Short Orders: Avanti

2720 McKinney Avenue

Some of those classic restaurant pasta dishes get a bit tedious after a few turns of the fork.

Fettuccine alfredo, for instance, combines ribbons of flat pasta with Parmesan, butter and--often--cream. While there's a familiar tang from the cheese and definite richness, the dish offers little intrigue. It's just the same soothing thing, bite after bite.

This is, of course, why certain Italian recipes became popular in the U.S.: they require no deconstruction and very little attention, yet still have the capacity to please most anyone. Even my waiter at Avanti suggested I add grilled chicken to the bowl. Better that way, he explained.

He's right.

Their version of the dish adapted by a chef named Alfredo but made famous by Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford (according to the most common story),.flows in steady, unbending, monotonous form across the palate. Creamy and smooth, it still makes you wonder how much the silent film stars had to drink before falling for this pasta creation. With chicken, however, streaks of bitter caramelization burned into the meat seem to wake up the cool and tangy sauce--like the two were meant for each other.

Avanti draws different crowds at different times of day. It's more interesting late in the evening, of course, although I kind of enjoy the lunch time atmosphere--a mix of regulars asking for "the usual," suit-and-tie corner office types and laid back sorts in shorts and Hawaiian shirts.

So it's double the comfort: an easy-going formality and easy to understand food service. The only problem? Well, there's two, really. First, guests rarely challenge the kitchen to push. Too many times I overhead people order beef well done to medium well, for instance, thus allowing line cooks to char the hell out of mediocre quality cuts. That complacency weaves its way through the menu, as dishes like stuffed mushrooms come out fine, but not interesting.

That's the second problem.

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