If a restaurant could score top marks for consistency alone, then Capri, under the relatively new ownership of restaurateur Arturo Derosa. would almost certainly qualify. During the course of several meals over the past 18 months, I have found little or nothing to complain about, and have had a consistently good time at this delightful establishment. Faint praise, you may say, but I will happily admit to being more impressed by day-in-day-out, three-star quality than by the occasional five-star brilliance followed by a succession of disappointments.
On a recent visit to Capri for a late Saturday lunch/early dinner, three friends (yep, I've got three) and I were singularly impressed, to the point that we actually suggested a return visit in the very near future. As you may surmise, return visits are few and far between when you have to review a different restaurant every week, but I am genuinely looking forward to a reunion at Arturo's excellent establishment. Those who are familiar with the Capri of yore will remember it as something of a fixture. Were it a person, it would have been referred to as a "character." I could name other area restaurants to which it was akin, but would risk offending the bluehair-green-ink brigade, something that must be avoided at all costs. Suffice to say that I'm sure I don"t have to name names.
Happily, much has changed since Arturo purchased the old place a couple of years ago. This is not the smoky old piano bar of yesteryear, where daylight seldom filtered through and where the menu catered to those of a certain age and sartorial disposition. The new Capri is a bright, well-appointed place that delivers on all fronts with a smoothness and efficiency that I wish could be emulated all over town. Apart from the elegant woodwork and presence of daylight, one of the most striking features as you enter Capri is the room-length, glassed-in wine cellar that divides the main dining room from the bar area.
Here the wine is stored in perfect condition. Although doubtless very expensive, such an addition really elevates the tone of a fine dining establishment. My only reservation is that the wine list really doesn't do justice to its storage facility. Although there are simply dozens of reasonably-priced and fine-quality Italian wines available in the Indiana market, Capri only represents one or two of them. Most of the list consists of popular brand names at prices that weigh a little too heavily on the wallet for comfort.
Although not egregious, the prices were such that my friends and I had to choose very carefully, ending up with the always excellent Santa Stefano delle Cane from Boscaini. This full-bodied red in the ripasso style is always a good bet if you're going to try a wide range of dishes. At $34, this wine is one of the best values on the list. Most of the other wines, however, are even pricier, which seems disproportionate to the cost of the entrÈes, which are for the most part very reasonable. Wine aside, no complaints at all.
Once seated at a corner table overlooking the dining room, my friends and I were presented with a little amusement in the form of a thin slice of sautÈed eggplant in a little olive oil, a civilized way to start a meal. There"s an admirable emphasis on freshness at Capri: The menu is short, and there is always a fish of the day and at least a couple of specials.
On this occasion, we started with an assortment of appetizers, to which our excellent, and I mean excellent, server skillfully guided us. A young but seasoned veteran, he read the table quickly and tailored his service to our particular needs (i.e., lots of it and now). I am always impressed by a server who can anticipate his table's requirements and act accordingly, always close by but never overwhelming, present but invisible. Our server on this occasion was as proficient as I've encountered in this town; a rarity, indeed.
And so, back to the food. Starting with some excellent home-cured sausage (salsiccia secca alla Calabrese) for $6.95, a wonderfully fresh Caprese salad (mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, olive oil and basil) for $6.95 and a brilliant barchetta di melenzane ($7.75), we were almost fully sated by the appetizers alone. The latter dish, a wonderful layering of sautÈed eggplant, mozzarella and tomato sauce, was utterly more-ish. Needless to say, all the tomatoes used were fresh and sweet. How could one resist eating Italian food in Indiana in the middle of August when such high quality produce is available? This dish positively screamed of summertime.
The only improvement I could imagine would have been the inclusion of a terrace with a view of Florence and 20 degree lower outside temperatures. Otherwise, bravo! And so, without recourse to salads, we headed straight for the entrÈes. Our server was so persuasive with his description of the chicken lasagna special ($15.50) that three of us opted for it (not the best choice in the interests of research, admittedly) while the other member of our party took the penetta boscaiola for $12.50.
It must be said here that almost everything on the menu looked pretty mouthwatering. If I'd had enough space in my already full belly, I would probably have tried everything on the menu, but that must wait for a future visit. In the past I have enjoyed an absolutely stunning veal osso bucco (an Arturo specialty) that will probably make its reappearance on the fall menu.
The lasagna, a generous portion, was pretty well impeccable. Surprisingly light in texture but profoundly flavored and fresh as can be, this dish was consumed in its entirety. I had actually forgotten that it was made with chicken, and happily ate the first three-quarters or so in the firm belief that it was veal, until someone apprised me of the truth. No worries: It tasted quite fine, and certainly no doggy bags needed here, thank you.
The penne, another generous dish, arrived with a lavish sauce of portabella mushrooms and more fresh tomatoes. Pasta at Capri is always a safe bet. The freshly-prepared noodles are without fail al dente and the saucing well-judged and perfectly complementary. Call it old fashioned comfort food if you like, but I'm always impressed by this kind of cooking when it's done well. Desserts, although tempting, were ignored on this occasion. We had quite simply eaten too much. Instead, each of us had a little shot of Arturo's own Limoncello, an infusion of lemon peel in vodka. It's a great digestif, and a perfect way to end a very fine meal.