Strolling through Baltimore’s Little Italy, eyeballing menus posted outside inviting doors, listening to the rumblings growing ever louder in our tummies, a decision had to be made.
We took the easy route and opted for La Scala, a restaurant my better travelled half had visited during the past summer, and had apparently promised the owner a return visit.
Brick-faced, wrought iron railing on the steps, flower pots and baskets aplenty–inviting and homey, this place. Three floors of romantic Old World atmosphere, from the bocce ball court in the basement, to the private dining rooms on the top level. We sit, our table tucked under a mural of the owner’s home town.
This truly is a neighbourhood family restaurant: a group of businessmen order one bottle of wine after another from the impressive cellar, a couple celebrating their wedding anniversary, so focused on each other as to barely notice anything else, parents with their young daughter, she dressed up for her foray out with the “grown-ups”. Laughter echoes through the rooms, serious young water stewards share the floor with flamboyant waiters and the mood is set well in advance of the food’s arrival, ensuring patrons are relaxed and open and ready to be carried along by the food.
And carried along we are. The food here is from the heart–rustic, simple, pure. Antipasto, a melange of cured meats, olives, and marinated vegetables. Calamari fritti with marinara–delicate batter, equally delicate hand in the cooking leaves the squid tender against the crisp coating.
Gnocchi, the irregular shape and size leaving no doubts as to it’s provenance. This is not packaged, factory produced potato pasta, nope. This is the real thing. Vitello piccata: veal with capers, white wine, lemon juice. Again, so simple, yet so pure and perfectly balanced. A classic spaghetti alla carbonara, elegant simplicity.
This home style of cooking is deceptive. When dishes rely on three or four ingredients, and no fancy plating to fool the eye, there is no room for error. There’s no way to bury a poorly seasoned piece of meat, a slightly past it’s prime fish fillet, a curdled sauce. A skilled kitchen brigade with solid technical skills is essential. And that oft discussed passion, if that’s missing in a restaurant like this, the food falls flat.
So far, La Scala has executed flawlessly, not a single misstep–and heart and soul of the the restaurant, the source of the passion, the curator of these flavours, is making his way to our table.