Developing on opposite banks of the Atlantic Ocean, authentic Italian food in its many regional variations and Italian-American food have become distinct cuisines. While Italians understand that no comparison exists between the two culinary traditions, All Purpose, the newest of many eateries in Shaw, represents a failure to identity with either. Instead, it is simply a failed attempt at Italian-American food.
When I arrived for dinner, the eatery was overcrowded and busy.
Although my friend from Rome and I have eaten at several Italian-American restaurants together, All Purpose made us regret our decision to explore another. The painfully adulterated imitations of the traditional dishes that our senses had grown accustomed to were hardly appetizing. After glancing at the menu, I noticed many grammatical variants of the Italian language and started critically assessing the originality of the place.
I first chose an adaptation of a typical Italian dish, calamari fritto ($12). The only reinvented aspect of the plate was a sense of distaste. A thinly sliced lemon had been fried with the calamari and served on a base of sweet Calabrian chili aioli. It also came as a surprise to me to learn that the region of Calabria shifted from its historical cult of spiciness to sweeter tastes. Despite these flaws, the dish escaped a major pitfall by limiting its reuse of frying oil, as I deduced from the crispy golden, almost white, crust.
After disapproving of how non-Italian even the most nominally authentic of the hot appetizers turned out to be, my friend and I examined the pizza section of the menu only to find six expensive options. Prices for pizzas ranged from $14 to $20. I opted for a classic tomato and mozzarella margherita pizza ($14), while my friend ordered a Cossimo ($19). If the menu described the Cossimo selection as a combination of roasted mushrooms, tallegio, scallions, preserved truffle sauce and grana, what came to the table was an undistinguishable white plateau of sloppily compiled ingredients.
A homogeneous blandness characterized the Cossimo pizza and its excessive cheesiness roughly contrasted the overly dense whole-grain pizza dough. A few slices of pizza were enough to leave us with hardly any space to spare. Viscous and fluid at the same time, the tomato and mozzarella pizza resulted in the dish lacking a defined taste.
Apart from the disappointing presentation and consistency, the restaurant lacked an important quality of most businesses: flexibility to consumers’ demands. My friend and I were denied little variations from the stiff menu standards, leading us to believe that the restaurant has yet to build some adaptability into its menu choices in order to accommodate allergies or strong, specific preferences. For instance, the server confessed that due to gaps in cooking experience and lack of many ingredients such as fresh mozzarella my pizza could only come with melted cheese.
All Purpose fails to meet the goal of producing high-quality offerings that most eateries set for themselves. While the restaurant may appeal to those looking for a bustling eatery in a popular neighborhood, those looking for quality and value in their food should pass All Purpose by without a second thought.