Pros: Pleasant atmosphere, a best-of for the neighbourhood, nice pizzas and beverages
Cons: Inconsistencies in food and service
The most notable part of this restaurant for me has always been a deranged woman who was there about a year ago now, screeching in bizarre fashion. They'd given her a pomodoro sauce when she'd been expecting marinara -- or vice versa; that part is lost to time, and she wasn't very coherent apart from the distinction between marinara and pomodoro, and, good heavens, was she loud. Truly surreal. You don't usually see that quite so far out of Beverly Hills.
Curiously, the difference between the two sauces isn't something to kick up a fuss over at the "Market City Caffe," because it is -- which see my other Burbank restaurant scribblings -- a very Americanized Italian, and everything just comes out as "tomato sauce" anyway. She could've saved her breath, or the waiter could've shushed her by taking the plate away temporarily and bringing it back with a new grating of Parmesan.
Complaints about what I fear to be the bizarrely far-reaching influence of "The Olive Garden" aside, it's not a bad place. The cow theme in the decor is a bit hard to explain, but apart from that it's fairly pleasant -- neat white linens and relaxing booths. There's a patio -- a rarity in beautiful downtown Burbank -- where you can watch the assorted retirees, speed freaks, and teen-aged tarts go by. (I swear, this was the parade at lunchtime today. I like Burbank well enough, but it does get strange.)
Service is polite but slow -- crossed with actual tablecloths, it might be one of the few suitable 'date' places in Burbank (though the loss of the 'Wild Thyme' and its crepes is oft lamented). There's a slight sloppiness to the servers: the breadsticks might not show up until a bit late, or they might mis-pour with the dipping oil for same. Nothing's rude or genuinely trying, though, and nobody complains if you simply ask for (breadsticks, some balsamic vinegar in the oil, etc).
The food is hit-and-miss. There is an antipasto 'bar' which I like -- marinated mushrooms and chickpea salads and so on, reliably fresh and well-prepared. Pasta and pizza are the order of the day. Go with the pizza, which comes in some creative combinations. The pasta quality varies -- overcooking may be an issue, and objections have been launched against the putanesca (verdict: too saucy; tomatoes trying to fight it out with the capers and olives instead of working in harmony. Which see earlier comments about the Universal Tomato Sauce)
There is a quite respectable drink list which has yet to be explored here. Soft drinks are done well: iced tea comes in a glass pitcher with sugar syrup so you need not fuss with sugar packets. Here and there the "Market City Caffe" pays attention to little details, and they invariably make for a more pleasant dining experience.
I've dithered over the rating here. Three seemed appropriate since I wouldn't go out of my way to go here, and part of the menu has been "Olive Gardened," so to speak. But it's definitely one of the nicer places in Burbank's restaurant row, and I do go out of my way to go there when actually in Burbank, which must mean something. The 'four' should be read as 'when in the area' rating.
Chances are I'm not the only one who feels that way, given the hysterical marinara-pomodoro chick: I suspect this place catches a bit of the run-off from the Burbank studios. Ah, prima donnas; such a critical part of the SoCal dining experience!
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