If you are a 1st time reader of my musings, consider visiting the following posts before reading on.
Well, this is the last Ethan Stowell restaurant I have yet to write about. If I may reiterate, his restaurants are all supposedly “Italian-Inspired” cuisine that I have a lot of carpaccio with. Like each E.S. joint, there is a theme and Tavolàta’s is pasta. According to the website, its name means “to gather around the table.”
No it doesn’t. “Tavolàta” means ”Tableful.” Seems like an exaggerated translation of a fairly simple concept, I suppose just like your interpretation of Italian pasta.
I was here for Happy Hour, my new rule for trying restaurants the 1st time. You get a taste for what they do and without potential buyers remorse regardless of the results. And I must say, I would recommend Tavolàta for Happy Hour, but nothing more. They select a hefty list of pastas for about $8 and have truly legitimate Italian wines at $5 a glass. But the pastas have some severe quirks that deters me from returning for dinner. As I intensely studied the menu’ waiting for others to arrive, I was confused by some of the pastas. Spaghetti with Chicken Meatballs. How are chicken sausage meatballs Italian? What is wrong with sticking to the basic cornerstones of Italian Cuisine, and that is a red meat with perhaps some pork (the only acceptable white meat) MEATBALL? So naturally, this is what I ordered
Obviously a generous $8 pasta plate but it was no Spaghetti and Meatballs. 1st of all, this pasta seems more like Bucatini, a very thick stranded pasta that resembles a spaghetti but a true spaghetti should resemble “little cords” usually as uncountable lighter strands. These Bucatini were what I considered “troppo dente”, meaning they were a tad chewy and could have used at least another 2 minutes in a salted water bath. But hey, better than overcooked pasta right? What should have been chewy but ended up mushy were these crispy on the outside chicken sausage meatballs. It seemed like there was a heavy dose of bread crumbs and egg trying to keep it together thus producing a rather bland mealy mush-a-ball. The tomato sauce was thin and flabby. The only thing saving this chewy pasta chicken mush was the generous umami-loaded parmigiana shavings. Such a shame because had this pasta been made with spaghetti al dente, doused with a richer tomato Marinara sauce and juicy herbed meatballs (not made with chicken!), this would have been a classic.
Also ordered was a Gnocchi Alla Romana (pictured) and a spicy Italian sausage Rigatoni.
These Gnocchi alla Romana were scrumptious. I wish I had the brains to have ordered it myself. But I have a rule to never order the same item as anyone else at my table. This also, was one of the only Italian pasta dishes on the menu’ that didn’t attempt to deviate from its traditional sense. No fancy substitutions or funky experiments, no no, just saucy good rich tomato and gooey crispy mozzarella atop baked fluffy gnocchi, simply no-nonsense goodness as Italian pasta should be.
A wag of the finger goes to the spicy Italian sausage Rigatoni. The sausage was way too spicy, and again the pasta was “troppo dente”. The careless over-spicing created a horrible clash with the wine that would have normally been an amicable pair. I’d like to squash the idea that southern Italian food is picante spicy, its not really. It has slightly more “piquantness” than its Northern members but not mouth-on-fire spice. A good gastronome, like most Italians, knows that too much hot spice ruins a dish, it dominates and detracts from the neighboring flavors and makes a meal slightly uncomfortable and difficult to enjoy with red wine. There is an art to incorporating gusto into Italian sausage and salami, but regrettably not reflected well in this Rigatoni at Tavolàta.
I have to give a tip of the hat to the service. It was a Friday night and these people were short staffed but not short of courtesy and warmth. Plates took a while to arrive, but the bartender made sure our glasses were kept occupied with wine and the time elapsed seemed unnoticeable. They maintained a positive attitude and natural conversation amidst the Friday night pandemonium. At the end, we realized we forgot to order dessert by happy hour’s cutoff, but without even having to ask, our server brought out delicious warm cinnamon Zeppole with a dark (slighly salty) chocolate dipping sauce as if we were still on time. These zeppole were dusted with powdered sugar and fried to perfection. Donuts, zeppole, beignets, whatever you want to call them, are just words for fried sweet delectable dough that I will happily recommend you revel in for dessert.
This is the last review I will write on Ethan Stowell restaurants. Unless he opens a new restaurant, or as Seattle Eater has predicted a new chain of reinvented “fast food” joints…
I will stay firm on my opinion. And that is this guy has a cute idea towards interpreting Italian food, but the proof is in the budino, and the proof is that these restaurants are weak attempts at trying to establish celebrity chef status through a much loved cuisine. Its as if he is trying to be another Tom Douglas.
You say tomato, I say pomodoro.