Ghosts in the Kitchen 

Stuck in the Past at the Slide Inn

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THE SLIDE INN was formerly the longstanding Italian restaurant Il Piatto. It is in the same location, it has the same owners, and despite reopening four months ago with a new theme and new look, it is the same restaurant. It has the same service flaws, the same scattered leadership, and the same confused food.

The restaurant can't decide if it wants to be a nostalgically hip German lodge or a noncommittal "modern American" pan-dietary catchall. Curried tofu-carrot brown rice "sausage" exists alongside spaetzle and stroganoff; vegan spring rolls leave the kitchen on the same tray as wiener schnitzel. About half of the main courses are pastas from the old menu, a worrisome detail.

At the center of this discord is the husband-and-wife team who ran Il Piatto for 17 years. The wife eats gluten-free and vegan; the husband is a lifelong chef who trained in Europe for a decade. What slowly emerges is that these are two different and apparently incompatible restaurant visions: It is quite literally too many cooks in the kitchen. Instead of a coherent fusion of the two (tricky, I admit), it is both parties getting their way, while at the same time being unable to let go of the old restaurant.

If the food were great, a funky, family-run joint with an eclectic variety of specialties, it could make for a unique neighborhood entity. Sadly, the chef would rather spend hours online defending the many years he spent cooking just this kind of food, thank you very much, rather than taking an objective look at it and conceding that it is sorely in need of updating. Let us examine the microcosm of details that is the spaghetti carbonara ($17) in order to support that point.

The definitive aspect of spaghetti carbonara is the sauce, which is created with raw egg yolk, parmesan, and a little starchy pasta water. The hot pasta gently cooks the egg mixture, resulting in a silken sauce to which small morsels of pancetta cling. Yes, raw egg is terrifying stuff. Yes, there are regional variations in all recipes. But not even in Graham Kerr's most liquorsome moment did he serve his guests spaghetti swimming in a bowl of molten cream, as they do here. The dish has the dated heaviness of a bygone era when generosity with this saucier's crutch was a sign of luxury, but that era ended decades ago. Add to this a house-made pancetta that tastes old and is cut too large, and the result is a very expensive, very unpleasant meal that quickly congeals into a gluey mass.

Other items in need of reworking are the two sole mains that represent the new Eastern European direction: the pork wiener schnitzel ($20) and the stroganoff ($20). Schnitzel should be a large, breaded, golden escalope whose surface shows dynamic texture from its time in hot oil. This looked and ate like two small, uniform pan-fried tilapia fillets, and was plated antiseptically with a scoop of horseradish mashed potatoes and green beans. While flavor in a stroganoff is developed by browning and then braising the beef, this version tasted only braised, with monotonous and mushy texture. The meat, chopped pickle, and sauce were then mixed with oversized spaetzle, plated without garnish, and sent to the table looking and tasting like monochromatic cafeteria food.

It is painful to write this because I believe that the owners have the best intentions. It shows in the time they take to chat with guests, the excellent produce they grow themselves, the effort they expend to cure their own meats and bake their own breads. Their hamburger ($12) is truly good: It's a thick, charred, hand-formed patty enrobed in melted swiss cheese, served with horseradish aioli and good house-made bacon, on a dense but tender bun that stands up to the juicy contents. Their house-made Hungarian pork sausage ($8) shows promise—it is richly spiced, and with an easily adjusted cooking technique (I sense there is steam or par-boiling before grilling, which toughens the casing), it will be a perfect companion to the homemade sauerkraut and red cabbage. During one visit, they had even made a plum cake with an abundance of fruit a neighbor had brought in.

I would love to see the Slide Inn take on a consultant to help shake it free from the haunting vestiges of Il Piatto, focus the menu, and solve the fundamental service issues (seat people with menus, don't allow front-of-house to wear soiled jeans, don't offer my child "milk from the bar next door" when I ask if there's anything she can drink, und so weiter). It's a handsome place in a brilliant location, but it needs a far more serious effort at a fresh start.

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A variety of draft German beer and happy hour specials make this a serviceable location for an after-work pint.

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