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Biaggi's

In a word: Fresh, affordable, Italian? Yes, you bet, more or less.

The specs: #0033
Address, hours & details via Isthmus; reviews at Judy's Book, by Dennis Getto, and at  Yelp; Biaggi's web site; Biaggi's Ristorante Italiano on Urbanspoon

Latest Biaggi's news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM ate the ravioli quattro formaggi and a lemonade.
Nichole ate the gnocchi and a Pepsi.
The bill was $24, or $12/person, plus tip.
JM gave Biaggi's an A-; Nichole gave Biaggi's a B+ (see our grading rubric).

This small-ish chain was better than we expected from yet another excursion into one of the many "lifestyle centers" popping up all over Madison.

We walked in and felt oddly at home - the windows were bedecked with the same brand and style of blinds we just had put up (oh, what a long, hard slog that was) in a different finish. The dining room was large and open, with most tables seating four or more. This made for a jovial atmosphere. Lots of office park people were out for Friday lunch, but our jeans were not unwelcome.

The food was very tasty, but the portion size seemed inconsistent. Nichole was stuffed full of gnocchi after half a plate, but JM was still peckish after his five large ravioli were long gone. The service was superb, and included the mixing of "Biaggi butter" (olive oil, ground parmesan, pepper) at the table.

One little flaw - that we might have dealt with more harshly, we suppose - is that JM discovered a little creepy-crawly meandering across the basil leaf on top of his ravioli. We took this to be affirmation that it was indeed fresh, and since JM wasn't going to nosh the basil sprig anyway, he overlooked it. Then again, the creepy-crawly could have been from the third or fourth generation of Biaggi's Walk-in Cooler residents...but no matter. It wasn't the worst kind, after all.

Comments

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I love to read your comments every week. I agree with Nicole far more often than JM. But I enjoy both's point of view.
I am so happy that you two have decided to embark on this adventure, you have inspired me to eat outside my "norm".

Yay! Thanks for reading!

For the life of me I can't figure out why everyone seems to like Biaggi's so much. On the surface, it seemed like a nice place to me. I adore Italian food and really like to have a nice semi-upscale place to eat which provides a higher quality of food than normal (I'm the usual poor college student) but is still casual enough to be within my price range and dress code. And I do want to say that the food there usually isn't *bad* per se, but it definately isn't worth what they charge for it.

I really liked Biaggi's back when it first opened. They had this butternut squash ravioli which was to-die-for. But now every time I go I feel like the food gets a little bit worse. The service (for me) has always been pretty good and I do like their whole grain bread (though the olive oil they use to dip it in isn't of very good quality), but one thing about them that I always find utterly perplexing is the way they completely miss the point as to what Italian food is supposed to be like. I don't want to use the word "inauthentic" because to be honest I don't much care if the exact recipes they use actually come from Italy, but Italian food as a genre excels at simple ingredients which are fresh and prepared perfectly. Biaggi's is *anything* but simple, and that is very much to its detriment. Every time I go I see dishes described as having an absolute cornucopia of ingredients, which some people may find impressive but the combinations usually overpower each other. An appetizer which I usually adore is the tomato/basil/mozarella salad (I think they call it the Tomato Mozzarella Caprese) but they ruin the more subtle flavor combination by adding loads of raw onions and a pool of vinegar. Even my current favorite dish, the Ravioli Quattro Formaggi, could seriously do with the removal of one of the three rich, powerful flavors which combine in a manner which doesn't let any of them shine.

By far my biggest disappointment there was when they brought back my old favorite: the butternut squash ravioli. I was so sad when they removed it, and so happy when I saw they had brought it back... but it turned out to be kind of like re-animating the corpse of a lost love. They quite literally butchered the recipe and made it out like it was supposed to be an improvement.

Even when I try to circumvent the "more is better" philosophy and order something simple like pasta with tomato sauce and mozzarella (I forget their title for it), I'm still disappointed because it just isn't made very well. I guess that's why they dress everything up with so many flavors, to hide the fact that they don't do any of them particularly well.

You have very rich tastes for a supposed 'poor college student'. Appreciate Biaggi's for what it is: a nicer Olive Garden. If you want authentic pasta, stay on campus and go to Tuttos.

I think Biaggi's is just great. All their food is very rich and much of it is very complex ... Italian for American tastes. It's most definitely not a "nicer Olive Garden." One of my favorite things to do is to go on a really busy night when it's going to take an hour to get a table and get drinks at the bar. Their bartenders are fantastic mixologists and they are incredibly personable. I always wind up tipping them about 50% I enjoy them so much. The staff in the restaurant are all great too. But I can see how this wouldn't be a place for everyone.

nicer olive garden

I don't know why this place is so popular, either. I went for the second time this past weekend, because a friend was dying to go. I don't remember anything at all from my first visit (over a year ago), so I must not have been all that impressed with it. On this recent trip, although my friend enjoyed her shrimp and crab canneloni, my penne sardi was really blah. I kept dumping more and more salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese on it just to try to coax a little flavor from it. My husband had similar sentiments about his chicken canneloni. I'd say Olive Garden might even be a tad better than this place, and that's not saying much. Plus it's kind of expensive given the quality of the food. The service is impeccable, though - and the atmosphere very nice. Too bad the food is so mediocre.

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