Some things I’ll never fully understand, like string theory, the jokes in Lolita or why people pay Michael Bay to make movies. Sitting just below advanced calculus, and just above pickles on that list, is why otherwise nice restaurants insist on installing ambiance-sucking big-screen TVs on their walls. Sports bars make sense — watching the game there is kind of the point — but when the menu is not exclusively fried, the wine list contains titles beyond “red” and “white” and the tables are covered with cloths instead of carved inscriptions detailing where to find a good time, it is hard to understand why the TVs were included in the design, as those are the sorts of restaurants people go to with the intention of paying attention to one another, instead of having it absorbed by a plasma screen.
It was a line of thought that was hard to ignore at Carelli’s, a generally pleasant sit-down on the corner of 30th and Baseline in Boulder, where the ambiance included a jazz band playing in the corner, soft lights rotating colors above the bar and a faceful of the Little League World Series making error after error after error. But you know, classy.
Even on a busy enough night that my dining companion and I had to sit at the bar to avoid a 30-minute wait for a table, it was still a distraction; noise that could cut through all that noise.
Luckily, there were plenty of other distractions on the menu, with a broad selection of tasty-sounding Italian fare. Nothing in the menu descriptions really popped with avant garde creativity, but Italian food definitely falls under the heading of “things that aren’t broken and therefore not in need of fixing.”
One of the most unusual items was a Buffalo caesar salad from the small plates menu, with ground buffalo filling the role often taken by chicken. It was a nice way to give a savory kick to a light dish.
For the main course, I went with a reliable standard: pollo alla marsala ($15.95), which comes with chicken, mushrooms and shallots sauteed in marsala wine over fettuccine. Marsala can easily be overly sweet, and Carelli’s take on the dish was a little more subdued with a thinner, less bold sauce that let the natural flavors take the lead from the wine.
My dining companion went for a pair of lamb chop medallions, and a plate of vegetables. Both followed the path of the marsala, with understated seasoning.
Once the food arrived, and the wine went with it, it was easier to tune out the Little League game on the two giant flat screens. But it was still there.
On the whole, Carelli’s is a couple steps up from The Old Spaghetti Factories of the world (especially in price), but it pleasantly stops short of becoming a black tie affair. The food is approachable and simple, and with one small exception, the ambiance is quite pleasant, including a nice-looking patio on which one can enjoy all the wine and pasta and none of the ESPN.