March 14-20, 2007

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First Bite


By Brett Ascarelli

In our foodie version of The Merchant of Venice, Bassanio has won an all-expenses paid time-warp vacation package to the New World for himself and several of his acquaintances. He decides to smooth things over with his old nemesis, Shylock, by inviting him along. Forgive the bastardized iambic pentameter; it's the best we could do on deadline.

The Merchant of Venice, Act II, Scene 3 (alt-version)

Early Saturday evening, St. Helena. Bassanio has formulated a plan to save his friend Antonio from Shylock, the villain. On a trip to the New World from Venice, the timeless characters Bassanio, Shylock and Portia find themselves in the 21st century, homesick for the food of the motherland. They enter Cook, a small restaurant serving Northern Italian cuisine, and take seats around a marble bar. From high on the wall, a paper lamp, shaped like the mounted head of a horned beast, glows prettily over them; a Waitress serves them a split-bottle of Felsina ($30), a red Italian wine.

Shylock: Methinks this wine smells strangely of rubber.

Waitress: Gee, you tourists certainly talk funny. But never mind. We'll open another. If it's alike, then it must be the wine.

Shylock: Indeed, the nose is the same. Vulcanized!

Bassanio: Yet, it stings the palate with fine acidity. Worry not, fair wench. We'll drink it. Here, here!

Waitress rolls her eyes and rustles a small pad and pen from her apron.

Portia: Fetch us beets and ricotta ($9), and the arugula caprese with mozzarella and roasted tomatoes ($10).

The appetizers arrive, greens tousled rakishly on the plates.

Bassanio: Verily, it's succulent and tasty! Good waitress, make haste and bring us the mains.

The Waitress returns, bearing gnocchi with Gorgonzola cream ($16), risotto with hedgehog mushrooms, teleme and braised pork ($20) and penne carbonara with pancetta and peas ($16).

Shylock: In sooth, this tastes genuine with a twist. Chubby and chewy are these dear gnocchi. Eating such, I shall gain what I covet: a pound of flesh.

Bassanio: Why, man, Antonio will be relieved! (aside to Portia) Zounds, our plan did worketh. As for my dish, this penne hath power. Upon such savory, I rarely munch.

Portia: Like ambrosia to Zeus this risotto doth please me, though the pork is right salty.

Shylock: True, these vittles shine in flavor, but their color lacks as alabaster.

Portia: Good sir, you are quick to find fault. Let me remind you, we ordered rice and pasta.

Bassanio: I propose an antidote to the white. Waitress, bring the flourless, chocolate cake ($7)!

The three friends indulge in a most delicious dessert--squishy, sweet and rich, accompanied by crème anglaise. Exeunt.

Cook, 1310 Main St., St. Helena. Open daily for lunch and dinner. 707.963.7088.

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Quick-and-dirty dashes through North Bay restaurants. These aren't your standard "bring five friends and order everything on the menu" dining reviews.