Thursday, May 16, 2013
REVIEW: Cafe La Scala (aka The Italian Community Center)
My Italian class had planned a field trip to go see Le nozze di Figaro, or the Marriage of Figaro, an Italian opera which was written by, believe it or not, Mozart himself! I didn't know Mozart had written operas before this trip had been brought up. It's pretty impressive that the man can write a whole opera in a completely different language from his own. I can barely write a whole paragraph in a different language, you know?
Well, anyway, this field trip was optional, but all the Italian classes taught at my school were invited. Mama had offered to drive some kids over to the opera, which was in Milwaukee, and I was afraid we might get stuck with a bunch of students who were either painstakingly annoying and immature, or so unrelatable that the car ride would get extremely awkward. I was on pins and needles, really! But in the end, everybody in our car was an adult chaperone. And it turns out that, altogether, only 25 people had signed up to go in the first place. Even better was that the students were the more mature, more wittier kids at school. Va bene! Needless to say, the car ride went much better than expected. Adults can provide much greater conversations than I'd get out of most of the students at school. But am I sounding condescending? Well, I'll just move right along then!
So, before we all would head to the Marcus Center to see the opera, we were planning to stop and have dinner at the local Italian Community Center's restaurant, Cafe La Scala. I can't imagine anything more fitting for an Italian class! My expectations were set pretty low for the food though. I had led myself to believe that we would all be served the same paper plate full of mostaciolli in tomato sauce with one big meatball and some Italian salad and bread on the side. You know, like you would in a cafeteria/buffet set-up. Then I thought I overheard the teachers saying something about a Fish Fry, and then I got a bit panicky because, really, what's a healthy eater to do when the only food around is fried fish? Peel the batter off? I'll tell ya', sometimes I indulge in sweets, chips, candy, and creamy dishes, but I feel the least I can do is avoid fried food.
I slid into my seat, and Mama sat on my right. We looked over the menu, contemplating our choices. Nothing sounded bad to me, taste-wise, and it was pretty easy to eliminate the foods I knew would just be caloric bombs. Eventually, I had narrowed down my choices to either the Italian Beef Sandwich (no cheese), or an 8" Veggie Deluxe Pizza, sans the black olives and light on the mozzarella. It took me awhile to decide, but Mama helped me to make a choice by stating the pizza might take a real long while to cook, and we were kind of in a rush. I figured with that reasoning, coupled with the fact that I had no idea if the pizza would have a thin crust like I'm used to (authentic Kenosha pizza have cracker-thin crusts), or a more standard, thicker crust, which I don't care for as much. (Wellllll, I do... but you know, the calories add up and all.)
So, when our waiter came around, I ordered the Italian Beef Sandwich, one of my favorites. It was supposed to be served on a torpedo bun dipped in juice, and came with a choice of a side: French fries, fresh fruit, or a cup of soup. I went with the soup, and out of the two options (Chicken Pastina and Seafood Chowder), I picked the first one, which my waiter said is like an Italian version of Chicken Noodle. Mama ordered the Baked Perch which came with potato pancakes, applesauce, coleslaw, mixed vegetables, and a cup of soup. She got the Seafood Chowder. Then, afterwards everyone at our table chatted and waited for our meals.
There was fresh Italian bread laid out at every table for everyone to enjoy while our food was cooked. I didn't take any, but it sure did look good! It had a golden crust and was studded with sesame seeds. However, when I asked Mama how it was, her reaction was just a flat "good." Not even a "really good." I pressed her for more details, and she said the bread wasn't hot, more like room temperature. Other than that, she didn't say much. I guess La Scala's has rather average Italian bread.
My signor had ordered a couple of appetizers- Fried Calimari and Fried Eggplant- and everyone at our table munched on that while we waited. And waited. And waited. It seemed like it was taking forever just for our soups and salads. The service suddenly seemed rather slow. And, I had noticed, our waiter had forgotten to ask us if we wanted any drinks! Every seat had a glass of water when we walked in, but that's hardly any consolation. Thankfully, I was able to get an employee's attention later and asked for some hot tea.
