First impression: It has been 10 years since I last dined at Pa D's and what a difference a decade makes. Old fashioned hospitality is still in place, starting with the greeting from the hostess to the professional wait staff, but somehow this Italian restaurant has lost its Italian. While the food is well prepared, it tastes as though every dish was prepared by someone trying hard to put a non-Italian spin on tradition.
Ambience: The beige and brown dining room has some of the biggest and most comfortable booths I may have ever sat in. It's a quiet, almost formal, refuge among in beachy, bar-like shorts-wearing Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.
Starters: The enticing appetizer menu includes a cold, warm and crudos section. Many of these dishes are great for sharing and our waiter did just that with the two outstanding salads which four of us shared. Chopped Mediterranean ($9) is a refreshing mixture of romaine, radicchio, feta, cucumbers, olives and red onion in a lemon oregano vinaigrette, while Hearts of Romaine ($9.50) with creamy gorgonzola dressing and pancetta is a rich green starter. The tender meat ball ($9) is made with beef, pork, veal and pecorino and served with ricotta cheese and undercooked tomato sauce. Crispy calamari ($12) is served on a bed of arugula and served with a bowl of tomato sauce. Crispy eggplant cakes ($10) were mushy and pretty much tasteless.
Entree excellence: I'm always disappointed when skirt steak ($23) isn't sliced in the kitchen because the meat is more tender when sliced against the grain. Here, it's served curled on a skewer with Barolo wine sauce, crispy onions and soggy sweet potato fries. Spaetzli pasta with strips of veal ($18.95) tastes like something from a Hungarian restaurant. That Barolo wine sauce makes another appearance in this stew-like creation along with peas and leeks. A special osso buco ($29.99) starts with an oversized veal shank that has been braised to wonderful tenderness. But the braise itself needed more time since it tastes a little too much of tomato paste. A non-too-tender 12-ounce prime New York strip steak ($28) comes with a choice of sauce. Our waiter recommends the Barolo wine sauce — of course! — from a list of complimentary steak sauces.
Side issues: Oven roasted pancetta Brussels sprouts ($4) were just slightly over done.
Sweet!: The best part of the meal came at the end. There's a classically trained pastry chef at work in the kitchen. We weren't surprised when we left the restaurant and saw a printed special dessert menu posted outside. A $39 assortment of pastries and sorbets is enough for four to six people. It's $60 for seven to nine people. Be sure to order warm pistachio pound cake ($8), which is served with amazing pistachio ice cream, as well as whipped cream and crème Anglaise. A classic chocolate mousse is presented as a tower ($9) with white chocolate macadamia cookies, warm fudge, ice cream and berries. Flourless Swiss chocolate torte ($8) may be one of the best I've ever tasted. We could taste the quality of the chocolate and the subtle flavor of cassis.
Service: Outstanding. These are consummate professionals.
Insider tip: One of those wonderfully rare restaurants with live entertainment on weekends and Monday nights. If you're interested in a more casual experience, the adjoining pizzeria has many of the same dishes and the same chef.
Dining deal: Three-course early bird dinners — 5-6 p.m. daily — are priced between $15 and $24 depending on your entree choice.
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