By Sara Kay, Features Editor
There's nothing more unappetizing than walking into an eating establishment that looks like a hallway, rather than a dining room. The word unappetizing pretty much sums up the majority of my eating experience at Calagero's in Garden City, with a few dim exceptions. Calagero's presents itself as a fine Italian dining experience, with fairly overpriced dishes and a very plain interior, which is most likely because they want you to pay less attention to the walls and more attention to their delicious cuisine. Adding a few paintings and ambiance to Calagero's couldn't hurt if that is their intention, because the food they are serving is not much to pay attention to.
It's hard to have good feelings about a restaurant when even the first step inside is a turn off, and I haven't even looked at the menu yet. The long, hallway set up of the dining area was a bit off-setting for me, and the hostess seemed really disturbed that a party of five people wanted to eat there. Since the narrow hallway dining room probably wasn't used to accommodating such a long table of people, we had to wait while the hostess and two servers scurried around to find an extra chair to slap on the end of our table. Our server was fairly inattentive, which I noticed after she pretty much dropped interest after she took our food order; she didn't return to check on us until she was bringing the check itself. When a busboy brought us a basket of warm, fragrant bread, I figured things were starting to look up. The bread was fresh and had bits of dried herbs to give it some real flavor. Maybe this place wouldn't be so bad after all.
Our appetizer of fried mozzarella was basically a glorified mozzarella stick; long slender slices of mozzarella cheese with a light breading, stuffed with sundried tomatoes and basil. At first glance I was disappointed, but upon taking a bite I was very impressed. The cheese was fresh and had a creaminess to it that was more flavorful than the breading, which I appreciated. The dipping sauce, although just a simple marinara, was tasty and was a good complement to the fried mozzarella. My hopes began to get a little higher after this pleasant appetizer.
My hopes immediately crashed, burned, and were stepped on multiple times by angry feet after our entrees came. After asking the server what the most popular dish on the menu was, I took her advice and ordered just that; Nonna's Rigatoni. Rigatoni pasta in a marinara sauce with spicy sausage and meatballs, was apparently the biggest seller there. The pasta was incredibly over cooked to the point of mushy, the sauce was incredibly bland, and the sausage and meatballs tasted so similar that I couldn't tell the difference between the two. If this dish is the most popular, I'm afraid to know what the less popular dishes taste like.
My dining companions ordered two different pasta dishes; the penne al pesto and the Quattro formaggio. The penne al pesto tasted like pasta dipped in garlic and olive oil rather than a flavorful pesto sauce. The Quattro formaggio, which was rigatoni topped with mozzarella, ricotta, gorgonzola and romano cheese and then baked, would have benefitted from some fresh herbs or vegetables to contrast the heaviness of the cheese. One look at the dessert menu and I knew I wasn't interested, the thought of having one more disappointing dish put in front of me suddenly made me lose my appetite for more.
I find that it's difficult to dislike a restaurant from start to finish. I try to see the good in every place I go, to reach for those little things that made the experience worth while. Unfortunately, warm bread and good cheese can't change the fact that Calagero's, although advertised as "Fine Italian Comfort Food," was hardly comforting to me. Or fine.