Paul Mineo’s Trattoria Shows Significant Improvement
After a negative review last year, we sent our restaurant reviewer back to Paul Mineo’s to see if things had changed in the kitchen.
Here at Lunch in 30, we believe in giving restaurants a second chance. I know any restaurant can have a bad day, so in the spirit of fairness, I decided to give it a generous amount of time to clean up its act and go back for a second review. This was the restaurant's chance to make me eat my words.
It's a good thing I decided to venture into alone. The last time I stopped by for lunch I practically had the restaurant to myself. This time, it was packed nearly to capacity. I took that as a good sign and cheerfully let them seat me at a small bar table.
For those who have never ventured inside Paul Mineo's, the cozy restaurant has a small, intimate feel that makes it the polar opposite of the large, loud across the sidewalk. The bar doesn't so much dominate the room as define it. Some half walls create the feeling of one small dining room off to the left. To the right of the bar, there’s another small, intimate area partitioned off with wrought iron to protect large, semi-circular booths lining the wall. At the opposite end of the bar area is the larger, main dining area. Each one of the spaces manages to give a nice illusion of privacy while still being open enough for waiters to keep tabs on diners' needs.
The abbreviated lunchtime menu includes half a dozen standard appetizers such as garlic bread, toasted ravioli and pizza. Paul Mineo's offer a small selection of homestyle sandwiches including staples such as grilled chicken, a meatball sub or a nice-looking portabella vegeterian option.
Eggplant parmesan with tomatoes, basil and cheese tied with the veal Sicilian, a breaded cutlet in a light olive oil and garlic sauce. In fact, it offered three affordable veal options for less than $10 each including veal marsala in a red wine sauce with sautéed peppers and onions and the veal eggplant, which seemed to be the best mix of veal and eggplant parmesan. The breaded veal cutlet was covered with a breaded eggplant cutlet, both of which were then drenched in marinara sauce and topped with melted cheese.
In the spirit of fairness, I decided to make my order as close to the original as possible. I chose the special of the day and the same appetizer I attempted to order on my first visit (back then they brought me something else entirely).
Choosing the special was no hardship, since the restaurant was offering tilapia picatta. I couldn’t wait.
All entrées come with a house salad. Mine didn’t bode well. The plate was covered in a very soggy pile of slightly wilted greens predressed in a house vinaigrette and dusted with Parmesan cheese. I liked the spring mix in the salad itself, but it was so soggy I couldn't finish. The greens' texture suggested they were mixed with dressing some time that morning and left to sit all day. It was a disappointing start.
The bruschetta was more what I expected. On my last visit, I ordered the $4 appetizer, and they brought me an $8 cheese pizza instead, then charged me $11. After the salad, I really wanted them to impress me. C’mon, guys—change my mind!
The bruschetta came as four, thick slices of the house sesame-coated white bread topped with sprinkles of dried basil, a scant few tomatoes and mozzarella cheese melted on top then finished with the ubiquitous Parmesan sprinkles.
I'll be honest, at a high-end restaurant I normally expect either fresh basil or a basil pesto rather than dried herb sprinkles. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't remarkable in any way. But it was what I ordered, and that pleased me.
After the mediocre starters, the tilapia picatta turned out to be lovely. The dim lighting in Paul Mineo’s made it impossible for the photo to do this entrée real justice. The firm, white tilapia was a lovely caramel with cream color on the outside, topped with a sprinkling of capers and some nicely arranged fresh mushroom slices on top.
The fish itself was lightly flaky beneath my fork, while the very edges had a nicely crisp contrast. Tilapia itself isn't an exciting fish. Much like chicken, it's the sauce's responsibility to do the heavy lifting.
In this case, the picatta lived up to it’s potential. The tangy lemon, white wine and garlic sauce had a bit of oil added, but no cream fillers or cornstarch thickeners. It was just tangy enough to remind you this is a lemon sauce without being overwhelmingly tart. Paul Mineo's doesn't offer the tilapia every day, but it does offer chicken picatta. Give it a try.
Since this is St. Louis, the light tilapia in white wine came improbably paired with a robust mostacolli. The aggressive sweetness of the hearty tomato sauce didn't pair well with the lightness of the tilapia, but that's part of the risk that comes with a daily special. This would've gone much better with some angel hair or fettuccine and another ladle of the excellent picatta sauce.
Since none of the desserts were made in-house, I decided to pass.
This isn't the kind of restaurant you get in and out of quickly. I ordered as soon as I sat down, and it still took me a little more than an hour before I paid and left. Unlike its neighbor , it feels like Paul Mineo's is trying to be a special occasion restaurant rather than an everyday lunch option.
The bartender was polite and courteous with my non-bar order. However, a good 15 minutes of my wait came after she took away my plate and I waited for the bill. I left my credit card out on the bare table as a hint, but they couldn't be bothered to take my money. If you’re in a hurry, you won’t get out of here quickly.
It’s far from my favorite restaurant in Westport (that honor currently goes to Dierdorf and Hart’s with trailing in a very close second) but you can get a serviceable, if slow, meal here. The staff was friendly. While my salad and bruschetta were uninspiring, my entrée itself really did shine. If you eat at Westport regularly, go ahead and throw it in the mix for the sake of variety.
The kitchen disasters and rude service from my last Paul Mineo's experience were gone. I’m pleased to upgrade my rating of Paul Mineo’s Trattoria by a full letter and a half. Gone is the C-. It has improved enough to merit a solid B.
My iced tea, bruschetta and tilapia with mostacolli and a salad came to $20.90 plus a $4 tip.
30 Minutes or Less: No
Specialty Diets: Vegetarian-friendly entrees and sandwiches
Average Entree Price: $12
Kid’s Menu: None