Maybe it was just because we were in a rush to make it to the opera, but the service was nerve-wrackingly slow. Everyone kept starting at their watches and looking at their phone's clocks, wondering if we could make it in time. My heart sank a bit when Mama said we might have to rush to eat. I think the main cause of the slow service was because there was some sort of party happening down the hall, maybe a Graduation or Prom dinner- I wasn't too sure. Even so, it seemed like only a couple of employees were managing our whole party. Were they understaffed?
Finally, after what seemed like forever, our soups and salads had arrived! As the waiter handed them out, I noticed that he had brought a couple of soups and salads that no one had ordered, and had forgotten a couple people actually did. But everyone got a soup or salad in the end, so it all worked out, more or less. Thankfully, both Mama and I received our individual soups without any problems.
Chicken Pastina is a lot like Chicken Noodle Soup. At least La Scala's was. The only difference was the type of noodles the restaurant used: They were tiny, little orb-shaped things, as opposed to egg or flat noodles you would usually find.
I asked Mama how her soup tasted, and she said it was cold, so I tried a sip of mine. My soup was cold as well, sadly. It had a bit of warmth to it, but it was very slight. The chicken cubes were abundant and tender- I enjoyed them very much- but the noodles were odd. I didn't like the texture: The tiny size of each individual noodle made it hard to chew them up, so they kind of just slid down my throat like the rest of the soup. I didn't like it. It might've been more tolerable if the noodles had some type of flavor, but they didn't. They didn't taste like anything to me. I got tired of them so quickly that I stuck to sipping up the broth and left the noodles in the cup. The broth was flavorful enough and I enjoyed it, and the carrots were good, but there weren't very many of them in the soup at all. Overall, I was left with a cup of spherical noodles and a disappointed feeling when I had finished up.
Mama said that, while her chowder was cold, it was very rich and tasty. I asked what kind of seafood it tasted like, and watched as she tried to pin down a certain taste. Finally, she named clam, but said it was rather fishy in general. Maybe I would've enjoyed the chowder more than the Chicken Pastina...
Shortly after our group had finished our soups and salads, the main courses arrived! And do you recall how the service at La Scala had messed up some of our party's soup and salad orders? Yeah, the same thing happened with the entrees. Some people got fried fish when they had wanted baked, there was one salmon dish that no one had ordered at all, and someone who had asked for a plate of spaghetti and meatballs never even received her order until she asked the waiter about it several minutes later.
I was extremely disappointed by the look of my Italian Beef. See, when I think of Italian Beef sandwiches, I think of hunks of shredded pot-roast style meat, pratically drowning in its own gravy on a nice, warm, Italian bomber bun, becoming moist from all the of beef's wonderful, savory juices.
However, I was presented with a rather plain-looking sandwich, simply put. The bun had a chalky-looking texture, a pale tone, and the roast beef was NOTHING like how I imagined it. It wasn't shredded, but rather cut into long strips, like the way it is served at a deli or a sandwich shop. There was also a stunning lack of juice, so my sandwich was surprisingly dry. I lifted up a couple of the beef slices to see if any gravy was hiding underneath, but there was barely any to be found! The parts of the bun that the Italian Beef was sitting on had more of a brownish hue than the parts that did not, but that's about all I saw of the juice. It had a lot of presence in the fact that it was a big sandwich, but then again, all Italian Beef Sandwiches are supposed to be big.
Oh well, I thought. It may not look like the Italian Beef I'm used to, but who cares what it looks like as long as it tastes the same.
Unfortunately, my sandwich did NOT taste the same. I first tried a slice of the meat, and it tasted good. And familiar. But it was NOT the taste of Italian Beef, it was the taste of any standard deli Roast Beef you can find at the supermarket. What did La Scala believe made their beef "Italian?" There were no spices! No gravy! Not a trace of anything that would make someone able to differentiate their beef from the norm. The meat is also supposed to be served hot. My meat was cold. It still had a bit of heat coming off from it though, so I suspect this may just be because the sandwich had been sitting out for awhile before it got to me.
