Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Restaurant Review: Justice to Italian Cuisine Unserved

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.

Calamari Fritti
The Calamari Fritti cheered me up a little with the rare addition of squid heads to the mix, a personal favorite. Though they were a little chewy, the crispy exterior and the complimenting aioli were forgiving.

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.

Beef Carpaccio
The beef carpaccio on the other hand offered quick redemption. Not only was the meat tender and flavorful but the plate had the right proportion of garnish to meat. The olive tapenade, sun dried tomato pesto, Parmesan cheese, shred of lettuce, and mustard vinaigrette all worked together to bring a rounded, unctuous flavor that made you want to take the next bite. Even my companion who was a carpaccio virgin approved.

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
The breadcrumb crusted snapper in caper beurre blanc was a tad too salty making it nearly inedible. The fish though a little stringy was cooked well  and the potatoes offered a favorable contrast. It was hard to get past the saltiness of the dish though; it always is.

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.

4 comments:

  1. Strange, I had really good food there. Again, no pizza or pasta. But it was one of the better Italian meals I had. S.

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  2. That is strange. Maybe I visited on one o their bad days.

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  3. man tomma please dont judge the whole bangalore crowd on some stupid award ceremony .
    most of these awards given out depend more on PR and payments . awards can be bought man just like public perception .if ya run a restaurant there no good days or bad days - SOP. pizza or pasta besides.every dish needs to maintain a quality.thats the job of the head chef aboyer (barker). if he thought the dish was worth going to the table of the guest trust me he just ensured no more repeat clientele at least from you and ya pal.
    thats where professionalism comes into play. 'the aboyer'
    coming from NY you gotta show these buffons what passion is. and ensure repeat clientele. and awards need to be given thro a public vote. dont know how this times guide BS awards work.
    but if ya can be so critical you should also ensure ya guests something credible and some QUALITY irreplaceable

    cheers man
    jeeth

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  4. If Via Milano gave YOU a writer's bloc, it must've been really bad;) I myself got my ravioli after a 2 n half hour wait, while everyone else was done with desert . Yes, comfort n freshness is what I look for in Italian food. Considering they use the haute look to plate, but contradict it by disregarding the simple, light flavours, looks like the emphasis is presentation.
    Aditi

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