Pasta Brioni’s art choice may raise some eyebrows, but the food will surprise your taste buds
Pasta Brioni, you sure caught me off guard. I’m mean, in some ways I was completely ready for your sturdy, expertly assembled Italian fare, and I was not surprised to see the overhead lighting and prominent flatscreen TVs or to hear the retro-hits FM radio you relinquished your ambiance to.
You drew me in with your promise of decent pasta and kept me with your extensive, reasonably priced menu. But I couldn’t have anticipated that you’d give me so much food for thought…
Brioni is a big space to be sure, when you add together the dining room lounge, which share a continuous dark-toned colour scheme and off-the-shelf framed Italianate imagery.
Lunch looks like a busy time for them, based on the redaction-smudged chalkboards behind the sandwich counter, its contents veiled under cloths for the evening. Supper on this night hosted only a handful of tables, which inspired the kitchen to catch up on some noisy prep work that involved pounding.
Co-diner and I were so famished we went straight to work figuring out what to eat. It was only after the server took our order from the range of pastas, entrees, steaks and pizzas that we noticed the enormous mural on the northern wall. It was a representation of a what we found out is a famous photograph called “An American Girl in Italy.” It depicts a young American named Ninalee Craig walking through a street full of ogling, jeering Florentine men.
Craig has claimed she adored the attention at the time, but there’s no way to tell from looking at her averted eyes, or the way she clutches her handbag and shawl. But the artist’s rendering in Pasta Brioni pretty much eradicates whatever ambiguity might abide in the image captured by Ruth Orkin’s camera in 1951.
Brioni’s artist has added colour, as well as a twilit murkiness to the scene, turning the men’s shadowed, contorted features faintly monstrous. The girl at the centre of it all seems to be rushing so as to not be caught there when night falls. The artist also added a couple of guys, one passed out on a table, that aren’t in the photo, perhaps for comic relief?
In any case, the painting is its own work of art, stirring troubling resonances not contained in the already controversial original image.
In short, it’s kind of crazy and, yes, entirely unexpected. I invite you to see it yourself and use the occasion to ponder the belated comeuppance (or continued ascendance) of powerful, prominent sexual predators in the current cultural moment.
But while you’re doing so, you might want to enjoy Brioni’s Chicken Gigi ($15.95), which the menu proclaims a house specialty. A whole chicken breast—pounded, breaded and carefully fried—is smothered (and I do mean smothered) in a rich tomato-cream sauce laced with ham and mushrooms. If you like chicken parmigiana but not the upholstery of mozzarella cheese that often covers it, Chicken Gigi is similarly savoury and rib-sticking.
Alternately, Brioni will give the Gigi treatment to a different meat or pasta of your choosing. My order also entitled me to a generous side of al dente penne in simple but effective tomato sauce, to ensure I didn’t walk away hungry or insufficiently redolent of garlic.
Co-diner’s tortellini alla panna ($13.95) was likewise generous and well-executed, its plump veal-pockets immured in garlicky alfredo sauce. She admitted defeat just past the half-way mark and took the rest home.
The tomato bocconcini salad ($6.95) was good in that it contained lots of the unripe cheese and quartered romas promised by the name, tossed with green onions and romaine, but the basil vinaigrette did not much assert itself. The house red was also serviceable, especially with food, and a deep pour for $6.
7623 Argyll Rd