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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