Sometimes picking a restaurant randomly pays off and sometimes it doesn’t. On a recent visit to Cleveland, Ohio’s, Little Italy, it didn’t. Guarino’s Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge, located at 12309 Mayfield Road, was established in 1918. According to their website many of the recipes, including their marinara sauce, date back to the 1940’s. The Victorian style décor was added in the 1960’s, and it doesn’t look like they’ve made many changes since. Dark walls, a dark carpet, and a dark ceiling were all that welcomed us when we entered, unless you want to count the ragged strip of beads by the bar which bumped my head.
The staff, including an older woman who appeared to be in charge, argued about who was supposed to do what. She greeted us with “Did she (the young woman at the podium outside) send you inside?” instead of “Hello, welcome to Guarino’s.”
The restaurant was almost empty, with a few people seated on the back patio. M ost people were eating on the street at the Feast of the Assumption, so we didn’t let the sparseness bother us. We were ushered passed the family pictures, to a small table with a shredded white lace tablecloth. They must have gotten a good deal on the things because they not only covered the tables, but holes in the ceiling as well.
With such a small a la cart menu, you would expect well executed dishes. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.
We started our meal with a couple of house salads which consisted of simple greens and two thick slices of carrot for garnish. The house dressing, a creamy Italian, was nice but nothing special. My daughter ordered the Caprese salad. It came with three pieces of not quite ripe tomatoes with the equivalent of one slice of mozzarella chopped into chunks and scattered on top. A slight drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette decorated it along with fresh chopped parsley, a garnish that insinuated itself on almost every plate. At the peak of tomato season, I found the tomato quality an affront to the senses and the cheese portion miserly.
For my main course, I ordered Fettuccini Alfredo. The pasta may have been fresh made, but wasn’t cooked fresh to order. The edge pieces not topped with the basic bland and unseasoned white sauce, looked darkened and dry. There may have been some black pepper in there, but not enough to taste. The only other seasoning was a small smattering of chopped parsley dropped on top. After adding spoonfuls of parmesan, which I had to get myself from an empty table, and more pepper, it was palatable.
My husband’s veal saltimbocca, one of his favorite dishes, was another disappointment. Instead of a stuffed and rolled veal, he received a deep fried piece of meat topped with a thin slice of prosciutto or ham, not sure which, and cheese. The pale brown sauce was flavorless and looked to be thickened with cornstarch. A small pile of pasta accompanied the meat, dressed with more of the bland sauce. Again, the requisite chopped parsley was sprinkled on top.
The best dish of the meal was my daughter’s ravioli. The three huge homemade ravioli were filled with a nice but flavorless blend of ricotta and mozzarella. The biggest disappointment was the marinara sauce, which tasted like it came from a can. Other than fresh chopped parsley, we couldn’t detect any other seasoning.
Our friendly but forgetful waitress, not only left our drinks sitting on the bar when we asked for refills, but neglected to serve bread with our meal. And yes, other tables had baskets, but by the time we noticed, we’d had enough. More disturbing was the length of time she took to return our credit card.
Over all, we found the meal adequate, but overpriced for what they offer and the décor oppressively outdated. If ever a restaurant could use a makeover, this one is long past its prime. Maybe Robert Irvine will stop by some day and help them out. Until then, I’m steering clear.