All Purpose, Shaw

I went to All Purpose this weekend at around 7 PM – the restaurant was fairly full, but with no wait, and there were seats open at the bar.

Let me start out by giving the highest possible praise to my *wonderful* bartender Kyle, who raised the quality of my dinner all by himself – he noticed when things were going wrong before I said anything, and proactively took action to make them right. He knew the ingredients in the dishes, and was just one of the best top-to-bottom bartenders I’ve encountered in quite awhile – he was great.

I wanted to begin my meal with a cocktail, so I asked which Gins they had, and they only had three: Beefeater, Green Hat, and Catoctin Creek – one of which is mass-produced and innocuous; the other two of which are almost undrinkable in my experience. Nevertheless, I ordered a Gimlet with Green Hat ($8 + $2 supplement for something) because I’ve only had it a couple of times; unfortunately, I didn’t notice which of the five stripes it was (Green Hat makes five gins, each one having a different colored stripe). I like Gimlets – which are essentially Gin and Lime – because they allow the Gin to shine through. Unfortunately, this must have been the Navy Strength Green Hat because it was overwhelmingly strong. The lime juice appeared to be squeezed in-house, but was done so earlier, poured from a plastic container, and a deeply macerated cherry was curiously added on top, which I’ve never before seen in a Gimlet – it was a pretty lousy drink, all things considered, but it was mostly my mistake for not sticking with Beefeater. Like Bombay (regular Bombay; not Sapphire), Beefeater is an industrial, but perfectly inoffensive and decent Gin that I usually get when regular Bombay isn’t available, and I want something neutral – this drink was mostly my fault, but I’m not happy with All Purpose’s selection of Gins.

After my cocktail, I switched to a white wine which took care of me all the way through my meal: a 2015 DeAngelis Trebbiano Blend ($9) from the Le Marche region – this medium-bodied, dry white has a fine supporting backbone of acidity (albeit very high-toned acidity) that was more than enough to stand up to all my courses. I should add that awhile before I went, I asked someone deep on the inside of this restaurant what dishes they were most proud of, and ordered exclusively from the list I got in return. All Purpose has a mostly Italian, very workable wine list, with almost 50 wines by the bottle, ranging from $35-70, seemingly averaging in the $45-50 range; you can expect to pay about $10-12 for pleasant, drinkable wines by the glass, and $7-$11 for each beer on their medium-sized, well-chosen list, with 4 luxury beers priced well into the double-digits.

I began my meal with a nearly delightful Sicilian Tuna Mousse ($10), served in a bocal with salsa verde, (pickled) baby celery, and four thin slices of well-toasted bread for spreading – just enough bread to provide for a liberal spreading of the mousse. This was a very good dish, and would have been excellent had it not been doused with finishing oil – I suspect the mousse is made earlier in the day, and finished a la minute with the salsa verde – something very much like a nutless pesto – and the oil, which (combined with the upcoming courses) contributed to making this meal heavier than it should have been.

Spaghetti Squash “Aglio e Olio” ($12), a large platter of shredded spaghetti squash with brown butter, lemon, herb-roasted ricotta, and breadcrumbs that drew questions from both sides of me (“What is that?”). This was an oily plate of food, and lacked seasoning – “Aglio e Olio” means “garlic and oil,” and while I got a lot of oil, I got virtually no garlic. However, in one bite, I took what I thought to be a quarter-sized wheat crisp – lo, it turned out to be a piece of crisped garlic, so there it was after all. The highlight of this dish – by far – was the herb-roasted ricotta, which had the same look and texture as thinly sliced vanilla meringue, and I mean that as the highest of compliments – this was wonderful, sheep’s-milk (possibly goat’s-milk) cheese presented in a novel fashion, and saved the dish from failing – I took about half of it home, having it the next day, and since it theoretically had lemon in it already, I added a few much-needed grounds of lemon sea salt, making it a much better plate of food. Although I reheated it in my microwave, it was actually much better on day two because it was simply too hot when it was served, and the oil in the dish retained the heat throughout the meal – it was markedly better at a slightly cooler temperature, and certainly with the added seasoning – I didn’t enjoy it at the restaurant; I enjoyed it at home.

With my Squash, I had the Crispy Fried Mushrooms ($14), an intricate dish of four sliced, cremini mushrooms with smoked mozzarella stuffing, and chives, sitting atop a puréed avocado ranch “dressing.” I say “intricate” because the insides of this mushroom would fool most people, as it fooled me, into thinking there was some veal in it, but it was a vegetarian dish; the only problem was the breading which was bland and desperately needed some seasoning – the same problem which plagued the accompanying squash. More “interesting” than “good,” I would consider getting this again if the batter changes, and if I had a second person to split it with – as it stands, it’s priced out at $3.50 per fried mushroom – not unreasonable for what you get, but also not something one person wants to stuff himself on.

After these three courses, I was pretty well stuffed, so I got half of my Spaghetti Squash to go, and ordered a Buona Pizza ($18), with tomato, huge slices of pepperoni, mozzarella, chili honey, basil, and grana – also to go. I paid my bill, walked back to my car, opened the pizza box, took one bite of the cornicione, whispered a four-syllable word, and headed home. Over the next 24 hours – including that same evening – I played around with the pizza, and have several conclusions:

1) The cornicione, or “periphery of the crust,” badly needs work: It’s way too big – an inch long, and about a half-inch thick, and is dense and has a flavor not much better than a decent cracker. If you don’t mind spending $18 on a pizza, only to ignore the end crust, you may well like these pizzas; for me, the crust is an integral part.

2) The honey in this particular pizza conglomerated around the rim of the crust – I don’t know if someone used a squirt bottle in a circular motion, and the centrifugal force forced it outwards, or if it just crept towards the end in the oven, but there it seemed to be conglomerated.

3) The toppings were busy, but excellent, and the middle part of the pizza was delicious – even better at room temperature than it was when hot, because you could taste the honey; at full heat (or close to it), the cheese tended to overpower the more nuanced toppings.

I’ve officially initialized coverage of All Purpose in Italic in the Dining Guide, and have it currently ranked as one of the Top Five restaurants in Shaw. This will undoubtedly change in the future, but for now, I can’t rave about All Purpose, which is trying to be “Etto-ish” in nature, but not pulling it off quite as well. Still, All Purpose is a good, 2 Amys-style restaurant that can improve if the kitchen stays focused; the service I had was top notch, so there isn’t much room for improvement there. The wine list (by the bottle) is quite good, but the bar needs work.

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