A couple more years of "Who Goes There?" and I will have made it through a good chunk of Restaurant Row.
Who Goes There? La Rivista
The son of the owner of La Rivista—for 25 years the first stop on the right as you walk west on Restaurant Row—opens bottle after bottle of Peroni at the bar. All the beers will go to the big table of middle-aged officemates making noise in the center of the restaurant. They've been here before. They call the graying, dignified, tuxedo-clad maitre d' "The boss," and testify that every dish—the mussels, the melon and prosciutto—are as great as ever. Twenty generous plates of appetizers and antipasti are devoured before the table is given menus. Now it's time to decide what to eat.
That maitre d' seems like the owner, he's so capable and calm and utterly omnipresent. He takes the order, pours the wine, shakes the cocktail and never lets the glasses fall from the tip of his nose. Brusque he may be—I never got more than a two-word response from him on any question, and my request for specialties or recommendations was answered with "Everything good!" and a wave of his pencil. But impressive and efficient he was as well.
In fact, you shouldn't expect overmuch in terms of grace or nurturing from the La Rivista staff. They're got a theatre service to turn over every night before 8 PM, and many of their elderly regulars need extra time to totter to the bathroom (that big, boisterous table functioned as a tree fallen across the main road for many a senior) and fetch that Burberry-patterned walker leaning by the grand piano. But you'll get speed and professionalism and, by Restaurant Row standards, some damn-well-above-average, if overly salty food. I was somewhat stunned into silence by an unexpectedly excellent crostini di polenta con funghi.
La Rivista is owned by the Marchignoli family, father Luciano, who was born in Bologna, and son James, who has the frame of a bouncer and the preoccupied expression of someone who must meet payroll. Despite the rather anonymous decor and unadventurous menu, it seems the Marchignolis have deserved their run. No diner looked unhappy, everyone was comfortable. All plates were cleaned. According to a waiter, when the theatre crowd files out, a second seating of neighborhood devotees drifts in. This waiter actually seemed sad when I said I didn't have time for the dessert owed me in the prix fixe. He pointed to the ricotta cheesecake to show me what I was missing. I stayed.
— Brooks of Sheffield