Of course, lots of restaurants with great locations and perfectly timed openings and innovative menus have folded in that critical first year. That's why this critic credits survival in the restaurant world to one thing consistency. Let's face it. Joe's Inn doesn't serve the world's best pasta, but Spaghetti A La Joe is Spaghetti A La Joe every single time. Richmonders know what they're getting and they keep going back.
So what hopes does Sette have of inspiring equal devotion? Based on my first experience with its pizza, I would have predicted that it would be a Richmond staple for years to come. But the next time I ordered the same item the Churchill, a red-sauce pie with pepperoni, mushrooms and roasted red peppers it was a pale imitation of the original, and in numerous subsequent visits, I've found the food all over the map.
At times, it seems that the cooks have been in a hurry to pull the pizza too soon, resulting in crust that was soft rather than crispy not a good platform for such heavy toppings. Or perhaps the oven used for the signature "fire roasting" needs further calibration. Either way, the variability of preparation significantly diminishes my enthusiasm for what is an otherwise intriguing array of pizza choices.
If you catch the Margherita on a good night, the golden crust, flavorful Roma tomatoes and "fresh" basil (which turned out to be dried) make a simple, light summer meal. My wife and I split one BBQ pizza each 10-inch pie is sized for huge appetites, or sharing that had juicy chicken, tasty red onions and generous sauce. But on the next visit the same dish came with dry chicken and scant sauce. In fact, everything about the pizza was dry except the crust. So would I order it again?
And this really is a pizza joint, even if it is dressed up with a martini menu, cool industrial décor and its own parking lot. The pasta selections and appetizers are relatively uninspired. The Italian sausages and peppers with angel hair came with whole sausages laid on top and had no sauce to help meld the flavors and keep the pasta from sticking together. And what's carbonara about the roasted chicken carbonara? Bacon and Alfredo sauce do not a carbonara make. A true carbonara takes its richness from pancetta, Parmigiano-Reggiano and eggs very little cream is used, if any. What Sette offers is a shortcut version unworthy of the name.
The salads, however, are interesting and well-executed, especially the Sette spinach salad, which was a meal in itself, with generous amounts of Gorgonzola, fresh spinach, pine nuts and an impressive helping of thinly sliced chicken.
The ultimate saving grace may just turn out to be the secluded courtyard dining. The shade of full-grown crape myrtles, old-brick walls and the soothing sounds of a small fountain keep you feeling cool a perfect place to sit with a few friends and down some pie and suds or entertain a serious date.
Because the East End is so desperate for pizza, the community is going to be pretty forgiving for a while. Sette's owners would do well to take advantage of this grace period to work with their kitchen staff to ensure they're hitting their high-water mark with each dish that's served. That'll keep them afloat when Bottom's Up finally resurfaces later this summer. S Sette
($)7 N. 23rd St.
Monday-Thursday: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday & Saturday:11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
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