I wish that every review I submit here could be a rave, as I don't enjoy writing anything that is less than that. And it pains me even more when I find myself experiencing a restaurant where I go in with great expectations and promise, and leave disappointed.
Such was the case with Castello. I dined with my Italian-American partner and my Italian-American mother-in-law, both of whom have had years and years of experiences with Italian food, both at home and out. And I'm sorry to say they were as disappointed as I.
...not disappointed at the choices that were offered on the menu, because it is large and varied, well-balanced and included some interesting, not-so-everyday choices.
...not disappointed because of the service, because the men who waited on us were impeccably dressed, with polished manners, grace, gentility, and clearly experienced in professional food service.
...not disappointed because of the atmosphere or the setting--it is very tastefully styled and does its job of transporting the client out of Danbury and into some romantic foreign place that one might expect in Europe.
...not disappointed in the value, because some of the lunch specials were very attractively priced, and showed the owners' understanding of a good price point.
But disappointed in the food we were served. In a word, every dish was just slightly off.
For openers, we shared an order of the Calamari. The rings were large and uniform, but there were no tentacles, and the unusual breading (if that's what it was) all led me to the conclusion that this was a frozen commercial, portion-controlled restaurant offering. And I'm guessing they were either microwaved or oven-baked. They were definitely not prepared in the traditional Italian way. And the sauce, aaaanhh.
I'm not placing unfair criticism on these gentlemen at Castello by expecting any seafood here in Danbury to be fresh-off-the-truck from the Connecticut shoreline fish markets, but I have noted other Italian restaurants in the area, such as Augie's, do seem to have figured out how to get fresh Atlantic seafood here.
Auntie Anna ordered an entree-sized Pasta Fagiole, and she complained it was "old". She can be fussy, but since she eats this dish several times a week at several different places in town, I have to trust her judgment on this one. She was disappointed, and maybe a little bit insulted that some chef would try to pass off this as really fresh to her. Disappointed.
My partner ordered Penne Bolognese (one of his favorite all-time dishes). The pasta was properly cooked, the Bolognese sauce was rich and thick. But he complained the flavor was just "off". I didn't taste it myself, but that dish is his litmus test for a good Italian eatery, so I have to trust him too. And he was disappointed, and hated to say so. Disappointed.
I ordered the Pappardella al Fungi. My first two spoonfuls held great promise...the pappardella pasta was home-made, hand-made, thick ribbons and cooked perfectly al dente. But then I got into the ingredients, which were everything they claimed to be on the menu--spinach, portobello mushrooms, and walnuts in a mascarpone sauce. But there were scare few of those things, and the mascarpone just did not register on my palate as being real mascarpone--a cheese I know very well. So I ended up be disappointed by the sum total of all the ingredients, and was only able to eat about half of it. Disappointed.
For our final course, we shared one of my all-time, bucket-list, death-row-wish desserts: Fresh Strawberries with Zabaglione. To me, the top stair-step that leads to St. Peter's Gate must be flanked by twin chalices overflowing with Zabaglione. And I have to say it was BEAUTIFULLY prepared and served. The "Captain" wheeled out the tableside cooking table, all the ingredients were carefully and masterfully laid out, and all the utensils were perfect for the preparation of the zabaglione. I was sure I was riding in the observation car on the Heaven Limited. Unfortunately, we definitely did not make it to heaven on this trip!
The berries were way too cold, and not so fresh, and the zabaglione--as with most all the other dishes here--just didn't taste right. The clouds did not part. Disappointed.
So that leaves me in a great quandary: Here I am, in a beautiful building with European art decor, at a large, generously spaced table with cloth napkins and a fresh tablecloth, attentively watched over by very charming, handsome and hospitable servers. And then the food comes out as if it were from some strange disconnected kitchen more suited to a food booth at the Danbury Fair. I'm sorry, that's a little harsh and not totally fair, but that does accurately convey the level of my frustration.
I wanted this luncheon to be so good, and hard those these very charming men tried to make it so, the closing line of the play could only read, "likable, not satisfying."
I am by no means a professional restaurateur, but I am an experienced diner. The owners purchased this restaurant from its long-time previous owner, an Italian chap, and since they have acquired it, they have put their hearts and souls and fortunes into carrying on the tradition that had been established in the minds and experiences of many local Danburians and their families and guests.
But I think their Albanian heritage does not help them so much in the kitchen. They are very sensitive and well-wishing and well-intended, but their taste buds are simply not Italian.
The problem this creates is they are challenged to self-correct the tastes of their cooking. It's like someone from Vermont trying to cook Texas chili. They can buy all the ingredients and follow the recipe meticulously, but they do not have the benefit of the trained taste buds to make the fine corrections that every good chef, famous or homemaker, must make in the final stages of the cooking--the things that are not in the recipe and not in the book.
I would very much like to see them transform the kitchen and the menu, and maybe the chef, into something that would allow them to bring out the best in this facility, and fulfill the promise its building and decor and setting promise.
I would offer my amateur suggestion to them: Close down for the rest of the winter, take yourselves to Tuscany for a month or two, and take all the cooking courses you can from the contadinas there. This is what one of my favorite Italian chefs in NYC does--Mario Batali of Babbo. Despite his tremendous successes and world-wide acclaim, he remains humble and always wanting to improve himself, and takes off every summer in Tuscany, motorcycling from village to village in the Tuscan countryside, learning everything he can about the local cooking. And i think this is one of his main secrets to his being able to captivate and stimulate the taste buds of some of the most well-traveled diners in the world.
Surely these folks at Castello know that the freshest ingredients and proper SIMPLE preparation are the key to the best foods in the world--with proper, correct seasonings. And I'd like to see them bring this to the kitchen of their establishment in Danbury, and move themselves up to the #1 restaurant in Danbury on your list here. It could be done! And I hope they will do it!
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.