Memorable dining experiences, whether good or bad, are what trigger fervent reactions that become fodder for restaurant reviews that are worth a read.
Unfortunately, the meal I set out to critique at Via Milano, touted to be one of Bangalore's best restaurants, was mediocre at best. I've been moping over it ever since I dined there two months ago. Nevertheless, a considerably sized hole burnt in my wallet and my idealistic virtues as an aspiring professional food writer have led me to finish writing this piece anyhow.
|Bread and accompaniments served at the start of the meal|
The restaurant opened its doors in April 2007 with Chef Paolo Nonino at the helm. It has been at the receiving end of a lot of praise, most notably and recently that of the Times Food Award for the best standalone Italian restaurant in the city. (The award itself is a little deceiving considering the fact that there are only a few restaurants in the same category and of comparable caliber.)
It moved spaces to its new fourth floor rooftop location near the Sony junction in Koramangala just a year ago. Unfortunately, the side walls are a little too high to allow for an unobstructed view of the skyline leaving just glimpses of a few apartment tops for the customers to savour. The decor is an attempt at elegance but there is a sense of disconnect thanks to the dusty office building one has to enter and walk through to get to the top. Someone also seemed to have forgotten to turn on the music and nearby sounds of construction work and noise from traffic are more than distracting.
The restaurant features an extensive menu with food from all over Italy but what finally ends up on the plate misses the mark a little. Most of Italy feeds on very simplistic fare that is wholesome and packed with flavor, food that is almost reassuring at times. The freshness and integrity of the ingredients is therefore critical to the success of any Italian meal. As is a proper understanding of the cuisine and a respect for its unpretentious ideology. Via Milano doesn't seem to get this point.
First impressions matter. A lot. The bread that was brought to our table soon after we were seated was cold. 'Never serve cold bread.' That's what you learn in Restaurants 101. It doesn't take much to warm it up.
A word on non-functional garnishes however. If a component on the plate only provides visual appeal without adding to the flavor or texture and especially when it doesn't compliment the rest of the dish, why put it in there? The balsamic drizzle melds with the flavors a little, but the tomato julienne and dill leaves were just uninvited guests who crashed the party--absolutely unnecessary.
|Veal Scallopini with Gorgonzola Sauce|
But it was a downhill ride from there on out. The Veal Scallopini was served doused in an overpowering gorgonzola sauce that was thick and floury, a sign that the roux hadn't been cooked out in the bechamel. The cutlets themsleves tasted much like thinly pounded beef tenderloin rather than its delicate tender offspring. Moreover, the potato wedges though promising in texture had specks of burnt particles on it and tasted of stale oil. Need I say more?
|Baked Snapper with Caper Mustard Beurre Blanc|
|Banana Chocolate Tart|
Just as significant as first impressions are final ones and an unpleasant dessert can have you leaving with a bad taste in your mouth. The only thing that I approved about the banana and chocolate tart was the idea of it. The banana slices were mushy and the tart base was almost as hard as the plate it sat on. The presentation would've worked if it was my birthday that day, but it wasn't. It just didn't make sense. Was there was a naughty 12 year old at work behind the pastry counter, I wondered.
One could argue that perhaps the fact that we didn't order pasta or pizza, two of Italy's most famous contributions to the world of food, had something to do with our average dining experience. We were just being a bit adventurous. Besides, blaming a customer's poor menu choices is just a terrible excuse for unsuccessfully executed food; every dish at a restaurant should be able to stand up on its own.
Remarkable service sometimes makes up for inadequacies in food. The service at Via Milano was unobtrusive and relaxed, and the waiters didn't carry on their shoulders that air of arrogance one often finds in popular fine dining restaurants these days. But was it good enough to save the food? Not really.
The prices were moderate and the quantity of food was just about right but it definitely wasn't an award winning meal in my book. Based on the experience, I was puzzled to find out how well appreciated the food at Via Milano is. Either Bangaloreans are very impressionable or the quality of food in the restaurant has plummeted over time and customers haven failed to take notice. Perhaps it's a bit of both.
Now that I've finished this forced review, I can get back to doing what I do best--writing out of free will. Here's to hoping my next restaurant reviewing experience is a brilliant one. Fingers crossed.