Sunday, March 18, 2012

Cafe Malta

In the few months that Cafe Malta has been opened, I have heard some really good feed back from food bloggers and from some other friends, whose food opinions and palates I trust. So I was excited to check it out for dinner on a recent week night with two friends. And while we had a great time catching up, ultimately the food was somewhat disappointing.

Two of us started with cocktails, as we waited for our third member. Catchy names -- I had "I Can Explain Everything" and my friend the "Blue Ruin."  When the drinks arrived at the table, our waitress, Jessica, apologized because they were out of the gorgonzola-stuffed olives that were supposed to come in the Blue Ruin. After my friend expressed disappointment as that's what had attracted her to the drink, Jessica returned a few minutes later with a couple of olives she said she had just stuffed herself. Overall, she was a very good server, was knowledgeable about the menu, and provided specific flavor profile information about the nightly specials without being asked.
We started with the mussels from the appetizer menu. The description reads: PEI mussels in white wine, garlic, tomato, preserved lemon, harissa, and onion. Looking back, there was no preserved lemon in it at all; I didn't realize it was supposed to have it in there, or I may have asked the waitress about it.  The plate was a gorgeous looking dish, that was tasty enough, but didn't have a lot of "oomph" to it, perhaps because of the missing ingredient that would have provided some acidity. Loved the Moroccan-inspired bowl they were served in, though it turns out to be from World Market, and still had price tag residue on the underside. We also ordered two of the dolmas from the evening specials board; from where we were sitting (by the windows), I couldn't read the board at all (on the wall opposite where we were). I was surprised by their large size (think hearty eggroll), and because I generally don't care for dolmas (it's a texture thing) I let my companions dig in....and forgot to take a picture! They use napa cabbage leaves, which are stuffed with rice that's mixed with chives and currants, and served over a zesty tomato sauce. I did try them, and we agreed it was a good dish.
I had a hard time deciding on what to get for my dinner; I had eaten a large lunch that day, and wasn't starving or feeling particularly in the mood for meat. Ultimately, I opted for the gnocchi, from the appetizer menu; I am think this is a dish I had previously heard was good. Unfortunately, these were not. They were dense, not light and pillowy, which tells me the dough was over-worked. Also, the menu description says they are tossed in a gorgonzola-white wine sauce and topped with parmesan. The restaurant must not have gotten their full order of gorgonzola in, because this was the second dish with problems with the gorg, and do you see any parmesan on top?  What little sauce there was had some nice flavor, but overall these gnocchi were dense and dry.
One friend had the house-roasted pork shoulder with date demi-glace, over fennel pearled couscous and haricot verts. This dish came out looking spectacular. The haricot verts were prepared perfectly. I thought the meat and sauce were fairly good, though the couscous was a touch gummy. My friend though, was rather unimpressed with it.
My other friend had soup du jour, cream of broccoli and spinach salad with fresh mozzarella. We're all people who like salt, and this soup was very salty. The salad looked good and fresh, and got good marks from my friend.
Two of us had lemon curd shortcakes for dessert. It's a good thing the lemon curd was amazing, because the shortcake was not. Not that there has to be a touch of sweetness to a shortcake, but in this case it would have really helped, because you could taste the excess of baking powder when you tasted the cake on it's own, and it's not a good flavor.
Cafe Malta is located at the southeast corner of Brodie and William Cannon, in a strip mall, in what apparently used to be a Double Dave's Pizza. And it's certainly a mixed bag. Liked the atmosphere, ambiance, and our server. Nice to see that the tables were mostly filled as the evening wore on. The food had it's ups and downs though, and that's what you're there for. I did tell our server about the denseness of the gnocchi, and she said she'd tell the kitchen. Hope they got the word. Based on what I had heard from others, I had high expectations. Was this just an off night for them?