Restaurant Review: Primi Piatti

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Primi Piatti

2722 Park Street

(904)389-5545

Mario and Nancy Ferrari opened Primi Piatti after moving here from Washington, DC two years ago. It’s a relatively new place that doesn’t feel new. Nor does it feel like Florida; inside, it’s a lot more like Chicago. The place only holds 54 chairs, while being open for a total of just seven hours daily. As such, their goal is to provide a high-end experience. They are also open for private parties, with a minimum of 20 people at $35 each, with 20% tip, not counting alcohol. $840 is actually pretty reasonable, given a choice of two appetizers, two entrees and two desserts.

Primi Piatti takes a very basic, traditional approach—nothing fancy. They don’t do a whole lot, but what is done is done well. They carry seven import beers (six imports and Miller Lite) and 31 varieties of wine. Appetizer options include fried mozzarella or steamed mussels with homemade marinara, mozzarella caprese salad and Caesar salad. Appetizer options include fried mozzarella or steamed mussels with homemade marinara, mozzarella caprese salad and Caesar salad.

The bread was accompanied by the usual olive-oil-and-balsamic-vinegar dip, but augmented with tiny shavings of white truffle. Nice enough, but the bread went best with the she-crab soup, more bisque than broth, with meaty chunks of blue crab. $7 bought a bowl that was deep, wide and rich enough to fill stomachs; the bread made it perfect. That soup of the day deserves to be on the regular menu. The calamari was fine enough, moreso its crispy-fried tentacles than its overly chewy torso, but that batter would be fantastic fried on shrimp, or anything else. It should go without saying that a good bit of it wound up submerged in soup, temporarily.

The pasta selection is stacked with all one could wish for, and what they don’t have can probably be made. The “Primi Piatti” (“first course”) boasts a dozen items, including gnocchi with gorgonzola, while the “Secondi Piatti” (“second course”) offers a choice of chicken or veal cooked in six classic ways including Cacciatore, Francese, Marasala, Parmigiana or Picatta, served on angel hair. (The Primi looks intriguing, with artichokes and herbs in a black truffle and brandy cream sauce.) They also offer grilled chicken, shrimp or salmon, served with sautéed spinach.

My lobster ravioli was a mixed-bag. The minced-lobster filling was too fine to really appreciate the texture of the lobster, and it seemed a little bland. But then again, it was covered with a sundried tomato cream sauce that more than compensated. Good, but hardly the best ravioli I’ve had—that would be Maggiano’s mushroom ravioli with pesto alfredo sauce, which is about the same price but so good you may find yourself forcing strangers to try it, if you’re eating there alone. That said, I would try it again right now.

My colleague’s Linguine Gamberi Scampi was more successful, a very simple mix of garlic, lemon butter, white wine and herbs. The shrimp were fresh and plump; I would have cooked them just a little longer, but that’s a personal thing. They left the salting mostly up to the eater, who might want to carry their own high-end sea salt and pepper grinder into the place, because their shaker game needs some work.

One notable anomaly on the menu is a near-total absence of beef. The dinner menu is marked only by a formidable Beef Scaloppini ($25), while beef tortellini or sausage and peppers can be had at lunch. The lunch menu is vastly different, generally. The entrees (all priced cheaper by half) include old favorites like Fettucine Pesto, Veal Cannelloni, Cheese Manicotti, Eggplant and Chicken Parmigiana. There are also Panini sandwiches with eggplant and roasted peppers, or chicken with gorgonzola.

The total bill, with tax and tip, added up to $90 for two people, and we didn’t even sample the variety of hand-made desserts. A meal there could be had for less, for sure, but there is enough to warrant the expense. Three people could spend $200 easy, and not even notice it. That probably happens a lot, in fact, because it’s a pretty relaxing atmosphere where both time and money feel almost nonexistent—definitely a quality you want in a restaurant It’s debatable whether the price point is set a bit high for the market, but Primi Piatti is going strong after two years, so maybe it’s not.

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About Shelton Hull

I'm a writer/journalist with over 20 years experience covering all types of subject-matter, with a specialization in politics, music, food and dance. My work has been published in nearly 40 different magazines, newspapers, websites and zines, in addition to occasional forays into radio, TV and spoken-word. Former candidate for City Council District 14 in Jacksonville, FL (2011), and a proud member of Gator Nation.

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