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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Eat Not at Eatalian: Worst Pasta I've Had in Years

I was so disappointed by the food and service at Eatalian that I vowed never to return again. So not worth the drive out to "Gardena," (closer to Harbor Gateway and Compton, actually). The space was great -- open, airy and very modern-cafeteria. The high ceilings reminded me of Bottega Louie, but Eatalian is a lot less fancy than that.

The only redeeming thing about this place was the pizza. I was a bit perplexed that the Margherita didn't have any basil on it, but I figured everyone must have their own version of Margherita. So I got the "speciale," that includes cherry tomatoes and basil. Maybe the menu should have specified that it only comes with 5 little slivers of basil, because they really skimped on the basil that usually adds so much flavor to the pizza. I'm talking fresh, large, full-leaves of basil sprinkled on top of the pizza.

The pizza crust was decent -- thin, crispy and not too chewy like those cheap ones. But there wasn't enough tomato and because there was more cheese than tomato, or maybe because they had oversalted it, it was too salty. I liked the fresh mozzarella blobs but I don't think it was enough for me to want to return.

The pastas were dismal to say the least. Thank god I was able to take one back and not get charged for it. The biggest culprit was the "handmade" tagliatelle al ragu. Oh my god. It was the single most bland thing I've put in my mouth in years. It tasted like a mush of nothingness over some flat spinach noodles. There was ground meat in it but it didn't taste like anything.
The tomato sauce tasted as bland as the meat. Normally, I would think about ways to add flavor to it from my home kitchen. I was thinking, would it taste better with some garlic added or, what a thought, salt?

I actually tried adding salt but it didn't do much for it.

Then the spaghetti carbonara wasn't much better. The pancetta seemed well cooked enough, crispy and porky as they should be. But what happened to flavor again? It looked like a perfectly serviceable carbonara with its "egginess" from the raw egg and cheese mixture and bits of pancetta throughout. And both pasta were cooked al dente. But that wasn't the issue.

The pasta was totally bland, again. So I proceeded to add more salt and pepper to add flavor. Because carbonara is a more simple dish, I feel, it actually helped to salt and pepper it. It was edible. I didn't take it back, but the tagliatelle, I had to. It just wasn't salvageable by any means. Not even Thomas Keller or Ferran Adria could have saved this dish.

Don't even get me started on the shoddy and slow service. Ok, our guy didn't charge us for the awful pasta. But this place is clearly short-staffed and it needs to beef up staff or somehow improve the quality of the service. Everyone's running around like chicken without their heads.

Also, this place also clearly got more business than it can handle. That was apparent in the diluted quality of the food. I'm sure it wasn't like that when the LA Times or West Ways magazine gave it rave reviews.

Whenever I run into places like these, I think about Hillstone Group that owns places like Houston's or R+D, etc. All restaurants are chains and are always inundated with customers but always have great service with great food. It's all in the training, experience and philosophy of the management. Maybe Eatalian bit off more than it could chew. I really wanted to like this place because it's a great concept and I wanted to an affordable place to go for good Margherita pizza (can't always go to Mozza, right?).

The gelato was totally unremarkable -- had the Bacio and mango. Yuck. The pastries that they sold there, like chocolate croissant and "cannellino," were downright bad. Maybe this is their version of chocolate croissant and I'm very picky when it comes to this. The chocolate was like chocolate custard instead of the dark brown chocolate essence in the best croissants. Yuck! And the cannellinos, well, I've never had one of these but if it's supposed to be their version of cannolis, they were really bad. They used a soft puff pastry shell instead of a hard shell and the custard was not good. I'm not a big fan of cannolis but even I was put off by this lame impersonation of the real deal. If I'm the lame one by not knowing this is the way they should be, my bad.

Hope this place improves but I'm not returning until I have word of mouth from trusted sources about its comeback.

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