BLOOMINGTON - Of my dining experiences over the eight-year history of Biaggi's Ristorante Italiano, I'd have to say the worst there rated as pretty good. The experience the other night was downright memorable.
Salmon delicately encrusted with peppercorn and fennel seed. Creamy rice blended with asparagus pieces in a saffron and lemon-basil butter sauce. Grilled shrimp. The Salmon and Shrimp Milanese is among the chef's specialties, and to the chef go my compliments.
All workers delivered despite being inundated. Rather than showing panic, they seemed relaxed - Zen masters of the dinner rush. A-plus performance.
For the 10 or so of you who moved into town yesterday, Biaggi's Ristorante Italiano is the Italian restaurant off a side road a block east of the beltway. The address is 1501 N. Veterans Parkway, Bloomington.
Get to Veterans at the intersection where Vernon Avenue turns into GE Road. Go east on GE Road past Walgreens and make a right. The road takes you straight into the Biaggi's parking lot.
At prime dining hours, you will wait for a table. It was a 15-minute wait at 7 p.m. on a Monday night. It was family night and date night and, in the side room, special events night. On a Monday, call ahead for dinner or lunch, or make a reservation at www.biaggis.com.
Get into the doorway and you can sort of imagine you are in Tuscany. Dark woods contrast well with a light, airy feel. But it is a bit of a downer that the exterior neighborhood lacks charm.
You have to appreciate that this is a business venture, and it's not as if we have a Hill district, like St. Louis. It also gets loud at busy times, and that means just about all the time.
Product and price
The first order of business is drink orders and bread. The waiter will mix olive oil with parmesan and fresh-ground pepper. He may refer to this bread dip as Biaggi Butter.
This is gimmicky talk that is best forgotten as quickly as possible. The mixture is fabulous, and my bread basket had three choices of bread. The biggest lesson on the bread and dip is to beware, because you can spoil your appetite.
The soups and salads are a la carte - bad news for soup and salad lovers but a cost savings to everyone else.
Biaggi's offers a cross-section of cuisine from various parts of Italy. Spicing is nuanced, so none of these dishes seem to be trying too hard to impress you.
The menu also offers a cross-section of economic choices.
Personal pizza is about $10. Sandwiches are $8 to $9. Entree salads are $10 to $11. Other dinner entrees run $11 to $21. (All prices pre-tax and pre-tip.)
Lunchtime versions of the top entrees will slice a major portion off the bill.
Drink: Wine is the natural. Bottles run in the $19 to $35 range.
Biaggi's was a hit before it even opened officially. As a promotion in 1999, it held complimentary VIP events while preparing its staff for opening night.
The 4 Ps
This column mirrors the 4 Ps of marketing - place, price, product and promotion - because Biaggi's is a study in business acumen in addition to being a study in dining.
Bloomington was its first venture and company headquarters are here. There now are 20 Biaggi's Ristorantes.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Phone: (309) 661-8322
Special plans: Carryout available. Delivery for large orders. As a tip on quality, the restaurant advertises which items don't do well when taken to go. Banquet rooms and catering available.
Dress: Runs the gamut. People come in suits and evening dresses; people come in jeans and shorts.
An expansive gluten-free menu is available.
David LeGrand is managing partner. Troy Tomlinson is chef partner.