October 2003: Cafe Oggi
The menu of this pleasing Italian restaurant—the name means Cafe Today—includes two essays on the food and culture of Sicily.
The menu of this pleasing Italian restaurant—the name means Cafe Today—includes two essays on the food and culture of Sicily. But while the owner of Café Oggí is Sicilian, the chef isn't—she's from Naples, and her cooking reflects the mainland of Italy rather than the island to its south. The restaurant plays a lively part in McLean's culinary scene, providing good food and a covered outdoor space for fair-weather dining.
The warm earth colors on the banquettes and carpets contrast nicely with the white tablecloths. Several faux pillars support attractive light fixtures. Except in the front of the room, which consists of glass blocks, almost every square foot of wall is covered with mirrors.
An appetizer of carpaccio of beef was almost translucent in its thinness and paired with a mixture of greens and Parmesan cheese. Fried zucchini and artichokes were lightly battered, cooked to a light crispness, and served with a vibrantly fresh tomato sauce. Mussels are steamed in an intense white-wine sauce with plenty of garlic and shreds of parsley and basil. One disappointment was the fried calamari—the batter, frying, and sauce were very good, but the calamari were rubbery.
Pastas get high marks. Scoring well were the rigatoni with eggplant and dried ricotta; veal-filled cannelloni with spinach; angel-hair pasta with a vibrantly fresh tomato sauce; and meat tortellini with an invigorating mushroom-cream sauce. The chef cooked each to a perfect al dente. All were good. The disappointment was the most expensive dish on the menu, risotto served with a one-pound lobster, its tail intact and the rest served diced with artichokes. From its dull flavor and overdoneness, it appeared that the dish was not made to order.
The list of main courses is short—just eight, supplemented by two or three daily specials. Seafood is done well. Good choices are broiled Canadian black pearl salmon with tomatoes and olives in olive oil; medallions of swordfish with small olives, garlic, and basil; a subtle mixed seafood of scallops, shrimp, calamari, and fish steamed in a parchment bag; and fresh trout.
Good meat dishes include calf's liver with capers and onions in a brown sauce; Vitello Giudea with artichokes in a white-wine sauce; and thick and tender osso buco accompanied by risotto mixed with diced mixed vegetables, most predominately carrots, that added a hint of sweetness. The one negative in the main-course offerings has been the tendency to give everything the same garnish, whether the dish is seafood or calf's liver.
Two highlights of the restaurant are the house-made Italian bread and the espresso. The wine list would be enhanced by the inclusion of vintages, which are not indicated except on the short list of premiere wines. Even though almost all of the reds are young, and recent vintages in the Piedmont and Tuscany have been very good (with the exception of 1998 Chianti, which have been just average), diners should know whether they are getting a 1997 or a 2000.