If it had opened in 1975 instead of 2014, Fratellini would be considered mainstream. It hails from a simpler time, before phrases like "farm-to-table" and "locally sourced" became commonplace. Molecular gastronomy was unheard of, and people weren't quite as concerned about whether ingredients were organic. Some wine, salad, pasta with a good red sauce, a juicy steak and good service were all that was needed for a fine meal. We asked the manager if Fratellini could be considered old-school Italian. He said, "Yeah, in the way people just come in here and order what they want, I guess you could call that old school. There aren't many places like this these days."
Fratellini's way of doing things is charming in the same way that old cookbooks are, with their photos in hyperrealistic colors, advice to housewives on how to please their man and recipes for molded salads.
The quirky and blunt waiters are oddly charming, too. Some are Italian by way of New York. On our first visit, our host led us to the back of the restaurant, where the waiter minding the tables there took one look at us, waved him off and declared in a Big Apple accent, "I don't care if the lady's pretty; I already got three tables." We were seated elsewhere, but thanks for the compliment anyway.
It was the beginning of a trippy dinner that made us giggle all the way through, with Billy Joel and Frank Sinatra crooning away on the overhead sound system.
There was no better way to begin than with a dirty martini (with gin, of course) and an old-fashioned. The idle bartender looked as if he needed something to do anyway.
The martini was garnished with two blue-cheese-stuffed olives skewered on a plastic pick and went beyond "dirty." There was so much olive brine in it that it crossed the line right over into filthy. Regardless, it was well-chilled, and any member of the Rat Pack probably would have approved.
The pink hue of the old-fashioned, made with Maker's Mark bourbon, was a little shocking. Forget "good" maraschino cherries; this was full of the neon-red variety and served in a pint glass. Let it not be said that Fratellini is stingy when it comes to drinks.
In a place like this, don't miss the chance to order something that's either on fire or prepared tableside. The spinaci (spinach) salad was both. A cart with a propane-fueled burner was wheeled to the table stocked with fresh spinach, balsamic vinegar and a giant pepper grinder that was about two and a half feet tall. The server sautéed a hearty amount of bacon and mushrooms, then added a dose of brandy that sent impressive flames into the air. He added the spinach, then doused it all with far too much balsamic dressing. Thank goodness the spinach was added at the very end, or the leaves would have collapsed in the inch-deep pool of dressing in the bottom of the bowl.
(At that point, the overhead track lights started to strobe in the most annoying way, so our server decided to just turn them off. Good call.)
The garlicky red sauce with Fratellini's lasagna is administered with as heavy a hand as the balsamic vinegar added to the salad, and the same goes for the broiled Mozzarella melted over the top. Pull aside the cheese, though, and layer upon layer of flat noodles, ground beef and ricotta are just waiting to be discovered. The ricotta, by the way, is in fact imported from New York. (We took a to-go container for the lasagna, and sauce leaked from the box. We joked that the restaurant had added more sauce when packing it up.)
The steaks at Fratellini are in fact quite fine, including an iconic preparation of filet in cognac sauce studded through with green peppercorns. The accompanying potato croquet (which was indeed the approximate size and heft of a croquet ball) was dense, unremarkable and made of overcooked mashed potatoes. However, swirling hunks of it through the peppercorn-studded sauce made everything okay again.