I Corsini Darwini
Soon the weather will heat up, tourism will cool down, and struggling restaurateurs will begin posting "Out of Business" signs. It's painful to watch dreams evaporate, and no one rejoices at the personal losses. Yet this Darwinian dwindling of dining establishments is not a bad thing; our fittest and favorite spots almost always survive. In the rubble of ruined restaurants are generally those that simply didn't offer the public as much value as the competition. In this market, one would assume that any business proprietor, particularly one who runs a newly opened restaurant, would work ceaselessly to increase odds of enduring. The ownership of I Corsini is evidently pursuing a different strategy.
A lengthy bar juts up the left side of the main dining room, and linen-draped tables are set across the way on a slightly elevated platform. A glass wall in a smaller, second room affords diners a view of the charming outdoor patio, arboreally fortressed from Washington Avenue. This has been a popular garden spot with SoBe locals, from the time Sport Café occupied it to the more recent tenure of Baire's Argentinian Grille. Alfresco dining also permits patrons to escape the indoor music, which is too loud — and air conditioning that is too cold.
For my guest and me, a foreshadowing of the comedy of errors that was to come occurred when, upon being seated, we overheard a man at the next table tell the waiter that he and his wife were no longer interested in the cups of coffee they had waited 40 minutes for. "We'll just take the check," the irritated diner said, and the waiter, rather than apologize, did an about-face and strutted away. We kept munching on wedges of fresh sourdough bread, the type with dark, chewy, flour-dusted crust. Our waiter was a bit more polite, although in his haste to retreat, he neglected to hear a request for lemon slices to accompany the water. If only the rest of the trip-ups were as trivial.
I'd like to begin by telling you about Corsini's panzanella salad, described on the menu as a mix of tomato, red onion, cucumber, basil, olive oil, and day-old Tuscan bread. I'd like to, but we never received our order. We were to have eaten the salad in tandem with an appetizer of honeycomb tripe with black olives, pine nuts, and rosemary, to be followed by a second, split course of tagliolini with sea urchin, dried gray mullet roe (bottarga), celery, and garlic — and then the entrées. After a substantial wait, we were brought the tripe and pasta dishes. Alas, our harried waiter hurried away before we could ask about the panzanella, so we decided to make do. Then we noted that the pasta was spaghetti rather than tagliolini and that it came topped with clams instead of urchin (and yet another mistake was made within the mistake: The dish was supposed to also contain broccoli rabe, but did not). Ten minutes later, we were able to get the attention of a server, who apologized and returned the clam course to the kitchen.
We were left with our original desired starter: tender strips of tripe stewed in a thin, mildly unpleasant-tasting broth spotted with black olives. Rosemary and pine nuts would have made nice additions. About 20 minutes passed before our pasta appeared. This time it was the proper tagliolini — eggy-yellow, but too soft and doughy, especially the clump that stuck together and had to be excised. Nuggets of the creamy urchin burst with an initially sweet sensation, followed by a tangy-rich flavor that has been described as "hazelnuts with a hint of iodine." It's an acquired taste, in this case deliciously counterbalanced by a salty dusting of the dried mullet eggs and hints of garlic. (On another visit, we sampled perfectly cooked ribbons of pappardelle soaked in a savory wild boar ragout.) Pastas have to be considered Corsini's strong suit.
Another long lapse happened before entrées arrived. Half of a whole grilled octopus boasted soft, flavorfully marinated tentacles tarted up with grape tomatoes and Pantelleria capers. For $31, the dish could have featured a more ambitious accompaniment than lightly dressed greens with chunks of marinated carrots. A rectangular slab of flabby skirt steak was properly cooked to a juicy medium-rare but could have used a dash of salt and pepper; there were no shakers on the table, and we were not offered any. Roasted potatoes on the side of the steak were lukewarm and crinkly; gratin-topped tomatoes were dry and dreadful-tasting. Extenuating factor: The skirt dinner is just $18, much less than other steaks ($39 to $59, plus a 48-ounce porterhouse for $84). Pastas run $15 to $18, nonbeef entrées $24 to $32.
"Sponge cake dessert" was verbally described to us as a wine glass coated on the inside with the namesake cake, which gets layered with vanilla and chocolate pastry creams (a pared-down version of the Italian dessert zuppa inglese). The main problem was that when said glass arrived, there was no sponge cake at all, the namesake ingredient apparently substituted with raspberries (that tasted as though recently defrosted). The puddings weren't bad.
On this disastrous visit, two of us shared one appetizer, one pasta, two entrées, and one dessert. Nothing else. The bill, with tax and automatic 18 percent gratuity (!), came to $109.22. Even removing the abysmal service factor, is such a dinner worth $55 per person? The public's answer to this question will likely determine whether I Corsini will be standing a year from today.
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