Camino on Market Street by Vinegar Hill TheaterI remember when Erin and I discovered Il Cane Pazzo. It was a cold autumn night, and we had decided to see a movie at Vinegar Hill. In the ticket line, Erin craned her neck to take in the warm glow of the restaurant next door. “Why have we never noticed this place?” she said. I shrugged and went over to look at the menu. Just a few items, classic Italian with a twist here and there, not cheap. As it turns out, it was also fantastically delicious. Some of the best Italian either of us had ever had. When it went away and Camino took its place, we skeptically prayed that some of the Il Cane Pazzo magic was still around, lingering in the ovens and stoves. Or at least that the former chef, concerned for the well-being of addicts like us, had left his recipes pinned to the kitchen wall.

Our first meal was mixed. The duck with sweet potato hash was spectacular, but everything else was thoroughly mediocre. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen Erin reject pasta. At home, she’ll eat day-old spaghetti from a box with tomato sauce from a jar and then lick the plate. (Is it okay to tell people this, boo?) The service was nice, and the duck showed promise, but we were not eager to return.

Grilled white pizza with fontina, garlic, arugula, and truffle oil tastes better than it looks hereAs the months wore on and Camino settled in, however, we found ourselves being pulled back, curious to see how it had come along. We went recently with our friends Kelly and Brian, and I’m here to tell you: The magic is back! The highlight had to have been the homemade pappardelle with duck sugo, a rich bowl of delicate meat and rustic, fresh pasta.  The white pizza – too often a filler dish without much flavor, or too garlicky – was also excellent. Thin, crispy on the outside and chewy inside, with just the right notes of bitter arugula, earthy truffle, and spicy garlic.

The question is: Can it survive? Despite the excellent service and food, the space is small enough, and maybe just odd enough, that it could be hard to get enough people into the restaurant and coming back. We find the unusual layout – a row of booths on one side of the bar and a few cramped tables on the other – charming and cozy, but it is limiting and, when busy, loud. In warmer months, the outdoor seating in back is better, if a little disconnected.

An industry insider friend told us that it’s very difficult to run a restaurant in that space, and predicts Camino will go the way of Il Cane Pazzo. We hope he’s wrong.

Erin says: “Promising but inconsistent so far.”

award_star_gold_3 16Rating: Erin: Jed:

thumb_up 16 iconPros: Anything with duck, white pizza, nice service.

thumb_down 16 iconCons: Limited seating, can be noisy.

money_dollar 16 iconPrice: Entrées $15-$21

car famfam 16 iconParking: The usual downtown street or garage parking.

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