Juliani's Italian Bistro
Sauces with meatsa—sorry kids, no pizza
By Jennifer Wohletz
Being a grownup has its benefits. You no longer have a bedtime, you don't have to wear those itchy little jackets for pictures and, best of all, mac and cheese, chicken fingers and pizza are not your only choices of tummy filler.
Since I'm a big kid now, I squashed my craving for a slice or two of underage pizza pie goodness and parked my Honda at Juliani's Italian Bistro, the brand new boot-country hut in a hidden back corner of the Raley's shopping center on Juan Tabo.
This place is so fresh you can smell the paint. Only being open a month, I expected the dining room to be modestly populated, which it was, but what I didn't expect was the pocketbook-friendly menu coupled with the upper-crust atmosphere.
After a lifetime of paying increasing numbers of nickels and dimes for the same damn plate of spaghetti at places like the Olive Garden (their noticeably undersized dinner portion of fettucine Alfredo is $10.25), I was overjoyed to find that every single thing on the menu at Juliani's is under $10. Yes, winged pancetta pigs are right outside your window.
It's not uncommon to see paltry prices for Italian food, especially in Mommy-and-Poppy joints, but the real kicker here is that there are no dirty checkered tablecloths, and no Comedy Central blaring from the coat hanger-rigged TV in the corner. Instead, there are lovely caramel-colored matte walls with modest artwork, soft music, and those nice, white starchy tablecloths and napkins.
Wow. But how is the food, really? You might think cheap prices equal low quality. Wrong-o-rama.
My dining companion and I ordered the spaghetti Bolognese ($6.95) and the fettucine Alfredo ($6.95, $8.95 with chicken). What we received was a basket of fresh, soft bread with that thin, glossy crust, and two heaping oval plates of pasta already tossed with liberal portions of sauce and a light dusting of parmesan cheese.
A traditional Bolognese sauce (ragù alla bolognese in Italian) tends to focus more on the combination of well-cooked meats and seasonings rather than the tomatoes, and also contains cream, which is why it differs from the regular meat sauce, or sugo di carne. My dinner was actually not so much a Bolognese sauce as it was just a really good homemade meat sauce, but since our waiter admitted early on that the owners were Hispanic and Palestinian, respectively, I am inclined to give them an “A” for effort rather than bitch about authenticity.
The fettucine was truly worth getting out of bed for; the generous portion of noodles was coated with the rich, creamy cheese sauce and imbued with fresh shreds of basil. And the fact that the pastas were tossed in the sauces means love to me, because I, like most fat, greedy Americans, like all my noodles to have sauce on them and am not satisfied with a mountain of pasta with the good stuff in a sorry little puddle on top.
My major beef with Juliani's was the location, and my minor one was the music. The way the restaurant is located, back in a rather obscure corner, may drag down their business a bit for no other reason than it is not immediately visible to traffic. And the tunes are not at all compatible with a tasty Italian meal, unless you like Michael Bublé and the stuff played during ladies ice skating routines. I would throw out some tried-and-true mobster faves like Sinatra and Dean-o, and mix it up with some modest Italian opera.
And there is no pizza; but we have plenty of pepperoni duplexes here to take the chipmunks to. So, grownups of Burque, forget the deep-dish for a night, stash the repressed childhood longings and eat your pasta.
The Alibi Recommends:
Zucchini fritti appetizer
Spumoni ice cream
Juliani's Italian Bistro, 2906 Juan Tabo NE #D, 271-5151. Hours: Monday thru Saturday 11 a.m.-9 p.m. and Sunday brunch 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Price range: Inexpensive. No smoking, credit cards accepted, no booze.
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