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Diner: Work in Progress

DiPaolo's in Oxford shows potential, but there's room for improvement

By Bill Carroll · May 12th, 2004 · Diner

I like Elliot Jablonski's restaurants, really I do. What's better than a hearty breakfast at Sugar 'n' Spice before a Xavier game, or eating on the patio in Hyde Park at The Vineyard, or watching the snow fall in the Christmas lights from the windows at The Bistro at Harpers? So I was pretty excited to go to Oxford and try his new place, DiPaolo's.

Located in The Elms Holiday Inn, right off the main commercial drag in Oxford, it's right across the street from the parking garage. The students here name their houses (the one's that aren't Greek), and located next to the garage is one called Park Place. Two doors down is the local Planned Parenthood and between the two is a house called ... Unplanned Parenthood. I'm hemming.

DiPaolo's is a flight up on the second floor of the hotel in a lovely curved room with interesting booths on the walls and a lot of window tables. Although there are only a few diners in the room, we are seated at neither. We get a tiny table on the aisle barely big enough to accommodate two plates and our glasses. We wait too long, and, finally, I observe the hostess inform our waiter that we are his table. We order sodas, and he is visibly disappointed in our choice.

Before he leaves us, he places a, well, uh, specials thingee in the already crowded aisle. The thingee is a music stand with a placard sort of jury-rigged on it with a piece of paper with the nightly specials taped to it. It seems odd and out of place, not to mention very in-the-way. Our waiter returns with our drinks, we order appetizers, and he leaves -- sort of an incommunicative lad it seems. (And still, the thingee looms.)

We order the Risotto Mozzarella ($6.95) and the Calamari Fritta ($7.95), a feature that night.

It's breading is so light that there are bare spots on the squid, and the pale meat shows through. It is served with a chunky marinara which is very flavorful with basil and garlic, but it's so thick I can't get it to stay on the calamari. Weird. I wish I had my thunderstick to purée it down. I've had the Risotto Mozzarella ball before, and this one is not as good it could be: The risotto is dry and falls in big chunks off the only slightly soft fresh mozzarella. Honestly, I don't remember the sauce.

The waiter comes mid-mouthful. I try to ask him some questions, hard ones like "Are the raviolis served with red or white sauce?" (The menu implies both.) And "If we add the sausage, is it tossed through or placed on top?" He'll ask. I almost asked him what color his pants were so he'd know one. I had other questions, but I gave up.

We order the Veal Saltimbocca ($23.95) and the Ravioli Alfredo ($14.95) and sprung for the two bucks for Italian sausage added to it. (Finally someone takes the thingee away, but only moves it across the aisle in front of one of the booths, totally blocking their view. The damn thing is downright threatening.) Dinner is good really. It turns out the raviolis are baked in the red sauce and then finished with the excellent alfredo. The sausage was on top and a little overcooked. My saltimbocca is a little thick, but the proscuitto sauce is salty and savory, rich as it should be. A perfect Aglio Olio with angel hair accompanies it.

As we eat, I watch. One girl, the busser, is very sweet and attentive; another server flits through with posture-perfect authority. I bet he knows how the sausage is served. Chris, the manager, chats for a while, and I begin to warm on the place. (I watch the thingee as it meanders menacingly through the room.)

We ask about dessert, and he says he'll get the (Oh God, not the thingee ...) dessert tray. The tray looks a little haggard to me, odd because dessert trays are usually fresh on Fridays for the weekend. Our desserts are sad, which is such a contrast to those at other Jablonski restaurants. We have Tiramisu ($5) and Crème Brulée ($5), both sub par. The brulée is overcooked, and not a bit creamy: A spoon could stand in it, no problem, and the crust is thin and stuck on like glue. Actually, the whole thing is gluey. The tiramisu is lady-fingerless and tasted as though it was made with a very inexpensive Amerretto-ish liquid. I begin to wonder if they came off the tray.

I am sure this restaurant, with time will be as good as the others. For now, it needs a bit more work. (Oh, and watch out for the thingee.) ©

Go: 77 South Main, Oxford

Call: 513-523-1541

Hours: Breakfast: 7:30-10:30 a.m. Monday-Sunday; lunch: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Saturday; Sunday brunch: 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; dinner: 5-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 5-10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday

Prices: Moderate

Payment: Major credit cards

Red Meat Alternatives: Some pastas and fish

Accessibility: Handicap accessible with handicap parking

Grade: C+



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