The interior designers of the new edition of the Cheshire have certainly earned their fees. The third venue we've visited there is Basso, a virtual undercroft that's down a curving flight of terrazzo stairs. (Wheelchair access is via another door and requires calling ahead, unfortunately.) The long room centers on the double-sided bar, an open kitchen is at the short end by the stairs and gas light fixtures line the walls. Very atmospheric, with booths set a few inches above the floor line, presumably to enhance people-watching. Too bad about the gaggle of television sets.
The menu encourages sharing, but that's not to say that portions are unreasonable. A solo diner would find them adequate to generous but ordering one thing at a time would probably be a good idea. The section called Plates brought items that were from meal-sized to slightly less. Beet rigatoni, fresh pasta made with beet juice, arrived in a portion slightly larger than a measuring cup, for instance, and an orzo salad was slightly smaller. The rigatoni, with small cubes of beef, was pleasant but unexciting, tepid in temperature, and only faintly beet-y, rather bland despite its beet-red color. And the orzo salad tasted of a commercial curry powder, but neither the orzo nor the rigatoni were overcooked.
Far more pleasing, the grilled corn appetizer began with inspiration from Mexican street cart-style corn, where it's taken from the boiler, dipped in mayo and rolled in cheese. Chef Patrick Connolly pulls the husk back but leaves it as a sort of handle, grills the corn, dips it in a garlic aioli, and rolls it in cheese plus crushed corn nuts. The ear is cleaved across, to make for easier eating and allowing some other lucky eater a serving. This is fine stuff, the corn nuts the perfect touch to allow for a textural contrast. It's a don't-miss, and let's hope it will stay on the menu.
Roasted cauliflower? Yes, and don't be reluctant. If you've not experienced the difference that roasting creates in vegetables, here's the perfect into. The caramelization and texture changes are remarkable, and the sprinkle of toasted breadcrumbs (very Sicilian, that) plus a little gremolata, that lemon-parsley mince (and maybe I tasted some garlic in there?) create a new sensation. And then there were the lamb meatballs, another outstanding dish. Baked rather than fried, they were tender and meaty, sitting up all perky in a chunky tomato sauce and alternating with polenta balls of the same size. Goat cheese joined the group here and there. Lamb and tomato are to me one of those perfect pairings. This, which arrived sizzling in a small skillet, is an easy entree for one.
Pizzas are about 12 inches, relatively thin-crusted, and cooked in the wood-fired oven. A tomato-less pie of shredded green onions, asparagus, and shrimp sausage, delicious and very different, rode a nicely crisp crust. Malfada pasta, long strips, fluted along one edge come sauced with a rich, creamy ragu of both pork and beef, very much in the Bolognese style. It's comfort food, not exciting but soothing. Both half and whole orders of pasta are available.
Limoncello cheesecake sounded like a good idea. Just a guess, but perhaps the kitchen has made its own limoncello, steeping lemon zest in grain alcohol or vodka. There's a bitterness in the cheesecake that shows the white pith of the lemon peel wasn't completely removed, a technical foul, perhaps, but on the other hand, could it have been deliberate, to offset the sweetness and the richness of the cheesecake? If so, it works, the bitter notes a surprise but not a disqualification for this creamy dish which seems - perhaps because of the unconventional approach - a little lighter than expected. On the other hand, where was the black pepper the menu noted? Didn't see it, didn't taste it.
Good service on a night when momentum began to grow surprisingly late in the dinner hour, including catching a forgotten item without being reminded. The wine list is Italian, with an interesting by-the-glass list and some dandy, dangerous cocktails including one with watermelon that could be addictive.
7036 Clayton Ave.
Lunch & Dinner Mon.-Sat.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Tricky (see above)
Plates, pizze and entrees: $7-$25