Eat & Drink

Imperfectly Appealing

Amerigo Delicatus, Iain Chisholm’s tiny Ballpark restaurant, serves controlled chaos—and does it well.

June 2013

Other entrées, all of which have been inspired by traditional Italian fare, might include tender gnocchi that have been browned in butter; tossed with rosemary-roasted Brussels sprouts, bitter rapini greens, sweet red onions, and toasted walnuts; and topped with a flat triangle of shaved pecorino. The seasonal dish is visually interesting thanks to the contrasting colors, texturally satisfying due to the various layers of crunch and chew, and fragrantly seductive with the enticing aroma of butter and rosemary.

Polenta is also a frequent visitor to Amerigo’s menu—often as support for some type of meat, such as succulent beef cheeks braised in red wine with porcini. Save this dish for the next rainy night—it’s warm and comforting and just rich enough to demand a bottle of reserve Chianti.

Iain’s best dishes are those in which the ingredients work together like guests at a dinner party. Collectively they create a lively synergy, but each maintains its own distinct personality. In the pork loin with herbs, for example, you’ll taste the savory meat (although it was a bit dry and overcooked the night I ordered it), the sautéed herbs, the porcini and cremini, and the slightly firm garbanzo beans. Less successful are dishes such as the seafood lasagna, where the layers of pasta, cream sauce, seafood, and cheese are too rich to complement one another. Rather than working in unison, each ingredient vies for attention.

One of the most attractive aspects of Amerigo is how easy it is to create a fulfilling, inexpensive meal from the antipasto list alone. On a typical night, you’ll have your choice of about 14 appetizers, priced at just two bucks a pop. My favorite—one I’ve ordered every visit—is the tangy goat cheese topped with an herby basil pesto and pine nuts. The tender, braised pulled pork, shiny house-made Burrata, and crunchy house-pickled vegetables are also perfectly executed.

This small-plate lineup, along with an accessible if slightly lackluster wine list, makes Amerigo a perfect spot to dine midweek, before the theater or after a ball game. These are also the best times to visit because 7 p.m. on a Friday or Saturday night is when the wheels come off. During prime time, silverware is often forgotten, salads arrive underdressed, and—because the space lacks a separate bar or waiting area—diners gather near the front door, creating a small, desperate crowd of hopefuls waiting for tables to open up. If you’re already seated, their pleading eyes make it difficult to relax. If you’re the one standing, you’ll wonder what’s taking so long.

So yes, dining here, especially on weekends, can be somewhat maddening. But knowing all of this in advance will improve the odds you’ll enjoy yourself. I go to my friend’s house knowing I’m in for a night of controlled chaos, thus reducing my expectations and enhancing my enjoyment. The same is true at Amerigo Delicatus. Go expecting imperfection, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.