For some reason, I always end up choosing Asian whenever I eat out (possibly because it’s usually cheaper). I’ve been to over a dozen Asian restaurants last semester alone, but have always lamented the lack of reasonably priced Italian restaurants around here. Needless to say, I was thrilled when my suitemate told me that her dad was taking the entire suite out to Hot Tomato’s—free Italian food? I’m in.

The first shock came as soon as I walked in the door—I never realized how spacious this place was. The two-tiered dining room offers an elegant atmosphere with its intricately decorated ceiling and tall windows overlooking the Shubert. The ambience creates a casual but romantic feel, and the arrangement is perfect for private conversations.

Hot Tomato’s appetizers were absolutely mind-blowing. It’s safe to say that their four-cheese garlic bread was the best garlic bread I’ve had in my life. The melted cheese on top gave the bread an irresistible aroma, the inside had a very subtle garlic taste (using freshly minced garlic), and the overall texture was fluffy and moist with the perfect touch of crunch. We also tried their mozzarella-stick-like eggplant fries. The battered eggplants were fried to the perfect degree and not at all greasy. The crispy breading was a dramatic contrast to the smooth velvety inside. The fried calamari was also a welcoming change from the rubbery tentacles served by the dining halls. Hot Tomato’s laces their calamari with battered banana peppers, a surprisingly delightful combination.

I have to say that I wasn’t quite as impressed by their entrées. The selection wasn’t bad, with a few steak options, seven or eight pasta choices, and some additional seafood specials. My suitemates all went for the grilled Atlantic salmon, which was tender but a little bland. Several got the Hawaiian wahoo with pear, an interesting complement, but wasn’t cooked well enough to bring out the full flavor of the fish. The texture of the wahoo was mediocre at best, maybe slightly overdone. I tried gnocchi for the first in a dish called chicken pesto. The grilled chicken was tender enough, but I had an odd feeling about the pesto sauce. It seemed very light and creamy as I was eating it, but the aftertaste was somewhat greasy (the leftover swam in a sea of oil after I heated it in the microwave).

If I had any reservations after the entrée, then dessert definitely redeemed everything. Their tiramisu was wonderfully decadent, rich but not at all overpowering. The smooth mascarpone cheese had the texture of ultra-light whipped cream, the velvety cake instantly dissolved in your mouth with a tantalizing hint of liquor. I was bloated by this point, but the tiramisu was the perfect way to finish off a great meal.

Service was also exceptional; our waitress was very helpful and patient, although granted it wasn’t very busy when we went. During the meal, I kept on wondering why so many people have complained about Hot Tomato’s slow service and overpriced menu. I personally thought it was a wonderful way to satisfy my Italian craving, and would totally go back again even if someone else weren’t paying for it.

Robin Tang