Friday, May 2, 2008

Trattoria La Tavola, Columbus Ohio

The best Italian food in Columbus? Possibly so. The best food in Columbus? Certainly not. The best view? No doubt. The best atmosphere? Only if you compare it to a show at the Newport or dinner at Bucca di Bepo. My mother and I had reservations here for 6:15 on a Friday, towards the end of their self designated happy hour.....we really did......despite the fact that the restaurant was so loud that the waitress didn't hear us collect on our reservations and sat us in the non-reservation bar least until I told her this was unacceptable and she realized we did indeed have reservations. We got an apology, which was appropriate. I hope anyone else sat in the bar got the same. Even in the dining area the noise from the bar made Marcella's seem quiet.

With this initial misstep out of the way, the scenery is beautiful and the restaurant is well spaced, well lit, and attractive. Service was prompt, the waiter was attentive, and prices were excellent. Food was freshly prepared and served hot, aesthetically pleasing, and quickly. While the menu is small and specific, the focus on organic and local products is much appreciated and there was enough creativity to offset the 'boring' aspects that some Italian dishes tend to suffer. Additionally, the bread service was good and the olive oil with cheese better.

For an appetizer we selected the Winter Margarita Pizza with Fresh Mozzarella, fire roasted tomatoes, basil, garlic and olive oil. Undoubtedly the best Margarita in pizza I've had in Columbus. The tomatos had incredible pop and a wonderful marinade and the mozzerella was creamy and soft. My mother particularly loved the cracker crust.

For mains we selected the Gnocchi al Forno baked with House Cured Pancetta Parmigiano Reggiano, Oakvale Gouda, Shiitake Mushrooms; a half order of the Eggplant Parmigiano; and Chicken Pappardelle Sauted all natural Ohio chicken breast with butter, herbs, garlic, and homemade wide pasta. The Gnocchi was stellar and amongst the best I've tried with a generous flavor and perfect firmness. The Pancetta's saltiness perfectly offset the smoothness of the Gouda and the Shiitakes were meaty and plentiful. The Eggplant was straight forward and as good as any I've tried. No Gimmicks, just solid old fashioned Italian, dense and crispy with a wonderfully tart sauce. The Pappardelle was a bit of a disappointment to me as the chicken was superb and the noodles were wonderfully al dente, but something in the sause....Sage or Anise I believe......not only didn't work, but overpowered the other complex flavors. We finished it, but it is the one dish I wouldn't order again.

With all that food, dessert was certainly a gluttonous option, but when the waiter told us "Best Tiramisu in Columbus" I had to try. Along with Bread Pudding and Lobster Bisque, Tiramisu is a 'must order' when available....and a standard by which I judge an Italian joint. The tiramisu alone lowered La Tavola from four stars to three. While certainly a coffee and cocoa based dessert with a hint of rum, the minimal number of lady fingers and incredibly thick layer of cream made this more of a cream pie or a float than a true tiramisu. The flavor was good, but calling this the best in Columbus is not only false (Mozart's is better) but also a statement to the lack of good tiramisu in Cbus. For what it is worth, the best Tiramisu I've yet encountered is Il Mulino in NYC followed by the Tiramisu Gelatto across from Presti's in Cleveland's Little Italy. Jean Philipe's option in Vega's is pretty stellar too, as is the one at Ciao in Sylvania Ohio, and the one at C&O Trattoria in Venice....anyhow, I digress.

My mother opted for the Lemon Crumb tart which absolutely dominated the tiramisu in flavor and quality. Once again, not the best lemon dessert in Cbus (the version at Rosendale's is heavenly,) but certainly worth the $6 price tag. Creamy, zesty......yum!

All told, La Tavola is a nice place with an amazing view that serves up good quality Italian food at great prices and good service. The noise level could definitely use improvement (perhaps a divider or doors between the bar and the dining room) and a good Italian pastry chef couldn't hurt either.Go for the gnocchi, pizza, and the view, or if you want to have a big party with some affordable wines, solid menu, and lots of loud friends at the bar.

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