The ugly brick building at the corner of Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Fremont Street has not been kind to its ground-floor tenants. The first occupant, Terroir, shuttered after just six months. Its successor, Belly, managed to hold on for three years before succumbing. Janis Martin considered moving her restaurant, Tanuki, to the neighborhood last year, but was foiled by the priggish objections of a concerned neighbor. But the latest arrival, Carpaccio, may just break the curse.
The restaurant, opened by an Italian chef, Francesco Solda, whose last American restaurant venture was a partnership with actor Jason Priestley, established itself as a neighborhood favorite immediately upon opening thanks to a happy hour so absurdly generous that one wonders if Solda understands the concept. The bar, which occupies about half of the 80-seat dining room, offers $4 to $6 small plates and $4 draft beers from 4 to 8 pm nightly. At those prices you could bring in crowds with Tater Tots and Cheez Whiz, but Solda's small bites are quite good: big bowls of mussels and clams, a generous $4 Caesar salad, good fried squid, and an excellent, if very small, steak with Gorgonzola.
The happy-hour menu delivers the hearty, familiar Italian fare one expects from a restaurant decorated in a hodgepodge of art that looks like it came from Target, but Solda isn't just playing the hits. The dinner menu contains much more interesting fare: butifarra, a sort of enormous cheese dumpling ($16); cold marinated beef tongue ($8), sliced so thinly that it dissolves in the mouth; enormous ravioli containing fat fillets of catfish ($15); and a daily carpaccio special, usually of beef, which is tender enough to make you question the very concept of cooking.
Given that it has very little competition in the neighborhood, Carpaccio could probably skate by on a few crowd-pleasers, but Solda has chosen to take his customers seriously. We owe him the same courtesy. Go on—get the tongue. If you don't like it, just wait until you try the Venetian tiramisu, a vast ocean of booze and cream that will leave you pleasantly stupefied. Doubly so when the happy-hour check comes.
- Order this: Orecchiette with hot Italian sausage and broccoli rabe. You will inhale it.
- Best deal: The complimentary basket of bread and spicy tomato tapenade, which tastes kinda like Chinese smoked chili sauce.
- Iâll pass: The squid-ink risotto is a big olâ pile of boring black glop.
EAT: Carpaccio Trattoria, 3500 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 972-4252, carpacciotrattoria.com. 4-10 pm Sunday-Thursday, 4-11 pm Friday-Saturday. $-$$ Inexpensive-Moderate.