Cameo’s –  February 2011 (dt)
6.47 - 7*, 6.75, 6.5, 6.5, 6.5, 6.25, 6.25, 6

Cameo’s proved to be a worthy antidote for some wintertime blues – bright colors, an Italian cuisine, competent service, just close enough to home, and good value.
               Although no one claimed anything  to be exceptional, everyone seemed pleased with one’s choice of entrée: chicken parm (Chay – excellent, crispy, pounded thin); veal parm (Ken - good); chicken & shrimp with alfredo sauce (Deb K- very good, lightly creamy and tasty, only two shrimp); chicken Sicilian (Don: nice mix of flavors, eggplant and mushrooms); veal & prosciutto with provolone (Judy – good mix of flavors, mushrooms); chicken Francese (Tim – worthy preparation, almost as good as month before, tasty light sauce); chicken with broccoli Florentine (Kriss – good, a bit of spinach); and, alas, the bowl of creamy tomato soup (Deb T, who was feeling not well, but liked the soup.) The red sauce was deemed good by all who had it. And a sprinkling of on-the-spot grated parmesan was available. All in all, it was a competent effort. It is tough to rate chicken high up in the culinary heights but our dishes were worthy. (Why did no one pick the prime rib special?!)
               Five of the dishes came with a side dish of pasta – again, competently prepared.
               Included in all the meals was an all-you-can-eat salad, served in a bowl per four people, with the house balsamic dressing, consisting of mixed greens, a few tomato quarters, some cucumber slices, a scattering of black olives, red onion slices, a few more crunchy croutons – plain but effective. For the salad lovers, it was a welcome change of pace.
               We passed on the appetizers, knowing the entrées would demand most of our attention.
               As for drinks, we were a bit uncertain, ordering only one bottle to start with – a 2008 Banfi Centine Toscano, a 60% Sangiovese that was made fuller by the CS and Merlot. Three more glasses of pinot noir were later added. Two hot teas and a diet soda filled out this part of the meal.
               Desserts beckoned for four of us. Big, chunky sundae glasses of different shapes held our choices: brownie sundae with ice cream with whipped cream and chocolate sauce (Don – good for the soul, lots of ice cream); vanilla ice cream with caramel sauce (Judy – a good scoop of ice cream, two barely perceptible drizzles of caramel); apple pie with ice cream (Ken – ok); and the vanilla ice cream sundae with chocolate sauce (Kriss – another note of a worthy scoop of ice cream). All were good portions and enjoyed.
               The bill, including food, drinks, tax and tip averaged $59 per couple (an allowance made for Deb’s soup-only meal), an excellent quality-to-price ratio experience.
               Service reflected the general tone. Nikole, our waiter, and Skyler (sorry, if I butchered the spelling), our bus-person, water-person, and dessert waiter, were both efficient, friendly, attentive, non-intrusive, and competent. Water glasses were checked often, one of our quirks, and Ken’s supply of coffee was eventually maintained. With Frank Sinatra singing in the background the entire time, and the waitstaff dressed in black or black & white, the atmosphere was both lively and calming. It was pleasing to see some training evident, and working, for a small town establishment. Thank you, both.
               Pacing was average, despite our feeling that casual is often quick. Two baskets of sliced Italian bread arrived within a few minutes, accompanied by two small ramekins of garlic butter spread. The drink order was quickly taken ..., and the salads appeared about 25 minutes after seating, typical for many places. Entrées arrived about 65 minutes after seating, and desserts about 100 minutes. Start to finish measured a few minutes over two hours, feeling relaxed, although a couple mentioned the pacing felt slow.
               The ambience is splashy and classy and casual, all at the same time. Color scheme hits first, with lots of Tuscan red filling the large window side and its opposite wall (filled by the wine rack), as well as composing the top half of the wainscoted register wall and the bottom half of its opposite wall, with the other halves finishing with either a beige or a soft green. Almost unnoticed is the flooring – a heavily stained, simple heavy plywood underlayment that, upon notice, seems incongruous but again is probably not noticed, especially in the evening light. Lighting came mostly from the ten or so recessed lights and felt mostly cozy in a small room, although one or two noted bright light.
               Within minutes, one realizes by the third song Frank Sinatra is still crooning and will continue to do so throughout the evening but it fits the room just right. And our seating arrangement, asked for ahead of time, of Chay and Ken at the heads, with three down each side, fits our conversational style.
               Other elements of the ambiance included the somewhat sterile soundproofing tiles (although it worked quite well); two low-speed fan units, each with four globe-lights, keeping the air moving imperceptibly; three sconces each holding candles as the light on the entry wall; a rough attempt to divide the dining area from the entry area with plants topping the sidewall upon entry; a clunky feel of seeing the register upon entry; and the wall wide wine rack.
               The eating area holds two two-person round tables on the entry wall, with about ten four-person square tables, covered, in order, by a white linen, a diagonally facing black napkin, and then a glass cover. Each table, if not already reserved, held two water glasses, two salad plates with a folded, standing black napkin, and a small glass-cup candle. The room temperature was mostly acceptable.
               Having said that, it should be noted that whenever the entry door was opened, a seepage of cold air made us want to grab a jacket, and those closest to the door felt it the most. Then, the table was placed in front of the entry of the bathroom, which, although mostly unnoticeable, was occasionally quite noticeable.
               Parking in Athens is a consideration and this winter’s conditions meant a large bank of snow dividing the car from the sidewalk. Nothing major – it is winter but not having to walk on 385 would make business sense (not Cameo’s fault). (The only cleaned-off spot was the No Parking area!).
               So, DP8 event #99 came and went, quite comfortably, quite easily, and the lights of Hudson, across the river, and of the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, attracted our attention as we came and left.

The evening had started at the Monteverds, with most of us commenting on the weather. It’s been six grinding weeks of consistent snow and cold, with this morning five degrees below. A day of forty degrees would make us think it is full spring.
               Ken and Kriss presented a counter of cashews, valentine M&Ms, three cheeses and three different types of crackers, pineapple chunks, and white grapes – small by Monteverd standards but quite enough, and especially considering a shorter ride.
               Drinks included a freshly purchased pinot noir, a white, a beer, and diet soda.
               Topics were varied, and quite fresh, considering our last get-together was only two weeks previous. Topping the list was the Adamses’ new car, the result of a trade-in of both their cars, requiring Judy to explain, mostly because of all of our gaping stares, that the one-car family would only last until their return from, Topic #2, their seven week vacation from Milwaukee to Vicksburg to Gulf Coast to Keys to DC to home (where aren’t you going?).
               Squeezing in there some place was the new TV at the Monteverds’, quality of the picture, questions about the recorder, etc.
               Other topics: Deb’s bad stomach week (weak?) which was evident during the meal; Ken’s winemaking project and labels; Netflix again; our kids and grandkids.
               ... knockers, ....
               More topics: dates for the next few months confirmed; Stiefel’s; the Greenville Firemen’s dinner; the Karneses’ upcoming trip to KY; Kriss’ trip to Walton; future vehicles for the Monteverds; new countertops coming to the Karneses; and more than I can recall.
               The only other decision to be made was the route, and we wisely, or otherwise, chose Schoharie Turnpike, saltily dusty dozen mile ride on rides we normally don’t take.
               #100 is next!

*Deb T’s score from a previous visit; did not want the tomato soup to be the only criteria