Sunday, August 26, 2012

Luigi's Ristorante and Pizzeria

6225 4th Street NW
Albuquerque, NM 87107

We recently had lunch at Luigi’s Ristorante and Pizzeria in Albuquerque’s North Valley.  The outside of the restaurant is dated and has neon signs in the windows above lace curtains; inside the décor is very 1970s.  There are yellow concrete floors that have seen better days, the ceilings are painted a bright yellow, the chairs are steel with red vinyl cushions, and the tables are imitation black marble (Formica).  There is a long salad bar/hot bar station (we didn’t know anyone still had these) with lights above with gold plastic panes, at least 40 years old.  The support poles are wrapped with twinkle lights, there are big murals of Italy on the walls, and three, count ‘em, THREE TVs lined up above the salad bar – all showing sports stations with the sound muted.  The feel is less welcoming than cluttered and the whole place needs a makeover.  Luigis advertises that they are “The Look, The Feel, The Taste of Italy.”  If that’s true, Italian style is way behind the times!  We were hoping the “taste” part would be true.  That said, we were seated by a very friendly waiter who showed us the offerings on the bar area and handed us vinyl menus.  Our drinks were brought to us in amber colored plastic tumblers – again, very dated not to mention it’s such a turn off to be served in plastic anything once you’re of the age where you can drink from a cup without spilling on yourself.
Luigis’ menu is extensive and is available for viewing online.  There are traditional Italian dishes you can find in many Italian restaurants in the area and some surprising ones such as Braciole, Zepole, and Stuffed Shells.  We ordered Luigi’s Chicken Florentine and the Spinach Lasagna.  The wait service was slow and our waitress did not know the menu.  We had to repeat our order four times for her to understand what we wanted, which was annoying.  Our entrees came with salads and when we asked what kinds of dressings were available, she said they had “all of them.”  We had really no idea what “all of them” were and finally after several questions settled on blue cheese and Italian.  Maybe it was her first day.

After placing the order we wanted to wash our hands and headed to the restroom, which was interesting and somewhat uncomfortable.  There are two stalls in the ladies room – one does not have a door so there is a curtain there.  We weren’t too sure about that idea, but made the best of the situation.  A curtain in a public bathroom is not the best solution to offering privacy.  If we return to Luigi’s, we will avoid that if possible.

Our service was slow throughout our meal, but when our salads arrived, they were very fresh.  Like the drinking tumblers, the salads were served in plastic bowls – most unimpressive.  The side salads were composed of romaine lettuce, chopped cucumbers and tomatoes, and delicious croutons.  We don’t usually like croutons, but these were savory and crunchy and we ate every one of them.  The blue cheese salad dressing was very thin, but tasty and the homemade Italian dressing was delicious.  We enjoyed our salads which were the right size for a side dish and very good. 

Side Salad (dressing on the side)

Our entrée’s were delivered one at a time, the Chicken Florentine and a basket of bread arriving first, then the Spinach Lasagna.  They were served on actual plates and not plastic – thank heaven!  The lasagna was extremely hot – obviously just out of the oven – and we figured the waitress wanted to be careful so delivered it on its own.  The bread was served in a small wicker basket with a tiny cup of what the waitress called butter, smelled fresh and was warm and looked delicious.  The butter mix was whipped and seasoned with herbs and garlic and very delicious, but was suspiciously yellow and we thought it was probably margarine.  We asked for a second tiny cup of it – one would not likely be enough for two diners.  The bread was disappointing – basically flavorless.  It was warm and had the texture of fresh Italian bread, but lacked flavor.  The buttery spread was needed to make it tasty and helped a lot.

Fresh Italian bread and herb butter

Luigi’s Chicken Florentine was beautiful in presentation, but virtually drowning in cream sauce.  The plate was filled with it.  The pasta was perfectly cooked, buttery and rich, but the chicken was dry and overcooked.  The spinach, ricotta, and mozzarella filling was tasteless and the mushrooms added texture, but no flavor.   It needed salt and after adding that (from a very grimy salt shaker) it was better, but not by much.  And there was just too much sauce to differentiate whatever flavors there might have been.  We didn’t care for the chicken at all and ended up leaving about half of it on the plate, but the pasta was delicious and we ate it all.

Luigi's Chicken Florentine

The Spinach Lasagna was delectable!  Steaming hot from the oven with a nice chewy cheese layer on top, it was very delicious.  The filling of mozzarella, ricotta, and spinach was soft and flavorful and the marinara sauce was rich and delicious.  It was very, very good.  The serving was large and we took half home for later.  We would definitely order this dish again.

Spinach Lasagna

We ordered the Tiramisu for dessert, and since we’ve tried this is several restaurants were eager to see what Luigi’s would offer.  We hoped we’d see the traditional slice of layers of coffee soaked lady fingers surrounded by scrumptious creamy goodness, sweet and delicious.  That’s not what we got.  For a restaurant that bills itself as “true” Italian, it was a big disappointment.  We were served a small ramekin with coffee soaked lady fingers set on the sides, filled with a cream filling.  One bite and we were finished.  It seemed that this dessert, besides being extremely disappointing in presentation, had been sitting uncovered in a refrigerator.  It carried with it all the flavors of that exposure and we sent it back.  It was awful.  The filling was creamy, but the flavors of sitting open in a refrigerator were so prevalent, we couldn’t eat it. 


Overall, most of our experience at Luigis was disappointing.  The sign says the restaurant has been family owned and operated since 1996.  Obviously, when the family bought it in 1996 they didn’t do anything to improve the 1970s appearance.  It is so dated, so clumsy and cluttered, it takes away from the diner’s experience.  We know that remodeling is costly and time consuming but it is hard to revisit a restaurant, even when the food is amazing, if the atmosphere is uncomfortable.  And except for the Spinach Lasagna and the Italian dressing, we didn’t see anything that we felt would be worth coming back for.  The curtain in the bathroom is unforgivable and should be addressed immediately.  When we entered the restaurant, there were two large parties finishing their meals.  The entire time we were there – well over an hour – no other patrons came in.  We would like to try some of the other offerings at Luigi’s because we have the sense that there are probably some dishes we would love.  However, it’s hard to say, given the slow service, the untidy surroundings, and the overall sad ambiance, if we would seek it out again.

Luigi's Ristorante & Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

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