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Cafe Firenze - Please pack your knives and go.

I've been wanting to try Cafe Firenze for awhile now. With Chef Fabio Viviani making it to the finals of Top Chef and his restaurant being pretty close to my house, I thought why not. I also heard that it was really good.

The occasion was my sisters birthday and we had a party of four. Our reservations were for 6:30 on a Thursday evening. Located in Moorpark, CA. the building used to be Bauduccos, which closed over a year ago. The entrance leads directly into the martini bar, martini happy hour goes on Mon-Fri from 4-7pm. The decor is rustic and has a old world feel. Our table was well lit, almost too much light. We ordered a bottle of Acacia Pinot Noir and we also had a couple of martinis from the happy hour menu. With a quick glance at the menu, I noticed the specials right away. There were two things that stuck out to me, there was a Squid Ink Pasta with Clam and Sea Urchin Roe sauce, the second item that stood out was the Rabbit Cacciatore.

Before we jumped into the entrees, we started of with an appetizer trio and the Beef Carpaccio salad. The trio consisted of two small crab cakes, a shrimp wrapped with Panchetta and Burrata served on top of a grilled eggplant. The star of the trio was the Burrata, it was silky and smooth with a drizzle of Olive Oil. The shrimp and crab cakes were good, but nothing special. The Carpaccio salad was delicious, the bitterness of the arugula went well with the beef and Parmesean.

I decided to go with the pasta dish, the rest of the group went with the Grilled Ribeye steak, the larger portion of steak had a mushroom sauce. We also ordered a Fettucini Bolognese Arribiatta to share. I was so excited to see my pasta dish, but the looks were deceiving. It was completely bland and I honestly thought there was no Sea Urchin in the dish. The steaks were inconsistently seasoned but were cooked well. The best dish was the Fettucini Bolognese, which was very spicy and the pasta was cooked perfectly. My Squid ink pasta was bland and tasted like pasta tossed in oil. We did order a Flourless Chocolate Cake which was served with a scoop of Gelato. I didn't have any, but was told it was good.

With the prices of these dishes and all of the hype surrounding the chef, I was very disappointed with our meal. The total for our meal was $255 including 10% tip. The one thing I have yet to mention was the service. I have rarely experienced service so poor that I contemplated giving the server no tip. Our dinner took over two hours, this was not due to the number of courses or the kitchen not expediting our food quick enough. During our two hour meal, our server literally checked on us four times. The time between her visits were up to 30 mins. The bus boys did their job keeping our water glasses filled and clearing plates, but our server was missing in action. We noted all of this on a comment card, but I'm not sure I'm going back.

See photos and review here:

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  1. nice report and photos. Just from the superficial impression conveyed by the t.v. show I could not get a clear notion of what Viviani's food was like, except that he knew pasta and favored the minimalist style I associate with Tuscan cooking--as my palate remembers from eating it every day for about two weeks on a vacation. It's very different than most cal-ital food we get here; what we tried at Mozza for example might be from a different culture altogether. Your ink pasta sounds very different from any dish featuring that ingredient I've had--usually there's a distinctive brinyness. Not at all your doing--your review is perfectly lucid--but I still don't have a clear idea of what Viviani's style really is. grazie

    1 Reply
    1. re: moto

      Thanks for the feedback Moto. You hit the nail on the head, with the squid ink flavors I was expecting. The brinyness was completely missing as was the rich sea flavor from the sea urchin sauce. I'm not sure what region Chef Viviani is trying to focus on, if any. But I think his menu was developed with the local restaurant market in mind, very straight forward.

