I found that the menu at Arthur Ave was odd and missing many of the Italian-American touchstones – it certainly was not Italian, either – including the omission of veal, the classic American Italian restaurant protein. No veal Parmesan. No veal Marsala. No veal al limone. No saltimbocca. No veal Milanese. Veal preparations, a treat when dining out, have always been a big attraction for me at Italian restaurants. The rest of menu did not entice terribly much, and the execution in two visits maybe even less so.
The Chicken Parm in sandwich form I had on my first visit would have been forgettable at $8, but it was priced at nearly double that. The properly cooked and moist chicken breast was under-seasoned and not helped by a bland tomato sauce that I thought could have come out of a jar and a scarce amount of mozzarella. It was all right, but expensive for what it was. The side of polenta fries did not help much. Polenta is often fairly flavorless and even fried, and it was not as tasty as the polenta I had had at Kris Jakob’s Brasserie 1895 in Friendswood.
The Fusilli Alfredo I had on the next visit was more satisfying. Heavy, straightforward and simple, the creamy concoction had a hint of lemon smothering the soft corkscrew-shaped noodles making for a hearty and enjoyable lunch. The dried pasta was from the excellent producer Martelli from outside Pisa, a brand that has been praised to me by Italian restaurants legends Tony May and Piero Selvaggio. Though the fusilli kept its shape very well, it was cooked past al dente and a little softer than I cook at home. Probably done like most customers enjoy pasta, its softness obscured the taste of the pasta. A cheaper brand would not have detracted from the dish, so the use and highlighting of Martelli seemed to be a waste.
Cobbled together clichés, just-decent execution and with a small range of dishes, Arthur Ave was just not that interesting for someone well-versed or passionate, much less very discriminating, about Italian (or Italian-American) food. As much as I enjoy the décor and vibe at Helen, I found that dark interior at Arthur Ave and much of the décor a bit forced, just like the menu, and not overly comfortable. I hope that the redo will improve the setting. I found the restaurant to be a work in progress that did not seem to progress enough to make it a viable concern.
I have enjoyed Helen much more and I hope for success of its soon-to-be sibling on Studewood.
1111 Studewood (just north of 11th Street), 77008