I love Italian food. I find it hard to have an unpleasant Italian food experience.

And I love and respect tradition, honor it, and respect a place that can establish one.

So when my friends wanted to go out to dinner last week at DiNicola's, which I'd never been to (but had heard great things about), I was thrilled to take them up on the invite. And I was looking forward to what I'd find.

This review, by the way, will end up being a "pass" recommendation, but I'm going to start with what I liked.

First, the place is cramped and a bit messy in appearance. While in many ways that could be a bad thing, it fits well within the archetype of the family-owned Italian restaurant, and helps sell the place as being thoroughly what it sets out to be. When you sit there, you feel like you can expect good food.

Second, the food has some good qualities. The garlic bread (which you have to pay extra for, and which I'd rather see as a throw-in) is good. The pizzas are made with quality ingredients and have good flavor. The noodles are good quality.

Finally, the service was great, and the people were all friendly. And kids are welcomed and accomodated, which is always a plus.

The problem with the place is that the food is too rich, across the board. Nobody at our table is a dainty eater; we all had skills. I ordered a pasta dish with a "Mezza Mezza" sauce, meaning it was a mix of marinara and cream-based. My wife ordered a pizza, figuring she and my daughter would share a couple of slices and we'd take the rest home. Our friends ordered a separate pizza to split.

I couldn't get through much of my dish. Not that is tasted bad, but it just sits in your stomach like a rock. I took some home and tried again for lunch the next day, and ran into the same problem. It just sits too heavy and ends up making a person feel a bit queasy. My wife had the same issue with her pizza, and a couple of days later I had a slice and, again, felt gastronomically overwhelmed. Our friends didn't offer any actual complaints, but they didn't seem all that pleased with what they'd ended up getting.

We ended up throwing away about half of the pizza because, although it was tasty, it just wouldn't sit well.

Now, it could be that we were there on an off-night, either for us or for the restaurant. I'm open to input to that point, and I'm actually interested in getting some feedback from readers on this place. But given my experience, I'm not going to be heading back anytime soon, unless I hear some pretty clear indications that I'm being unduly harsh...


Anonymous said...

My wife and I have eaten occasionally at Denicola's during the past 12 years -- it's our low-brow Italian option. In the past we're taken our in-laws, who have very simple palates -- they like it -- and our friends with children like the all-you-can-eat spaghetti nights. But our last time there may have been our last. We've been really dissatisfied with the local pizza options, so a couple weeks ago we ordered a pizza from Denicola's -- very disappointing. We had pretty much the same experience as you: from all appearances, the food was made with quality ingredients, but the slices sank like rocks in our stomachs -- we too ended up throwing away half a pie. It's a shame, because it's a family-run business, and we'd love to support them, especially since they're in the 'hood. But the sad truth is, the food just ain't that good.

jorie said...

Sorry to just post this here, but my boyfriend and I are headed to Portland in two weeks for the first time. The last night, we are staying at the ACE hotel, and I was wanting to treat him to a surprise (romantic) birthday dinner. I was wondering if you had any suggestions of a quaint spot. I was hoping to stay around the area of the hotel, but this can be ommitted. I have heard about the Clyde Common, but was wondering if you knew of any others. (price range of $10-$35)

thanks for any help.

Rusty said...

To be honest, I'd never heard of the ACE Hotel until you wrote. I've had a chance to Google it now, and so I'm aware of it. I see that it's in downtown Portland, which puts you close to a lot of great food of various sorts. So, give me an idea of what kind of cuisine you're thinking of, and I'll give you my thoughts (and, I suppose, other readers can as well...)

anntorian said...

The type of cuisine was not a major concern, Italian, Spanish, American, English, Mediterranean...
Honestly anything that would have a fitting atmosphere. Sorry if this hasn't narrowed anything down for anyone. My mind is completely open. I guess my only concern is good food and a fun/ romantic (if this is possible) spot. Thanks again for your help.

Rusty said...


For fun, I'd recommend the Bistro Montage. Cajun-esque cuisine, attitude, fun atmosphere, on the east end of the Morrison Bridge. You can both get out for about $35. Not particularly romantic. Cash only. For romance on a budget, I think you may have some trouble downtown. I'd maybe send you up to the Vista Spring Cafe, if you have a car. We've reviewed it here previously. Salads, pizza, sandwiches, and some pasta. Dimly lit and nice. Not overly romantic, but it works. Two people can eat there for about $30 with beer for each.

If you want other ideas, let me know and I'll brainstorm further. Have to admit, JLowe and I are in Hawaii on vacation with our wives right now, and I'm so busy checking out the scene in Kailua-Kona that I'm having trouble recalling Portland at the moment (although I head back tomorrow, so my memory will be refreshed soon enough).

Lizzy said...

Have you tried Ristorante Roma on SW 12th? I just had dinner there the other night and it was great. I'm pretty picky with my Italian food, too. I'll be posting a review of it soon on my site.

Heather said...

Aren't you supposed to include the address and phone number of restaurants when you review them? Just sayin'.

Anonymous said...

DeNicola's is my favorite place for Italian food. As for the pizza-you are welcome to have a thinner crust and I believe that makes it much better. The owners are wonderful people.