There were happy tables at Ripasso, and there were unhappy tables at Ripasso. The happy pair to my right were talking to their server about an unhappy duo who had just left. “Some people come in here thinking they can just go in and out,” the waiter explained of the unhappy table. “That’s not what we’re about here.” He went on to note that the staff times meals at a leisurely pace intentionally, and that the restaurant experience at Ripasso is meant to last around two hours.
Would I have found this less smug had there been water in my glass? Or if the cocktails hadn’t arrived ten minutes after the appetizers? Or if small requests—a copy of the receipt—hadn’t been met with burdensome sighs? Probably. But in either case, there was no chance I’d be out of this restaurant within two hours.
The waits between courses left plenty of time to ponder the food, although anyone familiar with Terragusto, Theo Gilbert’s previous restaurant (whose two locations are now closed), already will be quite familiar with much of it. I ordered a few dishes I remembered fondly: smooth, rich, savory onion custard. Delicate, squash-filled “pope’s hat”–shaped pasta in brown butter. They were just as I recalled. Unfortunately, other dishes also rang true to my less-fond recollections of Terragusto, reminding me why my later meals at those restaurants were strictly pasta affairs: the average mozarrella-stuffed arancini, the terribly oversalted trout, the perfunctory flourless chocolate cake. This room seemed even more plain than the previous ones, and I spent three creeping hours staring at an (off) TV.
Between the phoned-in food and the service so bad it didn’t even stop to recognize how bad it was, it didn’t feel as if anyone was putting much thought into Ripasso. Except in one unexpected area: the cocktails. Chef-owner Gilbert brought on Tim Lacey from the Drawing Room to put together a list of drinks that’s a mix of Italian aperitifs (a light and pleasantly bitter Americano) and the more complex drinks the Drawing Room is known for (e.g., a Fernet-laced rum cocktail called the 8½). This makes Ripasso the type of neighborhood place I would happily drop in to for a drink and a bowl of pasta before heading home. The problem was, after that night’s experience, it didn’t seem as if Ripasso was really the type of place one was encouraged to “drop in” to.
Fortunately, I went back. At a time and on a day of the week when there would be no other tables for the servers to be distracted by. And with a similar order—cocktails, appetizers, pastas, entrées, desserts—I made it out in a little more than an hour and a half. Victory! The food was similarly hit or miss, but the batting average seemed marginally higher: A seasonal vegetable plate showcased the deeply roasted beets and beautiful purple carrots that remain at the markets. The pastas, in keeping with their reputation, were beautifully made, the Swiss chard gnocchi and pappardelle delicately textured. Both were rich to a point of excess, however, and I caution (or advise, depending on your preference) that the pappardelle comes wearing a heavy truffle perfume. Mains kept with their less-stellar reputation, too—a half-chicken’s skin very salty, its meat somewhat chalky.
And so I left with the same impression as on my first visit—that this might be a nice neighborhood place for some pasta and a cocktail. Except this time, the idea didn’t seem so implausible.
By Julia Kramer
|Venue name:||Ripasso (CLOSED)|
1619 N Damen Ave
|Cross street:||between North and Wabansia Aves|
|Opening hours:||Dinner (closed Mon)|
|Transport:||El stop: Blue to Damen. Bus: 50, 56, 72.|
|Price:||Average main course: $16|
|Do you own this business?|