Thursday, July 31, 2014

Uva Italian Trattoria

Uva Italian Trattoria
2605 N 4th St, Coeur d'Alene

People sometimes talk about this particular building at the corner of 4th and Appleway in CdA as if it's had a zillion occupants throughout its history, but the story is actually surprisngly brief. Built in 1984, it was Godfather's Pizza for 20 years (and OMG do I still miss a good taco pizza every day, always). Fast Mexi Los Sanchez lasted about two years until Fiesta Mexicana cha-cha'd in, where it stayed until last fall. So, unlike several other buildings in town, I don't believe this one has THE CURSE (*cough* 1801 Sherman).

After remodeling the interior to the point of being utterly unrecognizable, owners Steve Van Zeveren, his wife Crystal, and his sister Lisa opened Uva Trattoria to the public in May. Steve has an extensive background in Italian cuisine, having studied at the California Culinary Academy and residing as head chef for many years at Napoli Pizza in Vallejo, CA.

Uva is Steve's debut starring role as a restaurateur/owner, but after my recent lunch date at his place, I can see how his history and knowledge have made for a solid culinary point of view: food made fresh, using organic, locally sourced ingredients whenever possible to create an intimate, memorable dining experience.

My first run-in with Uva was at the Riverstone Street Fair, where I help my mother peddle her jewelry. The owner and several employees had set up a booth directly next door to us where they were handing out menus and coupons and giving out free samples of their homemade meatballs. "Meatball shots! Try 'em here", the guy barked repeatedly, "I've got the tastiest balls in town!"

Naturally, my ears perked up, and after telling him how much I was enjoying the scent of his balls wafting over, he handed me a sample cup, along with a hunk of their signature herbed bread. Delicious indeed, but just a tease. I knew I had to check out more Uva goodness, and soon. So, the timing was just right when I got a message from a fellow local food writer asking if I'd like to join her for a lunch date. She suggested Uva, and I answered her back: yes, yes, yes!

So far, the early reactions I've read about the Uva Trattoria experience have been mostly positive, but a couple of close friends recently visited and posted a very less-than-enthusiastic review on Facebook:

"Our server seemed disconnected and went through the motions without actually rising above a fast food mentality. When the food arrived it was presentable but after a few bites we realized that it was standard fare and overpriced. My pesto penne pasta with sundried tomato topping was actually penne bathed in marinara with cheese and herbs sprinkled on top. I hate marinara. My partner ordered chicken pasta with white sauce. They don't have a white sauce dish on the menu so that costs $3 extra. The server didn't ask what kind of pasta so it was just plain spaghetti. I had high hopes, but 40 bucks for Chef Boyardee is a little pretentious. I hope they up their game."

Ouchy mama! Well, bad nights happen to the best of places, so I when I arrived for my lunch date, I walked in with an open mind and an extremely robust appetite. As I sat waiting for my friend, I took a gander around and was quite impressed with what they've done to the place.

Colorful wine bottles line the half-walls that divide the place into several distinct sections.The walls are a serene slate blue, and the ratty carpeting has been replaced with contemporary faux wood laminate flooring. Lighting is comfortingly dim (we all look better in the dark, right?), and classic crooners like Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra blared through overhead speakers. Certainly, they've put a lot of effort into giving the place the feel of an authentic Italian eatery, and basically it works.

My lunch partner arrived and after perusing the menu for five seconds, we both agreed right away on a calamari appetizer. "Nobody ever wants to eat fried food with me!" she lamented and I was happy to oblige. A deeper look into Uva's somewhat minimalistic menu revealed a handful of classic pasta dishes (spaghetti of the marinara, bolognese, and primavera varieties, $8-12), entrees (chicken of the marsala and parmesan varieties, $14), pizzas of the build-your-own or specialty varieties ($10-15), as well as some lunch sandwiches ($8ish), and a smattering of soups, salads, and appetizers.

My accomplice decided on the meat lasagna ($12), saying that since it was a hundred degree day out side, she wanted something she could never muster the effort to make on such a hot day. Also, we found out later after our server brought the dish out that that day happened to be National Lasagna day, It was like kismet, meant to be.

