Sunday, November 25, 2007

La Scola

La Scola
5375 Airport Highway at Reynolds Road
Monday through Friday.: 11 - 10
Saturday: 11 - 11
Sunday: 4 - 9

Owned by legendary Toledo restaurateur Gus Nicolaidis, with management by Moussa Salloukh, and culinary leadership of Chef Chris Dewart, La Scola combines the talents of these three restaurant veterans in a new and warm setting.

The team transformed the former "Bungalow" into a romantic and friendly space with the addition of dozens of black and white photographs featuring well known Toledo families. The bar is large and, along with a lounge area with comfortable leather seating, accommodates the crowds waiting for a table.

We called ahead to advise the staff that we were running late on an 8:30pm reservation. We waited in the bar for about twenty minutes for our table. It was fun to check out all the old photographs and all of the people who came to La Scola for the Saturday night of a holiday weekend.

Once seated, we were a little disappointed to be moved to the meeting room in the back. Typically, those with reservations get prime seating and we would have preferred to wait a little longer to be able to be seated in the main dining room. Also, as Toledo is a pretty casual town, other restaurant owners in Toledo have reserved back dining rooms as a great place for those patrons who prefer to wear athletic attire to fine dining establishments. This option allows everyone to be served, but it honors the "special occasion" diners by putting them in the main dining room and surrounding them with other guests who prefer to dress up a bit for fine dining. With all of that said, we found the meeting room to be pleasant, with a soothing fireplace in the background.

We started the meal under the recommendation of our server to try the Calamari la Padella ($8.95) and the Bruchetta Formaggio ($7.95). The calamari came in a light red sauce with roasted bell peppers, shallots, herbed olive oil and fresh tomatoes. We asked our server to bring us some bread to mop up the savory remnants of the sauce. The bruchetta is a signature version and should probably be renamed "Ciabatta Formaggio" as it was made with thick slices of ciabatta, rather than the thinly sliced and toasted pieces of bread that are typical of bruchetta. It included pesto sauce as well as alfredo sauce. My table mates enjoyed this new interpretation of a classic Italian favorite.

After placing our order, we were quickly served our salads. We sampled the house salad, made with mixed greens, grape tomatoes, croutons and Gorgonzola cheese with a sweet white balsamic vinaigrette ($3.95) and the Caesar salad ($3.95). While the portions were ample, none of the salads came with the home made croutons listed on the menu. With the heavy traffic that evening, I would suspect the kitchen simply ran out of croutons earlier in the evening. I'm sure this will be resolved quickly.

For dinner, I ordered the pasta vognole ($15.95). Described as "Chopped fresh sea clams in garlic and olive oil (white) or garlic and tomato (red) with linguini and crostini", I was again surprised with a variation on the dish. Typically, white clam sauce is clear. It is made with olive oil, garlic, parsley and a little red pepper. The clams are sauteed in the seasoned olive oil and then some of the water from the pasta is added at the last minute to thicken the sauce. At La Scola, the clam sauce was made with cream. My plate did not arrive with the promised crostini. One of my dining companions noticed that the pasta had been broken in half in the kitchen (sacrilege in Italy) and we agreed that the noodles were not served al dente. This is the first month that the restaurant is open and I suspect that the pasta consistency will improve as the chef gets accustomed to the timing for feeding these large crowds.

I noticed that with the exception of the marinara sauce, all of the pastas are made with cream sauce. Again, this is a spin on classic Italian. Pesto sauce and Bolognese sauces are not made with cream in Italy. Ever. On my second visit, I asked the waitress about this, and she explained, "This is how they make bolognese in the North of Italy". It would be more honest to say, "Toledo diners prefer more subtle flavor and adding cream accomplishes this". Adding cream to standard pasta sauces is a trick Chef Dewart probably picked up while working at Ciao! or Rosie's Italian Grille and while it is neither authentic nor my preference, it does sell more pasta in Toledo.

My friends ordered the Veal Piccata ($18.95), Bistecca Toscana ($24.95), Filetto di Manzo ($26.95) and the "Costolette di Agnello", a special Australian double-boned lamb chops with chanterelle and morel mushroom demi-glace, served with Gorgonzola polenta ($24.95). The veal piccata was terrific and all of the beef and lamb entrees were served exactly to the temperature preferences requested.

