The restaurant staff sat around the bar area, bored, like they hadn't seen a customer in quite awhile. They looked up at me with blinking eyes when I walked in, as though I weren't a hungry, late-afternoon lunch guest, but the bright intrusion of sunlight in a dark room. I had to ask, "Are you open?"
They sprang into action — a couple guys darted into the kitchen and the hostess/waitress offered my pick of seats. I grabbed one close to the door, just in case. If this bunch were surprised to see me here, it might prove wise to bolt if the moment called for it.
1202 Orange Avenue, Coronado
Island Pasta has a prime location on Orange Avenue, just a block or so from the Hotel Del, and its Google Maps description reads "A bustling choice for Italian cooking." I saw no hint of bustle, though in fairness, I was there out of season. During the summer, tourists probably roll in — and right back out — on the reg.
You don't see these words, Island and Pasta, together very often. Yes, Sicily qualifies as an island more than Coronado does, but it's got strong enough character that nobody ever needs to call it the "island of Sicily." You're just supposed to know. Maybe when a food critic encounters the words "Island Pasta" he's just supposed to know better.
It offers a sort of build your own pasta starting at ten bucks — choose a noodle shape, settle on a sauce. Or even a half -and-half sauce, if you'd like to mix your pesto with marinara, or meat sauce with Alfredo. Add a meatball or Italian sausage if you like. I thought this might be a little boring though, and checked out the Specialty Pasta side of the menu. Go for something a little more thought-out by the chef. I thought, and for $11.75 I opted for a tomato basil spaghettini.
Meatless, but I love fresh basil, and when a good Italian spot matches ripe tomatoes with a rich olive oil the results can be transcendent. It arrived in about two minutes.
I am all for prompt service, and I know the kitchen had nothing better to do than prepare a plate for me, its sole customer. But here's the thing: if you can produce a meal I just ordered in less time than it takes me to decide whether I want to pay three bucks for your iced tea, my expectations are going to plummet.
Even bracing for the worst I couldn't enjoy my meal. Here's an account of everything on my plate: thin spaghetti noodles, clearly reheated; thin strips of basil, slightly bitter; thick chunks of tomato, lightly sautéed, juicy but flavorless; generous drizzling of olive oil, bland; minced garlic in abundance; undressed slice of light brown sourdough (wheat maybe?). None of it came together to form what I'd call a pasta dish. Maybe a vessel for a long afternoon of garlic breath.
While I ate, a couple of people walked up to the window beside me to read the menu posted out front and decide whether to give it a try. I resisted the urge to surreptitiously flash them a thumbs-down signal. I guess I was saving that for print. When I paid my bill, the waitress collected my half-eaten plate without bothering to ask whether I wanted to box it up. Of course I didn't. She did offer a refill of that iced tea, but I declined. We both knew I'd only be drinking it out of spite.