Sophia's Italian Kitchen

Ah, Sophia's Italian Kitchen. This little restaurant on the corner of Ninth and E streets in Grants Pass has changed names as often as a couple of musical artists one could name.

Gaetano Restaurante Italiano, Il Giardino Cucina Italiana, and now Sophia's — just in the past few years. Although the name has changed often, the cuisine has remained Italian.

One recent Tuesday night, my kindly neighbor invited me to explore this latest permutation. We were soon seated at the last table available in the back room of the packed restaurant.

In the cozy space Sophia's offers similar Italian food as in the previous restaurants. It was also evident diners' tabs will now be a bit lighter.

Entrées range from $9.99 a la carte to $14.99 with the addition of a salad of mixed greens and garden veggies, plus a basket of garlic bread. This in addition to an antipasti platter of fruit, cheese, peppers and olives.

The place was really hopping. During our dining experience, several tables were seated with fresh customers. Plates of mushroom ravioli, arrabiata with sausage and baked stuffed manicotti came to neighboring tables — and quickly disappeared.

"Did you notice the people's plates were cleaned off?" my friend said. "They were eating everything."

A very good sign.

Unfortunately, we sat neglected for an unconscionably long time. When our waiter finally arrived, my parched neighbor begged for water. I just wanted to eat.

My friend ordered one of the summer specials — Eggplant Parmagiano ($12.99). I selected the Chicken Cavatappi with Artichoke ($10.99.) The menu described my dish as an irresistible mixture of chopped grilled chicken breast, artichoke hearts, sautéed mushrooms and herbs, all tossed together with cavatappi noodles in a creamy alfredo sauce.

Our salad bowl came in short order, accompanied by the "bread sticks." The lettuce was a bit fatigued, and the "sticks" were actually long thin slices of soft garlic bread. There's nothing wrong with serving buttery garlic bread in lieu of crunchy/chewy bread sticks. Just call it what it really is, please.

The entrées soon arrived, and they were generous portions indeed. But the eggplant slices were very undercooked for my friend's palate. Indeed they were not typically soft and gooey. Also, the broccoli spears which accompanied the eggplant dish had only nodding acquaintance with the steamer. My friend blanched a bit.

Meanwhile, for some reason, my taste buds had gone from desiring rich alfredo sauce, to wishing I'd ordered something a bit lighter. I suggested we might switch plates. We sampled each other's fare. She ate sparingly, but enjoyed the flavors in my chicken dish. I found hers to be quite tasty as well.

The best aspect of our meal was definitely the dessert. Which we almost didn't have as the waiter's service pace had gone from a stutter start to a dead run.

"Here's your bill," he offered, plopping two take-home containers on our table as soon as our forks stopped moving.

"Don't you serve dessert?" my friend asked gently.

"Oh! You'd like dessert?" he replied, then quickly recited a list of desserts. The lemon-drop cheesecake ($5.99) sounded just right. We both enjoy tart lemon desserts, so we ordered a slice. Crossing our fingers, we each took a bite. The soft and creamy filling was tart with a capitol 'T'. Combined with a vanilla crumb crust and a buttery streusel topping — it was heaven on a plate.

But, my friend still had to nudge our waiter for an accompanying cup of coffee. Hmm. Three times we were offered less than standard service. Unfortunately, that level of inattentive service really disturbs the flow of dinner. And irritation, even if it's politely swallowed, can upset digestion.

Given the ups and downs of the dining experience, I asked my friend if she would go back to Sophia's.

"No, I really don't think so," she said, shaking her head a bit sadly. Would I? Hmm. Maybe, I said. That lemon-drop cheesecake was divine.

— Sanne Specht

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