes that yes, you have stopped moving forward and it is time, in spite of your loving memories and experiences, to move on.

Entering Galileo is like encountering an old girlfriend from the distant past. There is something about her form and figure that you love, but you can't quite remember what it was that turned like, and lust, into love. And the disappointments start, as they always do, with the superficial. The design of the new Galileo is, in a word, boring. A tragic salmon color envelops the room and the colorfully outre snaking chandelier in the middle of the room only calls attention to the bland and insipid design of the place. It recalls the '80's, oddly. And the wan decor hints at the menu to follow, which contains some of the most timid and least adventurous Italian food being served in Washington, DC, today.

With all the advances Chef Roberto Donna made twenty years ago in the propagation of regional Italian cooking, one might think that he has updated his food or at least kept pace with the competition. Sadly, not one dish I tried brought back his former glory, and in fact made me doubt my own memories of his amazing risottos, among his other cutting edge dishes. Starting with the 'Budino di Parmigiano', a mess of cheese that has conflicting textures, from runny to rich to grainy, that never quite come together. The truffle flavors, which are deep and resonant, are lost in this souffle, or flan, or, in the end, nothing at all. The big slice of truffle on top is amazing of course, but it is too big for the dish and I ended up just picking it up with my fingers and tossing it in my mouth. Delicious. The rest is glop. The 'Speidino' is a weird meat-on-a-stick dish that tastes like a street festival mystery meat kabob, and it is served with exactly two tablespoons of too-thick polenta. Can't be generous with the polenta, my man? It is cornmeal, come on!

The spagheti cacio e pepe has got to be some kind of joke. Mr. Donna has said that while this dish is very simple (spaghetti, pecorino cheese, and pepper), it is difficult to prepare correctly. He enforces his own dictum by destroying the dish. Flavorless, mushy, tiny portion, expensive.

Chicken wings? How do you fuck up chicken wings? First, don't cook them all the way through so they are raw at the bone, then coat them with something that tastes like Progresso Italian flavored bread crumbs and send them out greasy and limp. They are so bad that only one-and-a-half out of four get eaten and the server kindly takes them off the bill, after recommending them highly.

The porcini appetizer is described beautifully, but on the plate it is mostly breading, and the 'truffle sauce' is more like truffle sweat, a mere drop or two. The green pasta with fonduta in a butter and sage sauce ought to be wonderful, as the chef is well-known for his butter/sage sauce; but it is wholly without distinction, and the filling barely registers on the palate. Again, the portion is microscopic, and considering the ingredients, vastly overpriced.

Perhaps Roberto Donna should have dealt with his history of screwing over countless poor busboys, dishwashers, and hostesses; and bouncing checks and declaring bankruptcy, hanging so many large and small suppliers out to dry. I believe in my heart in second chances-how many of us wouldn't be here today if we hadn't gotten a couple in our lifetimes? We all make mistakes and one day, if we get the chance, we all hope to correct them.

But there is absolutely no reason to return to the overblown, overpriced restaurant food of the past. We are all so much wiser now. But, apparently, Roberto Donna never got the memo. On the wall near the bathrooms there is a photo from days long gone of Mr. Donna and Chef Michel Richard enjoying a happy moment. With Galileo III, Mr. Donna is trying to evoke his glorious past, seemingly without understanding that his contemporaries have left him in the dust.

To echo Woody Allen's great dialogue, A restaurant is like a shark, you know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. Sadly, in the case of the new Galileo, what we got on our hands, ladies and gentlemen, is a dead shark.

Galileo III
600 14th St, NW
Washington, DC 20005