Marinella, an Italian resto in the heart of Little Italy, has a large west-facing patio making it an ideal option for an outdoor lunch or a romantic dinner date. With that in mind, I arrive at 6pm on a Thursday and sit and wait for my date to arrive. My server refills my water and brings me freshly baked bread to appease both my stomach and boredom.
I peruse Marinella's comprehensive wine list while I wait, a long menu of new and old world wines, half of which are from Italy. Alongside a full service bar, they have Mill Street beer on tap.
My date arrives; time to order. I want the bruschetta, but seeing as I already overdosed on bread, we order a Caesar salad ($9) to share. I expect a tiny salad but the one that arrives is pleasantly fit for two. The romaine is crunchy and fresh, and the homemade Caesar dressing is creamy and flavourful. Fresh parmesan and pepper are sprinkled on top, with a few brown croutons to boot. It's a standard Caesar, but done well.
What to order? Marinella offers a long list of pasta (in two sizes), risotto, grilled meat and pizza. In the mood for pasta, I can't decide between the gnocchi with fresh basil tomato sauce ($22, main), the tortellini in a creamy, balsamic reduction ($22, main), or the seafood risotto in "Marinella" sauce ($32). Or maybe the pizza - the prosciutto version that keeps going by is quite enticing. I settle on the gnocchi, while my date orders the fettucine alla carbonara ($25).
Our food arrives. The portions are healthy, not too big and not too small. We both agree that the carbonara is absolutely delicious - the sauce is sumptuous and decadent, without being too heavy or thick. Mushrooms dominate, in scent as well as taste. The quality and texture of the fresh, homemade pasta is evident. I haven't eaten a lot of carbonara in my life, but this is the best I've ever had.
The homemade gnocchi, on the other hand, is a bit of a misfire simply because the tomato-basil sauce is relatively uninteresting. Its texture and thick, sharp taste leads me to believe Chef relied more heavily on tomato paste instead of fresh summer tomatoes.
Would we like dessert? The menu changes daily but on this Thursday features crème brulee, a triple-layer chocolate cake, and peanut-butter chocolate ice cream. Sadly, we're both too full (gnocchi and pasta tends to do that) - but hopefully next time.