When little kids sit down for a history lesson, it is imperative that they be told about the days long ago when dinosaurs roamed the earth and Italian food was all that Homo sapiens had to eat. They could slay a giant Lasagnasaurus for supper, or gather meatballs from the ample bushes near the rivers that flowed with Alfredo sauce. Or perhaps even take down a huge Spaghettisaurus Rex to feed the entire clan, or die trying.
OK, so maybe my version of history is lacking a factual basis, but as long as intelligent life has been around, I'm pretty sure that some sort of Italian food has existed in a symbiotic and marinara-coated circle. Lucky for us modern apes, we have only to travel to San Mateo to get our fill of pasta, bread and cannoli.
Trombino's Bistro Italiano has been a staple of family-style Italian dining in the Heights for almost 30 years, and houses an impressively fat menu that includes a full bar, espresso drinks, an ample wine list and a "Buongiorno Brunch" served on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The inside boasts a spacious dining area with several rooms, big comfy booths and the requisite mondo tables for the nights when you bring the family. The service is quicker than a Hollywood marriage, and the waitstaff seems particularly knowledgeable about the food and wines—which is a plus, because experience has taught me that pronunciation tends to bar a lot of queries from the more timid diners.
Pairing wines with food is a beautiful thing when you're talking about Italian. I have a trick that I use to determine a perfect pairing: Take a bite of food, then have a sip of wine. If the separate flavors seem to meld together like the words and melody of a song, then you've got a winner. Trombino's wine list ranges from the everyday cheapos like Riunite Lambrusco ($3.99 a glass, or $12.99 a bottle) all the way up to a fine bottle of Bolgheri Sassicaia ($195 a bottle). I am a Chianti fan, and anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I would take a sweet wine over a dry one any day. So my palate was rearing for something red, fruity, semi-dry and medium-bodied with my meal. I was convinced to try the house red, which, as it turned out, was a good choice for what I ordered. The glass of C.R. Cellars California Chianti ($3.29) was light, not too acidic and perfumed with mellow red berries.
The appetizer list here consists of typical boot country faves, but a couple of variations caught my eye. The clams oreganata ($9.25) are a house special of baby clams stuffed with herb-parmesan breading, and the mussels zafferano ($9.49) are Atlantic Blue Gold mussels steamed with saffron and white wine.
I started with a bowl of minestrone and was disappointed. The soup wasn't bad, but it should have been advertised differently—maybe a country vegetable soup, since it contained copious amounts of carrots and cabbage in a nice, spicy tomato broth.
Dinner was fraught with tough choices, the biggest of which was: Do I try something exotic or enjoy the basics? I chose the latter, because anyone who truly digs Italian food knows that if a place can't get the fundamentals right, then there's no point in trying anything else. I played it safe and ordered the spaghetti and ravioli plate ($8.79), but just to show that I care, I added homemade meatballs ($2).
My choice was justified, and my portion was large. The meat sauce was bright and tangy, not overly seasoned with any one thing—nobody got garlic or oregano-happy like some chain restaurants I won't mention—and the pasta was cooked just a nudge past al dente, just the way I like it. The meatballs were the real star of this meal. After having ingested those fake caramel-colored, filler-heavy balls that you get all too often these days, I was quite pleased to find that Trombino's hooks you up with big, juicy, meaty boulders that are well worth the extra change.
Did I mention the full bar? The martini happy hour from 4 to 9 p.m. was a stroke of genius, and you get $2 off such epicurean delights as an ocean water martini (Absolut, Parrot Bay and blue Curacao), an orange cosmopolitan or the ever-popular appletini.
After dinner equals cannoli ($3.49), and they've got game. The pastry is crisp and sweet, and the filling is loaded with chocolate drops and fragrant with cinnamon oil.
Trombino's hasn't quite been around since the earth's crust cooled, but 1979 is pretty darned close for Albuquerque. How have they managed to put down such stable roots in a city of red or green? Deep down in every one of us, there is a primitive, ravioli-seeking cave dweller that is captivated by fire--and the fettuccine that cooks above it.
The Alibi Recommends:
Lemon-basil chicken salad
Grilled homemade Italian sausage
Trombino's Bistro Italiano, 5414 Academy NE, 821-5974. Hours: Mon. thru Thurs. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sat. 3 to 10:30 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Price range: Moderate to expensive. No smoking, credit cards accepted, catering, small banquets, brunch, booze, espresso drinks.