Every Sunday evening for the past few weeks I have subjected myself to the banality that is The Next Food Network Star. In a contrived competition that plays out as an extended commercial for the evening’s sponsor (Hershey’s, Kellogg’s, MGD 64, all synonymous with haute cuisine) Food Network superiors the likes of Bobby Flay and Giada diLaurentiis to hammer befuddled contestants with searing questions such as, “Who ARE you?”
This past Sunday, Sir Flay himself offered up a few personalized pointers to each contestant. In the case of perky Midwesterner Jyll, he implored that she “surprise” the judging entity. Jyll dutifully complied. While being filmed during her brief cooking demo, the Wisconsinite cheerfully introduced herself and calmly explained to the audience that she would be instructing them in how to create a lovely beef carpaccio. At which point, with a tinge of hysteria, she suddenly shrieked, “NONONONO! DON’T BE SCARED! DON'T CHANGE THE CHANNEL! RAW BEEF IS NOT SCARY!”
I’m not so sure I was so much surprised as I was downright startled.
Rattled after the outburst, I have no idea what proceeded to transpire in the making of Jyll’s carpaccio. The vignette did however put into my head the idea that I really ought to try myself some raw beef.
Somehow in the my culinary journey, the classic Italian starter of beef carpaccio—thinly sliced raw meat typically served with a sauce—had eluded me. I decided that I’d change that course this week at the downtown Edmonds Italian eatery .
Positioned at the corner of 5th & Walnut, Girardi’s is a nicely-maintained restaurant with grounds graced by fountains and flora. Seating is available on the outdoor patio, at the bar, in the main dining area, and in a cozy nook boasting a pair sofa chairs. Given the pleasant weather, the patio was packed by 6 pm, and my dining companion and I thus took seats indoors.
Obviously, I selected the beef carpaccio as our starter. Although the daily specials included an extremely tempting lobster ravioli, I opted for another plate from the sea, the Tilapia Piccata. Ravioli di Zucca was chosen by my friend. Munching on slices of soft, dense bread, we remarked on the dining room’s un-stuffy elegance.
Our waitress soon approached, our carpaccio starter in hand. As she set it before us, I prepared myself for a new culinary adventure.
The only problem was, “carpaccio” had somehow become translated into “calamare”.
My dining companion and I eyed the plate of calamare rings, heads cocked in puzzlement. Realizing the mix-up and deciding this was hardly the most unfortunate thing to happen to us, we shrugged and tucked into the heap of Calamare Fritto ($9.95), one of the evening’s appetizer specials. The rings of squid were large and the leggy masses manageable, all blessed with a crisp coating that was fully present without being heavy.
Equaling the perplexity of the carpaccio fumble were the dipping sauces that accompanied the squid bits. What appeared to be a chipotle aioli was overpoweringly smoky and extremely thick. More pleasing was the sweet chili sauce, though neither condiment seemed fitting for an Italian restaurant.
Ravioli di Zuca ($16.95) proved to be pasta pillows stuffed with butternut squash, paired with steamed spinach and diced tomatoes, and dressed in goat cheese and a brown-butter sage sauce. The generous application of cheese drowned out any notes of sage, but its tanginess nicely balanced the ravioli’s sweet squash filling. The spinach and tomato were not simply plate dressing; added to a forkful of pasta and cheese, the salad components rounded out the flavor profile.
My Tilapia Piccata ($17.95) lacked brownness in its coating, though the fish was pleasantly tender and easily flaked beneath my fork. Mild as tilapia is, the fish was an excellent vehicle for the dish’s artichoke hearts, capers, and a delightfully piquant lemon-white wine sauce. Appearing slightly underdone were the asparagus, which were just a shade more pliable than if they’d been raw. The plate’s squash-heavy vegetable medley, however, was perfectly crisp-tender.
The one real disappointment of my entrée plate was the golden brick of utterly bland polenta. It was desperately in need of seasoning, sauce—anything—to give the cornmeal a hint of personality.
With a menu offering several salads, pastas both traditional and innovative, and entrees featuring the likes of duck, veal, sea bass, and osso bucco, Girardi’s Osteria raises the bar far above just spaghetti and meatballs. Despite not checking off carpaccio on my dining to-do list, I found Girardi’s a fine place for a casual but classy Italian meal.