According to Google, "Birmingham, Alabama, restaurants" yields 16,600 results, but there's NOWHERE TO EAT. Conversations about where to dine in the Woodside and its environs reach epic proportions. They tend to go something like this:
K: Where do you want to eat?
LSis: I don't know. Where do you want to eat?
K: I don't know, either. Nothing really sounds good.
LSis: I know, but if we don't decide, MJ is going to want Chinese or something.
LSis: I know.
K: I mean, I guess we can go to [half-hearted suggestion].
LSis: No, last time we were there MJ threw up/fell asleep/forgot to tip. It just sucks because you're a vegetarian.
K: What?! We can eat anywhere! I can find something to eat no matter where we go.
LSis: Not true. It's always your fault. And you never come up with any ideas.
K: What about [Italian]?
LSis: Too expensive.
K: What about [Thai]?
LSis: Too far away.
K: What about [Greek]?
LSis: Too crowded.
K: Skrewit. Let's just go to Los Arcos.
Yes, that's right. I valiantly offer choice after choice, and LSis cruelly shoots me down at every turn.
It's my story. I get to be the hero.
But the other night I was driving home in The World's Largest Rental Car (fortuitous because I suspect it could pull double duty as an ark, and the Woodside weather report had read "downpour with a chance of soddenness" for the past three days), feeling sort of post-work starey and stunned, when I had this text conversation:
K: It smells like Doritos nachos outside my office. [Ed. note: Don't judge me.] Is that weird?
LSis: Yes, very. At the old ciau if you want to join.
K, somehow interpreting, through highly honed powers of sibling interpretation, that this means "I am at the new restaurant that now occupies the space where Café Ciao used to be": Oh really? [Ed. note: I am a perfectly useless texter.]
LSis: Yeah house wine 3 dollar house wine
K, wondering just how long little sister has been hitting the bottle: I'm two minutes from there! [Ed. note: No, I do not know why so exclamatory.]
LSis: Ok see you soon
God, we're interesting.
The aforementioned two minutes later, I found a parking spot for TWLRC and went into Bambinelli's. I was hopeful, because although Ciao was an acceptable joint with a sunny patio, the food was always more wilted-lettuce-and-warm-wine than one would hope.
I found MJ and LSis, sitting alone in the large dining room next to a fire, after side-stepping the too-eager hostess. They were alone, which perhaps explains why she greeted me as though I were Publisher's Clearing House.
The Js were just finishing up a plate of mussels, and as I sat down their meals arrived. I rushed to order, then sopped up fiery mussel broth with crusty bread while I waited.
Seconds passed before my green salad with house dressing arrived. The dressing was good—not transcendent, but with a good proportion of oil to vinegar—and though things seemed generally fresh, the greens tasted a little dirty and the tomatoes were well past peak season. Restaurants also seem to think there's some vote of confidence to be had by serving salad in chilled bowls, but I always wind up feeling like I've been served one of 20 salads in the back that have been sitting in the cooler for who knows how long.
But no matter, because before I had the chance to eat six bites, my pasta fagiole had arrived.
Fusilli, white beans, and spinach. LSis had ordered the same thing, but the portions seemed off. Like the chef had made one double-serving pot, then served her 65% of the solids. She had pasta with a light sauce, I had noodle soup.
That said, it was really very good—warming on a rainy night, and cozily satisfying. It was missing a little kick, so we procured some crushed red pepper flakes to wake things up. A smidge on the salty side, but otherwise quite nice.
To follow, LSis and I ordered the chocolate cannoli to share.
Blech. The shell was almost fork-impenetrable, and the cream tasted like store-bought frosting, only ... grainier. I had maybe two bites before abandoning ship.
I cleansed my palate with the remainder of the half-carafe ($7.00!) of house red I'd procured before my butt hit the booth. It was an Italian red, we overheard the waiter telling another table, and was completely palatable despite its affordability. It was round and robust, with a smooth hint of low price point. It was also served by a second waiter, as ours was adorably too young to serve alcohol.
My main bone to pick with Bambinelli's is the atmosphere. Little things are off, but that could be Soft-opening Syndrome: The gas fireplace has no logs. The lighting is up too high (a nod, I think, to the older clientele). The soda fountain—complete with hand-washing station, ewgross—is dead center in the dining room. The butter is served in a ramekin, but it comes as pats, cheesily still wrapped in single-serving Land O'Lakes foil.
Regardless, I'll definitely return. There are plenty of other pasta and pizza options to try, and I have the second half of that carafe to get to.
Verdict: Pasta pleasant, pace sprinty, price pleasing. Make sure you have dessert at home.
Bambinelli's Italian Café
2031 Cahaba Road
Mountain Brook, AL 35223
OK, deep breaths: It's confession time. In the spirit of resolutions and new beginnings, I admit the following.
1. I don't fight the battle of the bulge. The bulge launches a potato-chip offensive that I eye for whole seconds before gleefully surrendering. Then I take a nap.
2. I despise diets, scales, and women who claim "chasing around after the kids" is all they need to stay trim.
3. When I took off for Thanksgiving break, my doctor told me to "have a nice time. Maybe find a treadmill."
4. I don't like doctors with penises. It's a sexist bias, but I stand by it.
Don't get me wrong—I'm certainly not going to be cast on "The Biggest Loser" anytime soon. I don't have the mass or the motivation.
BUT I may or may not have gone to attend to some business last night and cracked the toilet seat in half.
I share this with you, and the online community at large, not out of some misguided sense of self-deprecation or shame, but because it's DAMN FUNNY.
I defy you to name one other person this has happened to. Besides maybe Mama Cass.