After a rainy afternoon pressing buttons, turning cranks and sounding whistles at the Science Museum (yes, the two of us 20-somethings), we drove further into the heart of downtown St. Paul looking for dinner. Hoping for a local pizzeria, Trattoria Da Vinci seemed an acceptable substitute near the picturesque Mears Park. Open Table showed seating available at every 15-minute increment, so we were surprised to hear the host coldly tell the couple ahead of us they were full. We looked around and saw plenty of empty tables, so we pushed back… and to our surprise, it worked!
We were so hungry that we didn’t realize the cheesy ambiance until we’d already downed most of the warm bread in front of us. Fake pillars and various levels of seating did give the room depth, but the random trinkets, faux plants and colored lighting felt cheap. One plus was the live music. A talented guitarist strummed tunes of all kinds, giving a pleasant – albeit borderline tacky – atmosphere.
If you’re online menu-peekers like we are, don’t get excited about the paninis or pizza combinations. Apparently, those are only for lunch. In fact, the restaurant was completely out of the only two pizzas actually listed on the menu. What respectable Italian restaurant is out of pizza on a Saturday night?
Jim started with a gin and tonic while I had a salad, though I think mine had more potential for a hangover. The spinacino al gorgonzola was possibly one of the worst salads I’ve eaten. Spinach leaves wilted under gobs of heavy dressing, which served as the ‘gorgonzola,’ and bits of soft and overly salty pancetta swam in the residual liquid. The only perk was the roasted garlic cloves, which were hidden underneath the salad leaves away from the mess above.
Our entrees were better; they didn’t stand out, but they were a step up from how we’d started. Jim’s Penne Al Arrabbiata with spicy Italian sausage combined penne, garlic, meat and tomato sauce in an oversized bowl. It had sharp flavors, but the heat accumulated and the heavy dish became almost too spicy to taste much else. I added mushrooms to the Capellini Alla Checca – angel hair pasta, garlic and tomatoes with herbs and mozzarella – which actually made for a satisfying meal. The pasta was nothing special, but the mix of fresh tomatoes and mushrooms with cool basil and mozzarella was a treat.
The food swayed our ratings on this one, but the décor had an influence and the nice-but-slow service didn’t help. Overall, Trattoria Da Vinci was below average – our experience wasn’t traumatizing, but it’s one we’ll hardly remember and won’t repeat.
RATING (out of 5 ♠♠♠♠♠)
Menu Selection: ♠♠
Food Taste & Presentation: ♠♠
COMPLETE EXPERIENCE: ♠♠1/2
Total bill, including tip: $55