My go-to favorite dish at an Italian joint is always seafood fettuccine, but since this does not feature on the Uva menu (nor do any other dishes with a white sauce unless you want to pay an extra $3 to convert a menu item), I picked the closest thing I could find. Steve's specialty Cave Bay pizza ($15).

Time flies when you're blah-blah-blah-ing happily away, but our calamari seemed to arrive in fast fashion. Served with a side of lemon aioli, as well as a ramekin of their sweet and tangy marinara sauce, Uva's calamari is dredged in a delicate rice flour and fried lightly. And perhaps that was the problem. The calamari just seemed like it wasn't able to enjoy its full due time in the deep fryer, and the coating was overly delicate to the point of near non-existence.

Still, we both agreed that the squid itself was very fresh and tasty, and not at all rubbery like calamari-gone-south can sometimes be. A liberal sprinkling of prosciutto shavings added a lot of helpful flavor, but the lemon wedge looked like it had been sunbathing by the lake too long: mushy and old. A thicker coating, a little more cooking time, and a fresher lemon wedge, and this would be a perfect dish.

Again, we were caught up gabbing, but our main courses showed up tout de suite. Or should I say, they showed up subito, as they say in Italia. My pizza was gigantic! For some reason, my dizzy brain was expecting a Fire-style pizza with a flat crust, more of a personal sized sort of thing. But what landed on our table was a glorious 15-inch beast, gleaming and beaming with cheesy joy.

Sometimes I like to go for the weirdest thing on the menu, and I think the Cave Bay pizza might be it. It's a traditional hand-tossed crust coated in a lemon cream sauce, shrimp, clams, prosciutto, fresh parsley, fried capers, and topped with a generous amount of fresh mozzarella. This glistening beauty, with gentle brown burn marks scattered across it like love bruises, was still so hot out of the oven and melty-fine, that I had to dig in with a fork instead of just shoving it into my mouth like a rabid raccoon.

It was as kind to my mouth as it had been to my eyes. Oh, mio dio! The shrimp and clams burst a rich, fresh seafood flavor onto my tongue, which mingled with the salty umami of the prosciutto, the tanginess of the capers, and the uber super duper cheesiness of the mozzarella to create a sensation my brain's pleasure center had never quite experienced.

In short, it was a remarkable pizza, and there was way more than I could tackle in one sitting, so I was able to re-live the glory later that evening at work. And unlike many more corporate-oriented pizzas, it was just as divine after a trip through the microwave.

My lunch date was nice enough to scoop out a slice of her lasagna onto a little plate for me to sample as well. Lasagna has never been something I have deep cravings for or really love much at all (sorry, mom), but the freshness and quality of Uva's version of the Italian staple was undeniable. She had commented that there was quite a bit of spicy bang to the sauce, and right she was.

We both agreed that one problem with a lot of lasagnas was imbalanced ingredients, but this had a perfect ratio of cheese to marinara to pasta to meat, and there was no way this dish had spent any time at all in Hotel Freezerburn, which is an increasingly rare thing to find. No, this thing had clearly just hopped off the tasty truck today, and as a non-fan of lasagna, I would actually return to Uva just to order this and eat it up yum.

Service was superb, by the way, and that's most likely always the case, but I think it was slightly enhanced after our server realized that she was dealing with a couple of semi-sell known foodie writers. That's okay, it good to be treated special once in a while, and with food as fab as Uva has, they would have gotten a kind review even if they thought we were just Joe Generic from Cincinnati.

Our server tried tempting us with their house-made tiramisu, but our full tummies couldn't bear such a delicious idea. I told her I would return one night just for that legendary dessert and a glass of wine, and I meant it (oh yeah, their wine list has about eleventy hundred options).

After hearing mixed or mediocre reviews about a place, it's always fantastic to investigate the situation myself and find that the restaurant is actually a treasure and we are lucky to have it around. Such is the case with Uva Trattoria. Chef Boyardee. go jump in the lake.


Giucchi said...

If you are talking about Californian Italian cuisine, maybe it is up to their standards but please DO NOT say it is an authentic Italian restaurant!!!
If you want to taste authentic lasagna or Tiramisu or any genuine Italian dish, please come to my house and I will gladly educate you.I will even bake fresh bread to go with your meal.
So far the closest I have found is Tony's by the lake or Angelo's...or my own cuisine...

