A Bitter Ending

Tiramisu's food gets the boot.

The term "tirami su" is Italian for "pick-me-up," an apt label for a confection filled with enough sugar, chocolate, espresso and liqueur to elevate the blood sugar of a dead person. A relatively recent creation, tiramisu (sometimes seen as one word, sometimes as two, and sometimes with an accent over the u) comes complete with several colorful stories about its history, including one theorizing that an already existing dish was renamed "tiramisu" by Venetian courtesans worn out after too much sex. The dessert's actual invention can be traced to "zuppa de duca," or "the duke's soup," first made in Siena for a visit by the Grand Duke Cosimo de Medici III. Although the dessert later became popular with the artsy-fartsy set in the duke's hometown of Florence, it did not make it to this country until the 1920s. Since then, it has become one of the most common desserts on American menus, whether the restaurant offering it is Italian or not.

Most major cities boast a restaurant named Tiramisu, too. Denver got one last year, when Patrizia Rossi and Roberto Ravarra opened Tiramisu in the space briefly occupied by the disastrous La Brasserie and, before that, by the popular La Coupole. For nearly a decade, La Coupole filled the charming old Hotel de Paris on the edge of downtown with a true Parisian bistro, all lacy curtains, twinkly lights, jazz, good French food and one of the best patios in town.

Until recently, Rossi was working in a very different setting: the back of a bar called Somewhere Else, in a horrible spot in an old office building painted purple and turquoise that lurked behind a Diamond Shamrock on East Hampden Avenue. Despite her hideous surroundings, Rossi did an admirable job, turning out an intriguing lasagne and some excellent chicken dishes. Ravarra, meanwhile, did time as chef at the now-defunct Vino Vino, which had been tragically reworked as a next-door sidekick to Dante Bichette's awful steakhouse after the former Rockie partnered with Stewart Jackson in what had been Cliff Young's.

A space odyssey: Tiramisu is the latest occupant of this old hotel.
Anna Newell
A space odyssey: Tiramisu is the latest occupant of this old hotel.

Location Info


Pagliacci's Italian Restaurant

1440 W. 33rd Ave.
Denver, CO 80211

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Northwest Denver


Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m., 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday
11 a.m.-2 p.m., 5-11 p.m. Friday
5-11 p.m. Saturday

Caesar: $6.95
Insalata di arugula: $7.95
Strozzapreti: $8.95
Orecchiette: $9.95
Profiteroles: $5.50
Zuppa del giorno: $3.95
Insalata di Capri: $6.95
Pappardelle alla verdi: $8.95
Lasagna dell’ortolano: $8.95
Calamari fritti: $7.95
Gnocchi gratinati: $11.95
Risotto alla pescatora: $15.95
Tiramisu: $5.50

Closed Location

Typical of first-time restaurateurs, Rossi and Ravarra have had their hands full just trying to keep Tiramisu going, and they haven't had a chance to fix up a dining room already neglected under the La Brasserie regime. Sure, they've put up a new sign and rearranged some of the chipped chairs and tables to fit more in, but those tables are covered with linens that don't quite fit, and you can see the vinyl underneath. The entire place has taken on the patina of time -- and not in a good way. Everything looks dingy rather than quaintly aged, and we were never seated at a table that didn't wobble.

The food and the service wobble, too.

The menu is filled with dishes that vacillate between cucina rustica and contemporary Italian, with an emphasis on homemade pastas and recognizable ingredients such as Gorgonzola, lemon and asparagus. Although the dishes apparently were designed to make a point about the benefits of simple home cooking, their haphazard execution made it seem like someone in the kitchen was simply following a cookbook, unsure of how things should look and taste. The service was even more clueless.

Lunch left us wondering if anyone was actually running the restaurant, because we stood at the entrance for several minutes waiting for someone to notice us, then followed the hostess around as she tried to decide where to put us. We finally -- and inexplicably, considering that the place remained half empty throughout the meal -- wound up jammed next to a table of six. Our server mispronounced everything we ordered, repeating what we'd said as though we were the ones who were wrong, and then proceeded to disappear for most of the meal, leaving us to flag down busboys in order to get more drinks and bread.

All of which we would have forgiven had the food been well prepared (we love this space, even dingy), but it wasn't. We started with a gloppy, overpoweringly garlicky Caesar (and an expensive one, at that) and an insalata di arugula that contained enough sour lemon vinaigrette to make our tongues hurt (the cherry tomatoes were gushy, too). The housemade strozzapreti (small bundles of wound pasta that could "choke a priest") al telefono was so bland that I wondered if there had been a mistake. Although the menu promised "fresh Roma tomato sauce," the sauce had no discernable tomato taste, and there wasn't enough of it to wet the pasta; instead, the dry nuggets were held together by mozzarella, which made each bite like nibbling a pizza made out of Styrofoam peanuts. The second entree was no better and even blander: The orecchiete con gamberi e asparagi featured "little ears" pasta tossed with six rubbery shrimp, the ends of asparagus (where were the tips?), more overripe cherry tomatoes and a lot of fresh basil, which provided the dish's only flavor.

The only thing that perked up our meal was dessert, and we had to practically assault our server to get the plate of profiteroles filled with ice cream and covered with chocolate.

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