The torpedo bun was cold too. It had to be toasted, since it was slightly crisp on the edges while remaining soft on the inside. The bread tasted good too. The parts that had gotten that slight dripping of juice from the beef had a salty, almost buttery taste. I hoped it wasn't really butter though. Either way, it was good. What I noticed, however, was that my torpedo bun was NOT made with Italian bread. I mean, does this look Italian to you?
Cuz' to me, it looks like an over-sized hot dog bun. And maybe I'm just spoiled; What with every place in Kenosha using fresh, Italian buns from bakeries like Cardinali's and Paielli's, but still. Couldn't La Scala have gotten a hold of Italian buns somehow? I didn't understand.
Another thing that eateries around Kenoha usually do is dip the bun into the juice that the beef cooks in. But like I mentioned before, there was a stunning lack of juice. My bun was obviously NOT dipped. I mean, sure, most of the time, places in Kenosha do ask if you want your bun dipped before they make your sandwich, but couldn't La Scala have done the same? Looking at their so-called "Italian" beef, I'm guessing they barely have enough juice to dip the bun in in the first place.
So, I was disappointed with my sandwich, overall. It tasted good, but not any different from a regular roast beef sandwich, aside from the fact it was on a torpedo bun. But even then, it was supposed to be "Italian Beef", and I would think that means it'd be served on an "Italian" bun. Honestly, there was barely any gravy, and I wouldn't be surprised if La Scala had just pulled their meat out from a package in the fridge and heated it up for a couple minutes.
La Scala needs to either improve their recipe for their Italian Beef Sandwich, or change the name of it altogether, because this was not even close to the Italian Beef I know and love. It was Roast Beef. There wasn't anything special about my sandwich. I mean, it was good, I finished it all, but it wasn't what I was looking for. I felt tricked; as if I had been promised one thing but given another.
At the same time, I'm glad I didn't order something else either. Because I would've ordered the pizza, and that wasn't what I had expected at all either. A student a couple of chairs down from me had ordered a Pepperoni Pizza, and it had a real thick crust, confirming my suspicions earlier when I was ordering. It wasn't super thick, like Chicago Deep-Dish or anything, but it was sure a lot thicker than I expected from the restaurant of an Italian Community Center. Don't get me wrong, but isn't authentic Italian pizza really thin? I suppose it'd have to vary depending on the region of Italy you're in, but for the most part, I thought they served up cracker-thin pies.
Oh well. Soooo my dinner wasn't the best. This was a community center's restaurant anyway. It's only like a side business or something. I'm sure the ICC has enough on their plate as it is- They can't experiment in the kitchen all day, trying to improve the quality of their dishes. So I give them a pat on the back for their effort to make good food, at least.
Aside from the poor food, dinner was fun! While Mama and I were reading the menu, we found something called Gelato Spaghetti under the Dessert section. Ew! By the way La Scala had described it, it sounded like they topped a bunch of noodles with gelato and strawberry syrup. Sounded disgusting! But I did some snooping around, and it turns out Spaghetti Gelato is just Gelato that's made to LOOK like spaghetti noodles. What a relief! I can't believe I turned my nose up at the idea at the time. Should've ordered it. Sounds delicious... So at least La Scala taught me about new desserts.
Also, a real-life chef had come to the dinner and the opera with all of us, since he was a friend of my signor. And he has a blog too! It's all about the kinds of foods and styles of cooking you can find in different regions of Italy. It's very informative. Totally worth checking out! You can find his blog at www.alla-tavola.blogspot.com. He asked for my blog's address too, and said he'd take a look at Sweet and SavoRi. Imagine! A real chef reading my food blog!
So, all in all, dinner was good. The food wasn't the best, but it was edible. It was just...meh. Maybe I just ordered the wrong thing. I'd give Cafe La Scala's food a second chance, but definitely not their Italian Beef or Chicken Pastina. And hopefully, the service was just having a bad day or was understaffed the time we went, because they were just so out of it. I might go to Cafe La Scala again, and maybe, just maybe, things will go better.
RiRi Rates Cafe La Scala as: 4/10
And that's all I have to say about Cafe La Scala! What did you think? Have you ever been to Cafe La Scala? What did you order? Does it deserve a better grade? Tell me what you think! I love to hear from you readers!
Till' then, this has been RiRi Ri-porting!