Even though their homepage appears to be down, the Italian restaurant Spagetti in Borås was up and running yesterday. Upon arrival, it was under one quarter full of guests. This may have been a reflection of snow turning to a drizzle, and of slippery roads. Before the riverside of Södra Strandgatan and Sandwalls Plats was transformed into a cute pedestrian zone, complete with an abstract curry-sausage sculpture and palm trees during the summer, a health store resided where Spagetti resides now. Where I used to buy organic tofu (trust me, it is better), refills for my water filter, dry beans, Dutch honey and the occasional fair-trade cocoa’n’sawdust bar, I can now sit down and relax.
There are ups and downs with Spagetti, but to be fair, I want to praise its pleasant atmosphere and friendly service right away. We were a come-and-go company of an average of six persons. Four of these were in a drinks-craving after-concert mood. One of them was accompanied by six-months-old Elias, a bright and social fellow who most of the time was content with goo from a jar. Food was served in a most cheerful manner, unfaltering even when the youngest of the group had a food-deprival crisis. Musician’s babies have strong lungs, well developed vocal cords and a keen sense of pitch.
The menu looks squarely and healthily Italian, as opposed to the usual Swedish town-bar menu inventions where everything seems to revolve around three roasted pine nuts, a touch of ruccola, two dried Parmesan flakes and a splash of aceto balsamico imitation. There are some salads, an array of first courses like soups and pasta dishes, second courses divided into fish and meat, and a separate list of vegetables and asides. Dolci, of course, too. I had to overcome a slight personal problem of culture-incompatibility: at seven in the evening I am not, like a Roman at lunchtime, prepared to wade through a whole meal with primi and secondi piatti, contorni, dolci and caffé. So I regretfully stepped on the tourist trail and ordered a shrimp salad and stubby pasta with a wine-veal sauce. Robin had hand-forged tortellini (called something else) with a prosciutto stuffing in pesto Genovese accompanied by three extra slices of prosciutto and a stray heap of crispy maché. Others had Saltimbocca, and one had Pappardelle Frutti di Mare.
After-concert musicians like beer. Spagetti’s choice of beers is in need of instant and thorough improvement: two kinds of full-strength beer (one in a bottle and one out of the wall), both among the most uneventful kinds of beer available in Sweden – this is not enough. Have one kind of beer for the ignorant – fine. But have something else too. Food culture doesn’t begin where the guest orders wine.
To be fair once again, all the food at Spagetti was good – there were no real disappointments, whatever I say further below. I believe, on the other hand, that a restaurant where a bowl of pasta costs the equivalent of $21.32 has a few obligations towards the guest beyond not being really disappointing.
Let’s start with the shrimp salad. The waitress was kind enough to tell me that half a salad would be enough if I had pasta afterwards, so half a shrimp salad it became. Now. I was in fact interested in how an Italian cook (or a cook who works in an Italian restaurant) interprets “shrimp salad” and here I learned nothing. Super fresh, hand-peeled shrimp. A halved boiled egg. The iceberg lettuce underneath was fresh and not much too soggy. Then there was a sprig of dill somewhere, and finally, a big blob of Swedish mayonnaise right in the center of the whole. Simply: Swedish shrimp salad. I seem to keep returning to discussions of mayonnaise. Perhaps it now becomes clear why: it follows you everywhere, you can’t run away from it. Stupid mayonnaise from a jar, made with anonymous oil and nasty cheapo vinegar – why? They can’t tell me that Spagetti’s chef can’t whip up a bowl of the real stuff or at least buy a high-end jar. Poor shrimp.
Another obligation would be to serve the meals in less than an hour after ordering. The restaurant was not full. Is there, perhaps, only one person working in Spagetti‘s kitchen? That would explain why the pasta that eventually came was lukewarm and soft. The sauce, creamy veal and white wine taste, was pretty nice – somewhat under-salted (which is rare in restaurants and not too difficult to correct) and slightly over-peppered, and the wine-ness was paired with too much acidity. These are all things that a simple taste-test could have prevented. Thirty seconds more and the sauce would have been perfect. Nice, small bits of veal: chewy but not tough.
I tried a bite of Robin’s prosciutto-pesto combo and found it also: not hot, but quite good. Not so sure about the extra slices of prosciutto, though. Perhaps they were some kind of guarantee document “real prosciutto inside as well.” The people who had Saltimbocca made especially satisfied noises. The lady who had pappardelle with shellfish, however, had a tough job: her bowl was heaped with an apocalypse of armored crayfish in tomato sauce. Although they had likely died boiled, followed by a stepwise after-life (frozen, thawed and heated), and although they were ridiculously entangled in these bed-sheet-wide noodles, they had maintained an air of dignified austerity, spiced, no: spiked with a touch of Star Wars. “Don’t tamper with me” they seemed to whisper, “I might be dead as fish, but you are softer.” No nutcracker or other tool was delivered with this pasta dish, but our guest dapperly fought them, claw for claw.
It is always easy to make fun of a situation. I sensed that Spagetti was perhaps just slightly short of resources for its ambitious menu. I noticed that the portions were, for true Italian food-ordering customs, too big and too expensive. I think that a medium-size restaurant like this, with the amount of personnel they seem to have, should cut their menu in half, start taking their time for getting these few things really good but stop wasting time when it comes to getting the food out to the guests. They’ve got the smiles, they’ve got a great location, why wait.
Postscript 24 April 2008. Spagetti is now most definitely down, not only their website. The building is a renovation site and the restaurant is gone. No need to review my text, however.
Next time I’ll have a look at that Spanish place on Allégatan.