Dinner at La Vita: tasteless, gloppy "carbonara"
OK, so maybe it was my fault by asking for something not on the menu.
I stopped by La Vita on Taylor Street (http://www.lavitarestaurant.com/) for a late dinner, and asked the waiter if there was any chance the kitchen could whip up a spaghetti carbonara. No problem, he assured me.
A good carbonara, to my mind, means al dente spaghetti nicely coated with egg, studded with coarsely cut bacon or pancetta, and redolent of garlic and imported cheese.
What I got, sadly, was a huge $13 soupbowl of ... glop: overcooked spaghetti (really spaghettini), drowning in what must have been at least 10 fluid ounces of beige-ish, utterly flavorless cream sauce, oddly like a bechamel, with a very few specks of what I assume was pancetta and some grudging slivers of mushroom. If there was egg, garlic, or cheese in this dish, I couldn't tell.
I don't think I've ever had a restaurant carbonara that I thought was very good. It's too often pasty, or made with too much cream, or adulterated with pointless peas. But for a place that apparently aspires to be a stylish little white table cloth nook on the city's best-known strip of Italian eateries, this was a pasta dish worthy of Applebee's.
The caesar salad was acceptable, though the dressing tasted a bit too much of dijon mustard, and the anchovies I'd asked for showed up late, in a separate little dish of oil still half-congealed from the fridge. Lightly toasted, thinly sliced bread was dropped on the table indifferently by a passing busboy.
As for wines, my glass of Minini pinot grigio ($6) was interesting for its very prounced flavor of pear. A La Cappuccina soave ($6) was unremarkable.
Aiming to cut my losses, I skipped dessert.
The waiter was pleasant, but the service seemed rushed, probably because I had come in late (which I really don’t think should ever be an excuse in a fine dining restaurant if they agree to seat you in the first place).
La Vita looks like it was done by the interior decorator for a W Hotel, with lots of wood, brushed stainless steel, and purple fabric. Unfortunately, the food isn't nearly as chic as the ambiance tries to be.
This is $40 I wish I had back.
The garlic may have been my own innovation when I've made it at home. :-) Still, I don't think ordering a standard dish, even if not on the menu, ought to subject you to a dish that's way beyond the pale of what's acceptable, especially since I asked the waiter twice if he was sure they wanted to attempt it, and when the restaurant's web site promises "world-class Northern Italian cuisine" for the "sophisticated diner." Also, it's not new either to me (I've been there twice before, though not recently) or in longevity (it's been around 10 years).
Well, uh, traditional carbonara shouldn't have garlic or cream. So the lack of garlic is normal. The cream sauce, not so much.
But that's the risk you take when you order an off-the-menu dish at a new restaurant.. I'm not excusing the poor preparation (it sounds awful), and I've never been there, but it's tough to judge a restaurant on a dish they don't normally prepare, even if it's an italian standard.