    2. I will admit from the top that I have not been to Cafe Firenze. I was not a huge Fabio fan on Top Chef, and I have no dog in this race. But still, your review seems to me to be unfair. You seem to be upset at the cost of the check -- $255 after a 10% tip equates to $220 before, or $55 for each of four people. But three ordered the ribeye, the most expensive item on the menu by far, which eats up half of the bill without the fourth person's entree and all of the starters. You seem disappointed in the pastas -- perhaps you felt cheated that everyone else was enjoying steaks. You didn't taste the dessert but you said the others liked it. You make a huge deal of the meal lasting over two hours; long dinners are the Italian style and many 'hounds complain if they feel a special evening is being rushed. You say your server only checked in on your table four times -- not just once or twice -- but you admitted that the busboys accommodated your needs. My goodness, did you tell the server or host at the start that you wanted to get in and out in a certain amount of time? I'm interested in your specific complaints and responses. Right now my sympathies are with the restaurant and particularly the server and busboys.

      1 Reply
      1. re: nosh

        Nosh, I appreciate your reply and apologize for not supplying more details of meal and the service. As far as the cost of the meal is concerned, my point was that I expected much more for the price. All of the dishes including the steaks were not impressive. I sampled everyone's steaks and they were good, but we expected more. This was not just my opinion, everyone else at the table was disappointed, in fact my sister was more disappointed then I was. Maybe our expectations were too high.

        As far as the server was concerned, during those four visits she was hurried and left before we could even comment. A long meal is fine, but not if everybody at the table wondering where the waitress is and how we could get more wine. We were not in a hurry, but most restaurants I've been to a server would check on their tables regularly to make sure everything was fine. It was not extremely busy, so I'm not sure where she was most of the time. Our service was probably an anomaly, but because this was our first experience there, if left a very bad impression.

      2. I couldn't agree with your assessment more. I ventured to cafe Firenze last Wednesday at 3:30. It was actually very quiet in the restaurant. We started with the crab cake appetizer, it was really quite good except for the pieces of shell encountered (need to do a better job of cleaning the crab!). I also had the butternut squash ravioli/tortellaci and yes it was VERY sweet but we all loved it none the less. Their mixed greens salad with carmelized onions and pomegranite/tangerine vinegraite was less than stellar. The dressing had no taste. The lasagna was not a hearty dish that most Americans are accustomed to. I thought it tasted like some bad Ragu from the jar, the noodles were overcooked and the whole effect was a creamy mess. I would go back for the butternut and also the cold marinara dipping sauce supplied with the bread for knoshing. It was like an Italian version of Gazpacho and we all LOVED it. Considering what Fabio has in the works(see the blog on Bravo TV.com), I HOPE he can afford the time to improve upon the consistency of meals served at Cafe Firenze and stay true to his personal blog on Firenze’s website reference his ideals about cooking!!

        A cute funny Italian does not a Top Chef make!!

        1. I had lunch there two weekends ago; we dropped by on a whim.

          Agreed, the butter nut squash ravioli is sweeter than I prefer.

          I had the mushroom/chicken risotto which was creamy and delicious. The shrimp and asparagus salad was also another tasty dish.

          Someone else ordered the lasagna; I wasn't too impressed with it. The tomato sauce was very thin and tasted like it was watered down.

          Overall, if I was in the area again, I wouldn't hesitate to go back for lunch.

          1. Cafe Firenze just was not what we expected, from the loud dinning areas to the bland food and horrible service. Maybe we expected to much, we were expecting a dinning experience much like Valentio's, we did not receive it. The only memorable part of the night was my wife's butternut squash ravioli's, she liked them very much while I thought they were way to sweet.

            1. we were not impressed at ALL. We had 10:00 pm reservations on a Saturday night. Drove out to Moorpark. The place was PACKED. Usually a good sign. There was a band playing and we hoped that we would not be seated near all the noise. We were shown to a table on the patio. It was nice, quiet. The waitress broke the wine glass when we sat down. She quickly brushed the glass off the table and onto BF's lap. BF asked for a change fo linens, plates, and silverware....only the silverware was changed out.

              We ordered a chicken Parm and a fruiti de mare (sp?). Both were average! The red sauce was thin, had cream in it and was flat. The fish was OK....nothing special.

