Three’s a Crowd

Italian twins turn triplets, with mixed results.

LUIGI DENUNZIO wants to rule Pioneer Square. His Luigi’s Grotto and Café Bengodi occupy the highly visible corner of First Avenue and Cherry Street and feature emphatically offbeat menus and decor. With Brindisi, DeNunzio reverses the formula, favoring quiet restraint over the subterranean strangeness of the Grotto and the busy cheer of Bengodi. From the light classical favorites that flow from invisible speakers to the restaurant’s fun but less-than-innovative premise (each month highlights the cuisine of a particular Italian region), Luigi’s latest might be an above-average lunch destination, but is anyone biting?

I recently spent a lonely lunch at Brindisi. The place was nearly empty at noon on a Saturday; Vivaldi was my sole companion as I perused the July menu, which paid homage to Sardinia. After noting the pork loin topped with melted Gruyère (from Sardinia?), thyme, and rosemary ($13) and prawns sautéed with paprika, saffron, cabbage, white wine, and tomatoes ($10), I settled on a salad of mixed greens, oranges, apples, and glazed walnuts with balsamic dressing ($6) and barley (farro) served risotto-style with whole roasted garlic cloves, goat cheese, and tomatoes and seasoned with fennel and mint ($10).

Mixed-green salads on the sweet side are a dicey proposition. In this case, the orange slices were decidedly chillier than their fellow ingredients; the glazed walnuts, meanwhile, had been molded into a large, sticky ball that seemed more suitable for dunking in chocolate than pre-entrée consumption. Still, the greens were varied and flavorful, and the towering nut ball was easy enough to pick apart.

No such efforts were required with the farro. The dish blended three distinct texturesfirm barley, tender garlic, and soft cheeseinto a concoction whose sweetness (accented further by the mint and fennel) echoed the dessertlike quality of the salad. A little barley goes a long way, however, and Brindisi served me a pile of the stuff. Colleagues who’ve dined there agree that the portions run large, and they give mixed reviews to such dishes as roast lamb over polenta ($15) and spaghetti with tomatoes, garlic, and basil ($10). The kitchen might do well to keep in mind that a masterful pasta dish can elicit swoons without filling the plate; as any Atkins dieter knows, quality carbs trump quantity every time.

Brindisi’s region-go-round concept is a nice hook for Italian-food neophytes, and the atmosphere is pleasant enough, but doling out mountain-sized servings smacks of overcompensation. Clearly, DeNunzio aims to turn Pioneer Square into a nouveau Little Italypart playful, part posh, with more than a dash of traditionbut his most recent outing needs a more distinctive identity before it can measure up to his dynamic duo at First and Cherry.