Carini's Italian restaurant appears to have been created by knocking out a wall between two smaller stores in an older downtown building. The supporting wall has been replaced by two octagonal white pillars, with similar half-pillars on the west wall. Almost the entire east wall is a hand-painted mural of a man sitting on a smooth-stone wall, facing the canali of Venice, with two lovers under the canopy of a gondola being slowly poled under the bridge on the right.
The tables are scattered haphazardly about the room, separated by movable panels of dark, forest green wooden lattice. I'm sure you could get more tables into the room, but with this arrangement, you don't really feel like you have close neighbors. The illusion of intimacy works.
With the trellises, the mural actually works, too. With little effort I could imagine what it would be like, sitting at a trellis-lined cafe along the canal. Hearing the water lapping at the walkways.
The ceiling is high, with no suspended paneling. Instead, everything in the top two or three feet is painted a flat black (except for one short segment of ductwork, which was apparently recently replaced). The lower walls are painted the same forest green, with a narrow strip of wood trim and painted vines separating it from the rest of the wall, in a plaster white. Decorated sparingly with paintings, mirrors and hanging silk plants.
The carpet is a dark green and red, in a floral pattern. Tables a light burgundy, simple straight-back cafeteria-style chairs.
Wife pointed out the oval placemats... bird of paradise blossoms.
Her father raised bird of paradise flowers.
We came to dinner earlier than our stomachs really wanted to, just because we did not want to miss the live violinist music, which ends at 8 PM on Saturdays. This night it was a young asian woman, dressed in a long, black gown. Wonderful.
Shortly after we were seated (by Carini, of course), she started another tune. Took a few seconds to recognize. The theme song for the Civil War documentary on PBS. Sounds much better live.
This was followed by, of all things, "Happy Birthday" played on a violin. Not sure whose b-day it was, but it was different.
Godson wanted to go ask her if she knew any of the soundtrack to Lord of the Rings, but hadn't the nerve to ask.
It was a bitter-sweet visit. Knowing this would probably be the last. This was only the second Italian restaurant the wife's godson had ever been to (The first was Botaccelli's in Central City, when we took him there. There are only two Botacelli's in the world, and the second is only blocks from Carini's. Carini calls it Botulelli's.)
Started with a double order of calamari (another first for godson) and homemade garlic bread.
Had to have the prime rib. But opted for the mostaccioli side, with his wonderful Alfredo sauce.
Need to work on godson's restaurant experiences. He still has the school cafeteria mannerisms, hovering over his food like a hawk with prey it is trying to hide. Hailing the server across the room to have plates and glasses removed as soon as he had emptied them, rather than simply setting them to the side for the server to discretely retrieve while on his way back to the kitchen.
Godson had wavered between the prime rib and chicken alfredo, and settled on the latter. With the proviso that he would trade for my prime rib if it looked better.
Since his chicken alfredo ended up on the floor in the kitchen (really!) we decided my dinner did look better. But I wasn't trading. Did consider bribing the server to tell godson that his dessert also ended on the floor, when the time came. But didn't.
Carini's apparently thrives on local, repeat business. Two men at the table between us and the door. Three of the groups that departed as we ate had to say hello to one of them. The restaurant was largely empty when we got to our main course. And I watched as Carini slid into the empty chair at the table with a couple and their ~8-year old boy (Quite a feat, since Carini is a large man, but he made it look smooth and easy).
I stopped my dining to watch as Carini proceeded to make a fist with his huge hand, and had the boy sprinkle salt over it. The large man's timing was impeccable. As the waiter arrived to deliver dinner on the boy's left, the big man palmed the salt onto the floor and slipped a small surprise into his fist. And then had the boy wave his hand over the fist, which opened to reveal the magically produced toy.
I was distracted from the second slight of hand, but another wave of the hands gave the boy his fistful of salt back. Which he was instructed to throw over his shoulder.
And I think this is an ordinary Saturday night at Carini's.
As we were boisterously finishing our French silk pie desserts, the maestro stopped by our table, to see how we were doing. We have been here maybe four times since September, and yet he remembered us. But he thought us locals, and seemed disappointed we weren't.
Asked him if had ever thought of branching out into our state. And he had, in Coal Mine City, but it was a painful failure. Wife pointed out his competitors had another place in our Central City (this is when we learned of his "botulism"-based mispronunciation of their name). But while he had considered franchise, after a heart attack in December he decided he didn't need the headaches.
Glad he is still with us. Sorry it would be such a drive to enjoy this again.
Should have turned and given the place one last good look before leaving, but I didn't. Too concerned with figuring out how I was going to keep the heelers out of the to-go box full of prime rib.
Carini's Italian Restaurant, on St Joseph's Street. Across from the County Building.
Don't miss it on your next visit to Rapid City, S Dak.
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