I returned for lunch a few weeks later. I ordered the Margherita Pizza ($8.95) and a Caesar salad ($3.95). The pizza was less than adequate. The crust was soggy. I would expect this to be improved as the kitchen staff gains more experience. On this visit the Caesar salad came with the homemade croutons. However, the dressing does not have the distinguishing essence of lemon or anchovies found in Caesar dressing. My dining companion ordered the Manicotti ($7.95) which is rolled pasta filled with herbed ricotta cheese and served with a trio of marinara, alfredo, and pesto sauce. The presentation resembled the flag of Italy and was charming. However, the earthy blend of fresh basil, garlic and pine nuts that defines pesto sauce was completely absent. The pesto at La Scola is a light green alfredo sauce with a hint of basil flavor.

The dessert menu is extensive. None of the desserts are made on site. We ordered the Torta di Cioccolata ($6.95) and the special Tiramisu served in a balloon wine glass ($6.95). The torta was attractive and tasty. The tiramisu was a marscapone and chocolate frappe, however it looked pretty in the glass with two lady fingers sticking up out of it. I recommend saving your calories for the entrees.

Coffee at La Scola is strong, rich and served in a coffee cup with a paper liner and a saucer garnished with three whole coffee beans. Chocolate covered coffee beans or a traditional biscotti would be even better.

La Scola is a great American restaurant with an Italian theme. The steaks and chops are terrific, and the menu contains clever Italianized names for American dishes such as "Reubenetta" (Reuben Sandwich) and "Il Cuneo" (wedge salad). Eating real Italian food at La Scola is like looking for real Australian cuisine at Outback Steakhouse. That doesn't make it bad. I just hope to manage expectations for Italians or Italio-philes looking for the real thing. Regardless, American steakhouse cuisine is always a winner in Toledo. La Scola will be packed with long waits and a loyal group of regulars for many years. I will return to enjoy the ambiance and its virtues as a steakhouse.

“Glass City Gourmet” is a chronicle of one woman's attempt to cook, eat, diet and entertain with both flair and whimsy while based in Toledo, Ohio. I encourage you to read on as the "Glass City Gourmet" attempts grand recipes, samples locally owned restaurants, visits indigenous markets and humbly pursues her quest to be formally recognized as the official "Glass City Gourmet".

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Chocolate Challenge

I love a challenge. I am a competitor. As much as I hate this label and the evil connotations often associated with it there is no denying my genetic predisposition to win.

When the opportunity to compete for the "Top Chocolate Chef" arrived with the prize being a seat as an official judge for the Junior League of Toledo's first "Chocolate Soiree", I knew I had to make a run for it.

I spent a few days intermittently contemplating my options. After scanning a few cookbooks for chocolate confections, I decided to try my hand at Champagne Truffles. My recipe comes from the James Beard Foundation Book Award winner, "Savor the Moment: Entertaining Without Reservations" from the Junior League of Boca Raton. It was a Junior League contest, and I figured this might be a good fit.

After several botched batches I learned that in making truffles:
1) temperature counts
2) don't second guess a call for "semi-sweet" chocolate - ever
3) fine champagne makes great truffles

Here's the recipe and the adjustments I made:

6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 c (1/2 stick butter, chopped
3 tbs. heavy cream
1 egg yolk beaten
3 tbs champagne
1/4 c. unsweetened baking cocoa mixed with 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Combine chocolate, butter and heavy cream in a medium saucepan. Cook over low heat until the chocolate melts, stirring constantly (I found that a double boiler is a better choice for better control of the heat). Stir a small amount of the hot chocolate mixture into the egg yolk; stir the egg yolk mixture into the hot mixture. Cook over medium heat for 2 minutes longer, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat and stir in the champagne. Spoon into a small mixing bowl. Chill for 1 hour or until completely cool, stirring occasionally.

Beat at medium speed for 1 minute or until the color lightens and the mixture is slightly fluffy. Chill for 3 minutes longer or until the mixture holds its shape.

Shape into 1 inch balls by scraping a small ice cream scoop, melon baller or spoon across the surface of the chilled mixture. Place on a tray lined with waxed paper. Chill until very firm.

Roll truffles gently in the cocoa and cinnamon mixture. Place in decorative cups to serve.

A few tips:
1) I used Belgian chocolate and Moet & Chandon White Star Champagne. After all, you should never use champagne you wouldn't drink or chocolate you wouldn't eat!

2) After rolling the ganache into small balls, freeze it. When it comes out of the freezer it is easier to get a smooth round, globe-like shape before coating it.

I did my best to set up a pretty display and "sell" my confection by explaining the origins of the truffle and the joys of chocolate ganache. Unfortunately, I didn't win. I was told that I lost by 1 vote to a chocolate and strawberry struedal bar. Oh, well. It was a fun challenge and great to catch up with old friends.

Second place. C'est la vie.

