Monday, March 3, 2014

Trattoria Giuseppe

5442 Highway 21
Imperial, Mo
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If we're going to TG, we must be celebrating something. Indeed, Angel's birthday. Not actually her birthday, but rather, the weekend before her birthday, which is how busy people like us do things.
The Place:
Hard to find if you are not looking for it. There's not a lot of traffic on this section of Old 21, it's not actually in a town, or even within sight of one. It's an industrial area, body shops, gravel plants, a few older houses and trailers. The only signage for the place is on the bottom of a cluttered and worn marquee. It shares a building with a tavern, one with several Harley's and battered pickups parked outside.
But lots of people do look for it. Reservations are highly recommended. Though oddly and obscurely located, this is not some dingy roadside diner. Walk in and you are met by a full staff, this evening sharply dressed in black pants and shirts, with bright red neckties. No booths here, there is a bar off to the left, but this is not a bar and grill, at least on weekends. Once inside and seated you might as well be in New York City.
It's not fancy, if you bothered looking up the definition of the word Trattoria, you'd know that already.*
The building is old, the floors are a little slanty. No fancy tables or decor, just a comfy, homey place. Italian-American music plays softly in the background, Sinatra-big-band style, mostly. On one wall is a cluster of LP  covers, Pavaratti's Greatest hits, the soundtrack from The Godfather, etc. The tables, four tops, are covered in green textured vinyl. The chairs are simple, wood.
On each table the silverware is wrapped in crisp white linen, a shaker of parm and a cruet of olive oil are filled and ready.
They seated us in the back, one of about twenty or so tables. The menus simple, uncomplicated. Pasta, seafood, steaks and Pollo (chicken). There are some appetizers, including the locally ubiquitous fried ravioli.
Lisa asked about drinks.
The Food:
"Sweet tea" said Angel.
"Is regular tea okay? We don't make sweet tea." Lisa answered.
"Sure, but can I get that without ice?"
"Certainly." Lisa scribbled something.
"And you sir?" She asked me.
"Ice tea, please."
"With ice?" she puzzled.
"Of course, we're not the same person, you know." I answered, nodding my head toward my quirky wife.
Adam asked for his Pepsi, she skittered off.
I was in the mood for steak, Giuseppe knows his meat. He chooses wisely and prepares it expertly.
Angel loves seafood, but wanted to try something different. She drooled at the evening's special as Lisa had recited it to us. Steak Pescatore**.
When Lisa came back with our drinks and complimentary bread basket, we ordered.
Of course we all asked for the salad, the soup of the day had the word 'broccoli' in it, so I dismissed that as a possibility immediately.
I went for the New York Strip, with a baked potato. I could have ordered a small portion of pasta or the day's veggie offering, but the day's offering included the word 'squash', so that possibility as well,  I dismissed immediately. I poured a little oil into my saucer, peppered it and dipped some of the excellent bread. The tea was as near perfect as any I've  had anywhere outside my own home, clear, dark, very fresh.
Angel went with the special, sided with the veggie medley. Adam chose the Pepper Loin Filet with a cream sauce pasta side.
We appetized with the fried ravioli. A few weeks ago we dined at a place that boasted the best fried ravioli in the area. They were wrong, Giuseppe makes it better. Fresh, meaty, dipped in a house-made sauce, rich in texture and depth of flavor. I pre-double-dipped mine, dipping one edge, then turning it ninety degrees and dipping it again. This gave me two bites, each one sauced perfectly. I only had one of the treats, I had a potato coming. Angel and Adam scuffled over the rest of them.

Then came the salad. Most places, you order the 'house salad' and you get some iceberg lettuce, a cherry tomato and maybe a couple of rings of onion, with a packet of industrially manufactured sauce. Not here.
There's lettuce alright, and onion and even a couple of cherry tomatoes. But wait, there's more. Artichoke hearts, real olives, a small pepper (peperoncini) and fresh grated mozzarella cheese. All this mixed with the house-made dressing, slightly sweet and creamy. I don't always make a complex salad for myself, I'm from the midwest/south. However it is possible to take a few ingredients and make a salad worth crowing about. This is perhaps, more than likely, the best house salad of any place in the area. I ate most of mine, but not all of it, I had a potato coming. Sure Adam plucked off just about everything but the lettuce and cheese from his, but it still made a very good salad.
One of the things that frequently sets me off in restaurants is the timing of the courses. In the sports-casual franchises, Chili's, TGI-Friday's, Ruby Tuesday, etc. it often seems like a game of chance, more often getting it wrong, either too fast or too slow. Giuseppe is a professional. The courses are perfectly orchestrated. Just enough time to complete the appetizer, or the salad, then just a brief pause, not an awkward impatient timeout, before the next thing arrives. This is important if you are paying more than franchise chain prices. Service is taken very seriously here.
Sure enough, just as we pushed our plates aside, the food came.
A beautiful steak and a foil wrapped potato. Just a sprinkling of parsley was all that was needed to pretty it up. A big splat of dark butter sat melting on the top of the steak. Butter, pepper, maybe some salt and garlic, that's all. A good cut of meat doesn't need anything else. No need for A1 at Giuseppe's. Of course it was perfectly cooked to spec, medium rare. The potato was blemish free, hot and tender throughout. My thick steak was butter tender,
as was Angel's. The difference being the 'pescatore'. Topped with shrimp, scallops, portabella mushrooms and an amber sauce that looked mighty.

On the side she had that squash-y stuff. It did look pretty and  she said the squash was very good. Sure it was.
Adam's smaller steak was pepper-coated and was sided with a small portion of bow tie pasta in a cream sauce. I asked him how it was after he cleaned his plate. "Awful."
That's called sarcasm, he gets it from his mother.
Neither Angel or I finished our steaks. On my part this was deliberate. I was already planning breakfast, steak and eggs.
Angel wanted some kind of decadent dessert, which is fine, it's her birthday and Giuseppe is well prepared for such demands. I've had the cheesecake before, it was exceptional. Angel went dark, dark chocolate that is. Some kind of nuclear chocolate-chocolate cake that only a woman can really appreciate. She got it to-go. Adam joined in with a slice of cheesecake, I declined. That much sugar would put me in a coma. A nice kind of coma, but still. I've gone so long without sweets it's like mainlining heroin anymore. She had it at home a couple of hours later, with coffee. Coffee at seven or eight in the evening. Another thing I can't seem to do anymore.
Summary:
The service was, as usual, exceptional. Even the younger members of the staff were courteous, professional and competent. Lisa was cheerful, detail oriented and there when needed.
The bill came to $106.14. Yeah, not cheap. That did include three perfect steaks, two desserts and an
appetizer though. "This is the only reason we don't eat here every day, or week, or month." I explained to Adam, who is now working steadily and is becoming more and more aware of the cost of things.
I knew going in that the meal would cost this much, but it's her birthday, and those don't come around every year anymore. We can't do this very often at all, which is okay, it keeps it special.
For us Trattoria Giuseppe is simply as good as it gets.
I've dined in very fine places in NYC, Chicago, Tokyo, Boston, New Orleans, San Francisco, D.C., Kansas City, St. Louis and more. Those were some very, very good places indeed. As good as, but not really any better than this modest, hard to find, off the path location.
I've said it before and I'm sticking with it. Trattoria Giuseppe, is by every measure,  the very best restaurant in the area.

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* Trattoria is an Italian-style eating establishment, less formal than a ristorante, but more formal than an osteria.

** Pescatore is, roughly, Italian for 'fisherman'.






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