In grade school (and junior high... and high school, for the most part) I was teased endlessly. For the lack of designer clothes, for the braces which I wore nearly four years, for always being the youngest in the class. I'd go home in tears, dramatically retelling the tales of the latest slights from my so-called friends and other classmates. In my anger, I'd recount the terrible things I could say about all of them (if I would ever just speak up). But mom and dad always had two things to tell me - what doesn't kill me makes me stronger, and if I didn't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all.Well, the practice of not saying unkind things is a difficult one at times. We like to be able to only have positive things to say about a restaurant we dine in and fortunately, rarely have something be so negative it's worthy of focusing our attention. Any restaurant can have bad things happen; an undercooked/overcooked entree, an impatient server, or a fly in your drink; *things* happen. But if for the most part our meal and our service was a pleasant experience, that's what we prefer to share.
A couple weeks back, we asked some friends to join us for dinner, and opted to try the recently-opened Via Emilia in Indian Springs. Though still new-ish to The Woodlands, we had high hopes for Via Emilia, as this is their second location, and their first one receives rave reviews all around. We arrived around 7:00 on a Tuesday and were politely informed that without a reservation, our wait time would be at least 45 minutes! The reason, we believe, was two-fold; Via Emilia's reputation precedes them, and their store-front location is not the most spacious. We took the brisk business as a good sign, and decided to pass the time looking over the restaurant's herb and vegetable potted garden, located right out in front. Before long, a cancelled reservation freed a table, and we settled in.
We started with a warm basket of bread - a fresh baguette, sliced and slightly toasted, then topped with olive oil and a blend of Italian herbs and spices. The five small pieces given to the four of us quickly disappeared - unfortunately to not be replaced for quite some time. We were all very hungry and opted for two appetizers; Calamari Fritti with Pomodoro Sauce ($10) and Pere e Gorgonzola ($11). The calamari was hot and perfectly seasoned, however, the portion was less generous than many of the average chain Italian restaurants.
The Pere e Gorgonzola was quite interesting, four grilled slices of pear, topped with melted Gorgonzola cheese and served on a bed of fresh spinach, drizzled with balsamic vinegar. It had a wonderful, salty-with-sweet flavor to it. Other than the portion sizes and that empty bread basket, things up to this point were going rather well. A mere 30 minutes had passed between being seated and receiving our appetizers, then salads. It was, however, another 20 minutes before our entrees arrived, bringing the total elapsed time at this point to nearly an hour.
Going around the table, one of our friends decided to stick with what she knew and ordered the Lasagna della Nonna ($13). It was beautifully presented, and flush with tomatoes that may have come from that aforementioned potted garden out front. The sauce was richly tomato-y, and the pasta was very tender without being mushy. Again, the portion seemed incredibly small, especially as a dinner. It seemed as though it was a typical lunch portion. Now that a few days have passed, we're even more disappointed to know it was an atypical portion. It seems our friends over at H-Town Chow Down sampled the lasagna recently and were more generously served.
Next up, my better half ordered the Pollo alla Picatta; a chicken breast sautéed in white wine with capers, lemon, butter and mushrooms ($18). It was served with linguine, tossed with spinach, olive oil and garlic. After the first bite, he discovered it was veal and not chicken. When our server brought out the correct dish we noticed that the two plates look nearly identical but the veal was much better tasting. The chicken had the oddest texture he'd ever experienced. It was actually sponge-like in consistency. Every bite of the chicken breast was like eating soup, possibly due to the chicken being packed in water prior to delivery. This had the unpleasant effect of removing the flavor of the hand-breaded chicken breast.
I ordered the Penne alla Arrabiata, and opted for the Italian sausage ($15). The spicy tomato sauce with Parmesan was not overly spicy, but had a nice kick to it. The sauce was perfectly matched to the sausage, the flavors complementing each other beautifully. Sadly, though it was agreed around the table this was the best dish, even it fell short of our expectations as the sausage seemed more like a pre-packaged, store bought variety. I likened it to Kiolbassa brand. Again, a nice flavor, but definitely not freshly made in house - or at least, it didn't taste like it. The pasta however, was perfectly al dente - a redundant statement, I know, but it, with the sauce, was wonderful.
The last member of our party ordered the Vitello Osso Buco ($29), at the recommendation of our server. He had asked the server for a recommendation, because what he was looking for on the menu was a steak, or filet. The Vitello Osso Buco is a veal shank, braised in wine served with linguine, tossed with spinach, olive oil and garlic. No one could ever say the meat wasn't tender - it was so tender it nearly fell off the bone when the plate was placed on the table. But the flavor was no more remarkable than your average Sunday roast at mom's. Our guest is of Russian descent, and his opinion was that it reminded him of the boiled meat-and-potatoes stew he remembered growing up on.
Sadly, his disappointment was so complete he opted to have the meal removed and attempted to fill up on the better-late-than-never bread basket that arrived when we were about halfway through our meal. Maybe it was just a bad night for Via Emilia. Perhaps the region of Italy Mama Elda is from just isn't the right one for us. One thing we did all feel was worth ordering seconds of was Elda's Limoncello. Our server says it takes 18 of lemons to make each bottle, and as only the rind is used, you can always tell when Mama's been making it because the lemon wedges in the drinks will be skinless that day. The limoncello is offered straight as an after-dinner digestivo, and used in the delicious looking Limoncello Cake. For us, though, we think we're going to stick with Pallotta's. Though it's nearly impossible to save room for dessert there with Phil's overwhelming generosity, we think we're overdue for some Dominic's Mud.