“Glass City Gourmet” is a chronicle of one woman's attempt to cook, eat, diet and entertain with both flair and whimsy while based in Toledo, Ohio. I encourage you to read on as the "Glass City Gourmet" attempts grand recipes, samples locally owned restaurants, visits indigenous markets and humbly pursues her quest to be formally recognized as the official "Glass City Gourmet".

Monday, November 12, 2007

Great Sushi at Sori Sushi

Sori Sushi
5236 Monroe Street
Toledo, Oh

There is nothing more exciting than a new and fabulous restaurant opening its doors in Toledo. In a town where sushi restaurants are becoming as common as falafel shops, it is always exciting to find a star.

Enter Sori Sushi and prepare to be dazzled. Chef Kenny Ro is a 25 year veteran to Sushi preparation. Chef Ro shared the highlights of his career include working for the top rated sushi restaurants at both the Luxor Hotel and the Tropicana in Las Vegas. Most recently, he worked for five years at Yoko Restaurant in Toledo.

Sori Sushi features a large and diverse menu. Sushi, teriyaki, bento boxes, soups, Asian appetizers, dessert and a variety of other special items complete the ambitious menu. Chef Ken Ro and Sori get fresh fish from Chicago and Columbus, daily. You can see, smell and taste this high quality immediately.

Upon being seated at the sushi bar, Chef Ro presented us with a complimentary amuse-bouche. This delicate combination of crab meat, cucumber and a light nutty sauce was a preview of the sublime flavors to come. My dining companion and I started our meal by ordering the spicy tuna bowl. This was a special preparation of fresh spicy tuna, roe, and a light portion of finely sliced green onions. It was served with a second bowl containing sticky rice. It was an extraordinary mix of tastes and textures.

Next, we sampled the house Sori Roll ($8.95). Named after Chef Ro's wife Sori, it contains spicy tuna, salmon, red snapper, and crab all artfully arranged and wrapped with cucumber. The cucumber provides a subtle crunch and delicate flavor contrast to the sashimi. We also ordered a Spicy Tiger roll ($9.50) that contains shrimp tempura and is topped with spicy tuna and avocado. It was excellent. Finally, we ordered the white tuna sashimi. The pieces were served on a bed of shredded daikon. The presentation was beautiful and the fish melted in my mouth. On Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, sashimi is .99 per piece for dine in orders.

Second only to the cuisine is the artwork in the restaurant. Sori Ro studied Asian Art techniques while attending college in Seoul, South Korea. Her art ranges from modern mixed media, to traditional script paintings, and more traditional crafts. There are beautiful prints, paintings, as well as small framed leaf arrangements that form whimsical animal shapes. I particularly enjoyed the alligator and elephant dried leaf compositions near the sushi bar. It will be tough to keep the restaurant open and not end up selling the art from off of the warm, butterscotch colored walls.

Sori Sushi provides great sushi at reasonable prices in a pleasant atmosphere.

You will be seeing me regularly at Sori Sushi.

“Glass City Gourmet” is a chronicle of one woman's attempt to cook, eat, diet and entertain with both flair and whimsy while based in Toledo, Ohio. I encourage you to read on as the "Glass City Gourmet" attempts grand recipes, samples locally owned restaurants, visits indigenous markets and humbly pursues her quest to be formally recognized as the official "Glass City Gourmet".

Friday, November 02, 2007

Sakura Saga Continues

It's been over a month since my last entry and a variety of opinions on my review of Sakura continue. I spent the month of October traveling through Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand. Articles to follow.

Recently, it was pointed out to me that a number of the dissenting posts had come from the same "IP" indicating that a group of friends sharing the same computer has been writing comments. Suspicions aside, I'm glad that my honest and personal opinion has led to dialog on this new restaurant.

Glass City Gourmet is not a commercial website. I am not compensated for my opinions. Therefore, I am not beholden to advertisers who might expect only generous reviews.

I did return to Sakura on Wednesday, October 3rd to meet a friend at the bar for lunch and found the strong smell of fish and lackluster sashimi still present. I would agree with one of the comments that Fujiyama and Kotobuki offer superior sushi in clean and odor free environments. This is my opinion. You don't have to agree with it. You are welcome to post other opinions.

“Glass City Gourmet” is a chronicle of one woman's attempt to cook, eat, diet and entertain with both flair and whimsy while based in Toledo, Ohio. I encourage you to read on as the "Glass City Gourmet" attempts grand recipes, samples locally owned restaurants, visits indigenous markets and humbly pursues her quest to be formally recognized as the official "Glass City Gourmet".