Anonymous said...

@Giucchi: Angelo's might be close to authentic, and up until about three months ago I would have rated the place well despite the cost of his food. But last three months I've personally noted a decline in quality. Portions, while not huge at one time were adequate. They have gotten smaller, with the veal dishes being the ones that seemed to have shrank the most. The last time I ordered the smoked salmon pasta dish, the salmon was way oversmoked. Finally, a few weeks ago I ordered spaghetti with meatballs. They claimed to be out of meatballs (They don't make them to order?!?), so I let them switch it to sausage. To their credit, I got three sausages, two whole ones and one cut up within the sauce. But all of the sausages were overcooked and way too dry, the one in the sauce the worst. I don't know if the food caused this or if I picked up a stomach flu, but my stomach was in horrid shape for a long time after that meal as well.

So in short, I no longer wish to even consider Angelo's. Maybe my experience was unique, I've seen other recent reviews that did praise the place. But I don't wish to go there now.

And another point. Show me where in the blog that the reviewer says the food is authentic. Maybe I missed it, but I don't ever see said claim. Even if they do, so what? I do like trying the "authentic" versions of cuisine. But I am not such a food snob that I can't enjoy Americanized versions of various cuisines if it is done well and tastes good. Often the Americanized versions become their own cuisine as well, many would argue such for Americanized Chinese for instance. There seems to be this food snob attitude that if it isn't 100 percent authentic to the nation of origin, it's crap regardless of the truth. I guess I don't need to be such a snob.

Jim said...

"If you are talking about Californian Italian cuisine, maybe it is up to their standards but please DO NOT say it is an authentic Italian restaurant!!!"

Don't think that was ever said...

And I highly doubt your cooking is as good as you'd like to think.

Dunning-Kruger much?

Anonymous said...

I guess you have to define authentic Italian. If your definition of authentic means my recipes came from a man who immigrated from Puglia, Italy in 1966, opened his own restaurant in 1968 and has been running strong ever since, winning numerous awards along the way, is authentic than yes we are AUTHENTIC.

I also make some pretty darn good rosemary fennel focaccia house bread fresh every day. Maybe you should give us a try.

Chef Steve
Uva Trattoria

Giucchi said...

I am quoting from the article.....

"Certainly, they've put a lot of effort into giving the place the feel of an authentic Italian eatery, and basically it works."

I am sorry if I am a food snob but I was born and bred in Italy, where I lived 45 years of my long life so, if you don't mind, maybe I know what Italian food tastes like.
I taught cooking lessons too for a couple of years and I am not saying that my food is PERFECT but people love it so I ma happy with that.
I went to dinner to UVA because my cousin wanted to try it so I am talking from experience. My cousin couldn't even eat his lasagna...
I ordered the pizza and wasn't crazy about it.
Yes, chef Steve, I tried your brad and didn't like it at all...
If you want I can come one day, cook and serve my lasagna and bread and let the customers judge...
I agree that we should accomodate our taste to local ingredients and variations of dishes but when it is my country I can't do that, sorry!!!
On a different note,if you realy want to et the best pizza in Idaho, go to Embers by the lake, in Hauser. SUPERB.

Anonymous said...

@Giucchi: As an aside, I am the author of the post that also discusses Angelo's and mentions the term "food snob".

What I find amusing is that you state you know what Italian food tastes like.

What part of Italy? From what I understand, Northern Italian differs from Southern Italian, differs from Sicilian and so forth.

That and the part of the article you quote seems to be describing the decor, not the food itself, although I'd need to reread the article to be sure.

Anyway, you basically prove my point. When it comes to at least Italian cuisine, you've apparently become enough of a food snob that you can't allow yourself to enjoy food unless it falls under your definition of "authentic". Pity.

To be fair, I've never been the Uva Trattoria. For all I know they serve egg noodles and ketchup although I do sincerely doubt that. I just have an issue with people that have closed their mind and taste buds to what could be good food just because they have became such food snobs. I'm willing to give a place a chance even if it isn't 100 percent "authentic". I do enjoy finding places that come closer to "authentic", but I also just enjoy good food, period. I don't place such artificial limitations on my palate.