By Amy McCarthy
By Scott Reitz
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
Bamboo Bamboo busted. So Joseph Gutierriz opened his own Spanish restaurant in the Lovers Lane spot that was Buddha Bar before it was Bali Bar. Tutto is his expansion, or is it his reanimation? Gutierriz says that Tutto was a restaurant he opened in Scottsdale in 1994, before he lost it in a 2000 divorce. So he reopened it on McKinney Avenue in the spot that was once Watel's.
Hmm. Weird. Yet maybe that's what you would expect from a chef who invented port flamed sweetbreads served in a leek pouch--an odd place to tuck a thymus gland when you think about it. Gutierriz is resurrecting "eclectic Italian," which is perhaps as hard to decipher as Bamboo Bamboo ("cuisine from the bamboo regions of the world," which these days includes hair salons). Maybe it's dubbed so because it grabs and pinches from a tight Mediterranean circle. Or maybe it's because Tutto has a tryst-ish power lunch: "in and out in 30 minutes."
Or maybe it's because of dishes like calemaretti al forno: squid stuffed with prosciutto and ricotta, aromatized with thyme and garlic and served in a bowl. The squid resembles bulbs, throbbing with potency on the edge of bloom. They rest in a pool of "spicy" plum tomato sauce, though the sting is severely blunted. The meat is tender; it's almost hard to distinguish between those buds and the ricotta spread. And if it weren't for the cured tang of the prosciutto, those buds would collapse into a smear of overplayed monotony, the textures indulging their similarities while the flavors are left gasping. The prosciutto gives it youthful vigor and maturity, all at once--a surf and turf for the thinking diner.
Nothing eclectic about the traditional bean and pasta soup. Perhaps it was installed as a breather. It is light, fogged with a clean earthiness. There's no overbearing thump of heartiness. The pasta is highly functional.
But wander from the gentle appetizer/soup terrain and danger confronts the lips; errors that smell suspiciously like crimps in the cash flow spigot. Not that the menu prose fails to seduce. Cervo agrodolce spins thusly: red wine cured venison loin sautéed with pancetta, berries, balsamic and chestnuts. This could be a stunning prize.
But it went booby.
The plate is a black tar pit, the loin bumps barely perceptible in the dim Tutto illumination. The danger is that the balsamic berry tar would be overbearing, thwacking the sliver of racy loin sweetness with a fruity fist--leaving nothing but a soup with a camel hump. Instead of tender, the meat is tough and mealy, though the center is a rosy pink. Flavors are even more disturbing. The flesh is livery and stale, tasting as if it were carelessly frozen and thawed, or otherwise neglected. So powerful is its hoary insistence that these off flavors are able to pierce the heavy balsamic blanket conspicuously.
This was not some isolated deviation. At Tutto the young, too, are made old. Like the deer, the veal reads well: veal chop with spaghetti squash, prosciutto, capers and garlic. But like the venison it creaked and wobbled, though on delivery it pouted with promise. The chop is thick and creamy white, save for the pinkish pancetta scraps pimpling the surface, right through where the bone curves out of the slab of meat. A quick sweep of the knife proves the meat tender; the center blushes. Yet in the mouth everything went awry. Despite an apparently skillful cooking, the chop is cold. Fat trim is distressingly glutinous. Meat grows spongy as the outer layers are traversed and the knife burrows toward the bone. And like the deer, this calf tastes stale.
These flaws are not limited to those with hoofs, because even fish (this despite the excellent calamari) goes ripe. Branzino alla Romana is baked sea bass with eggplant, onion, capers, olives and scorched mozzarella garnished with bright green basil leaves. The prose promises something tight, understated and alluring. What we get instead is something that throttles all of the lust valves. The fish is mushy, and it smells like...well, fish, with a whiff of drained tide pool to broaden the aromatic rainbow.
But not all Tutto things disappoint so robustly. Unfortunately you have to skirmish to the end of the meal to find hope. Chilled ricotta cake is moist and rich without beating with the truncheon of sweetness. It treads a light--though not delicate--footprint across the tongue. Texturally it is more fluffy than dense, and it balances a provocative pose between sweet and salt, rounding a creamy cheese flavor without slipping into dairy abuse.
More islands of respite bud at the beginning of the meal. Tuscan tomato salad with mozzarella is littered with deep red tomato slices that go where such slices seldom tread: flavor. The vinaigrette is gentle, respecting the tomato richness. Yet mozzarella is stingy, with just a single slice of cheese crowning the crimson.