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Adventures in Shilling: Chiaroscuro

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Adventures in Shilling is a celebration of the latest and grossest shills from around the world wide web. As always, you too can help fight shills.

2007_10_chiaroscuro.jpgLate winter/early spring marked the debut of Chiaroscuro, a promising upscale Italian restaurant huddled in the shadows of the Transamerica Pyramid. Upon opening, the double whammy of a difficult neighborhood and prolonged "opening kinks" led to an shift of both management and staff. But when a new regime takes over, how to alert the masses? Why, hit the restaurant review sites and shill.

From Citysearch comes a review from one "nstricker" that boasts many of the criteria on the shill punchlist: management acknowledgment, promotion of multiple "star" dishes, an urging to try said restaurant and most notably, an absence of other reviews:

Chiaroscuro is a delightful new find. I went there the first time and didn't know what to expect. For appetizers we had fritos misto. The batter was light and cooked lightly with no oily residue. The polenta fries included with my shrimp dish are astounding! Always make sure you get a side when you eat here. On my next visit I had the wonderful heirloom tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella salad lightly seasoned with a balsamic vinagrette. I had a frittata sandwich with more wonderful polenta fries. The owner is a lot of fun and a firt and will make you feel at home. Enjoy a pleasant meal at Chiaroscuro.

Shill Probability: a modest 72%

From the shill cesspool that is Yelp, we have not one, not two, but three consecutive five-star reviews from Yelpers with a single review to their credit. The most egregious shill-in-point, by Iggy Z:

For anyone who went to Chiaroscuro during its opening months (c. Feb-May 2007) and came away dissatisfied with the service and/or the food, please do yourself a favor and try it again. The formerly co-owned Italian restaurant is now solely owned by the Roman-born chef, and his love of his craft and commitment to making a wonderful dining experience for everyone is evident throughout. The interior is still a bit of a work-in-progress, but the very attentive staff and the exquisitely prepared food are absolutely first-rate.

Having gone with a few people, I was able to sample many items and every single one was outstanding. We began with polenta fries and a tomato consomme that balanced each other beautifully. Antipasti consisted of bruschetti which came with five distinct toppings, from sweet pea paste to a salty Greek-olive tapenade, along with a plate of delicately (and not overly-breaded) calamari, large juicy prawns, and halibut so tender it practically melted in my mouth. Next we had a sampling of pastas, each made on-site by the chef's mother, flown in from Rome to help train the kitchen staff. One was a tagliolini with a very flavorful but not too salty pancetta with cherry tomatoes, another was a linguine that somehow didn't taste too heavy paired with mussels, and possibly the very best gnocchi I've ever had -incredibly light but still satisfying- with prosciutto, radicchio and gorgonzola. Even though each of these dishes had a number of ingredients, the distinct flavors of every single ingredient was always discernible.

Despite my initial reservations, I agreed to try the duck main course and was blown away by its subtlety. It was very tender and not gamey tasting at all. Cooked in a madera sauce with poached nectarines, alongside zucchini and red bell peppers, it was a perfect combination of flavors. Somewhere along the way during all this gluttony, I managed to sample a mixed greens salad with pears and pecorino cheese, the very fresh and flavorful tastes unhindered by a light dressing. Finally, profiteroles for dessert. The puff pastries, as well as the mille-feuille they sat on, are all made on-site, filled with chantilly cream just before being brought to the table (yes, I asked!). The cream is heavenly -not too heavy or sweet- and the dark chocolate was not used sparingly. Coupled with a very fruity and light Moscato, it was a perfect ending to a perfect meal.

Shill Probability: 99.3%

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