              Would we go back...not a chance. Fabio was not there maybe that was the problem....

              4 Replies
              1. re: yummyinmytummy

                This is at best, a local neighborhood italian restaurant. I am not really sure why everyone on this thread is expecting more. At the end of the day, if they can pack the restaurant serving so-so food and making lots of money, why bother making it a high end italian restaurant with no business.

                1. re: KTLA

                  "This is at best, a local neighborhood Italian restaurant".

                  Totally agree.

                  1. re: KTLA

                    No offense to Moorpark, but isn't that what you should expect? I feel like people are going in with ridiculously high expectations. Sure Fabio made it rather far on this season of Top Chef, but keep in mind... who won this season of Top Chef? I'm not expecting Le Bernardin if I go to Hosea's restaurant.

                2. We *live* in Moorpark, so we tried Cafe Firenze shortly after it opened, and well before Fabio was on Top Chef. Without getting into details I don't remember, our experience was much the same as several others here. The food wasn't bad, but wasn't anything special either. We also thought the prices were high for what we got. Service was slow, but not unbearably so. In our case, it was quite dark, and we had trouble reading our menus. We thought that perhaps we had gone too soon after opening, and that perhaps we had just ordered the wrong items (don't ask, I don't remember, which tells you something right there), but between what I'm reading here, and what I've heard from others who have made the "long trek" out to Moorpark to try the place, who were similarly disappointed, I don't know what we should have tried instead.

                  1. I haven't been, but I've heard bad things. It really sounds like Fabio is trying to expand too quickly, running before he learns to walk.

                    1. Realize this is a few months later but was thinking about making the trek to check it out one day, maybe for lunch (?) but after reading this, I'm not sure. When I think about it, he didn't do THAT well in alot of the challenges with the exception early on with his special treatment of the olives on the Show Your Craft episode. (which I hope he serves at the restaurant b/c I am intrigued!)
                      I think his charm, personality and good looks has taken him a long way...not that that's a bad thing but I'm just saying....

                      1. I've trekked out to Cafe Firenze once and it will only be once.
                        The had the butternut squash ravioli which was good not great.
                        The service however was horrendous. It was Saturday night at 8:30.
                        They sat us on the patio which would have been fine had they not started breaking down the tables and chairs during through our meal to prepare for Sunday Brunch.
                        While we were midway through our meal the waitress asked if we wanted dessert, I was so annoyed already I just said no. She then proceeds to leave the bill, with no explanation as to why she was rushing us. I have never had a waiter leave the bill while I'm midway through my entree. Suffice to say I will NEVER go to Cafe Firenze again.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: ultraviolet

                          OMG! this sounds horrible! maybe we won't make the trek...

                          1. re: Hapafish

                            I have to disagree strongly with the negative views of the restaurant. I'm from the east coast, so perhaps I'm used to a different style of Italian food, but this was by far the best Italian meal I have had in Los Angeles (Osteria Mozza is a possible exception to that statement) There is a page in the menu called "American Favorites" which has the chicken marsala and lasagna - he's basically saying it's not Italian food, so I wouldn't order from that page. Be a little more adventurous and you might actually like it.

                            We started with the burrata and zucchini - fresh, delicious, yum.
                            I had the risotto with sausage and mushrooms - incredibly flavorful and perfect risotto texture. The mushrooms were cooked perfectly. Perhaps slightly salty.
                            My companion had the short-rib ravioli - phenomenal is the only word I can use to describe it. Like a little taste of heaven.

                            The meal was incredibly reasonably priced given the portion sizes and quality (these are my LA standards though, where I expect to pay 60-100 for a good dinner at a nice place). I thought the service was almost a little too friendly (that's the outside of LA factor).

                            Honestly the drive to Moorpark was the worst part, especially on the way home after a very filling pasta dinner when I almost fell asleep and crashed the car. If someone else could drive I'd do it again.