The young man who parked my car wished me a pleasant meal and said that it looked like the food was “pretty good in there.” I asked if he hadn’t dined there himself and he said that he hadn’t yet had a chance because it was his first night on the job. He also asked me to let him know how it was.
Some time later, when I went to the valet stand to retrieve my car, he asked, “How was it?” I just shrugged.
I’ve shrugged after every meal I’ve had at Gargi’s Lakeside, even before it was lakeside and still across the street in the tiny cubbyhole of a space now occupied by a sushi restaurant. It moved to the larger, freestanding building on the shore of Lake Ivanhoe more than 11 years ago. Over the last 27 years, I’ve visited Gargi’s a number of times, always hoping for it to have become the jewel that it should be, and each time I’ve left disappointed.
Oh, it isn’t that the food is unsatisfactory. I wouldn’t list it among the top Italian restaurants in town but the food has never been bad (well, the bread is pretty dismal). It’s that the initial impressions, from the chintzily decorated entryway to the covered patio where most people prefer to sit, set you up with higher expectations than the staff is able to deliver. On this most recent visit our server’s attitude bordered on rude, which didn’t help matters any, either.
After settling at a table in the middle of the patio, instead of a hightop along the back wall, where the maitre d’ had wanted to put us, we looked over the menu, which still has such items as Chicken alla Bill Frederick and Spaghetti alla James Hewitt. I’m old enough to remember Frederick was mayor of Orlando when the restaurant first opened in 1988 but I wasn’t sure who Hewitt was, and my server seemed genuinely annoyed that I would ask.
I chose the Pasta Fazzoli, Gargi’s spelling for pasta y fagioli, the beany Italian soup. My guest went with the minestrone. My soup is one that is open for interpretation, and Gargi’s interprets it with a more tomatoey broth than one with pureed beans. The minestrone had lots of vegetables and leafy greens and was more appropriate with its tomato broth. Both servings were ample for the $3 charge.
My companion chose the Veal Saltimbocca, which had about four scaloppine, breaded and pan fried and covered with a marsala wine reduction sauce. A side of spaghetti tossed in marinara also sat on the plate. The veal was a bit chewy but otherwise perfectly acceptable. But at $28.95 it made up for the reasonably priced soup.
I chose the Italian Sausage and Peppers, a penne pasta dish with hunks of surprisingly mild sausage and sauteed bell peppers in a tomato sauce. The pasta was a bit undercooked, but the sauce was nice. We appeared to have offended our server yet again by asking if we might have some grated parmesan for our entrees. It must be an unusual request.
White tablecoths are a nice touch and the sort of thing you expect to see at this type of restaurant. Unfortunately, plastic curtains were unrolled at the front of the patio, obscuring the view and preventing any breezes from moving the stalled air in the enclosure.
Our server became suddenly animated with the presentation of the check.
I tipped the valet driver nicely and suggested a couple of Italian restaurant he might want to try.
Gargi’s Lakeside is at 1414 N. Orange Ave., Orlando. It is open for lunch Monday through Saturday and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-894-7907.