Thursday, September 25, 2008

La Favorita: Pretty darned good pizza

Last night Chris’s aunt K very kindly treated us to dinner as thanks for having her stay with us while she’s here. We love having her visit, and don’t require any such thanks, but she likes to do it so we let her. Chris’s folks came along as well. K asked if I knew anywhere that served a good calzone (she had a craving) and I immediately thought of La Favorita, where my sister and I had a late calzone lunch one wintry day earlier this year. Chris booked us in and off we went.

La Favorita is on Preston Street, in the heart of Ottawa’s Little Italy, and although the street is undergoing massive construction right now, the restaurants are still open, though it can be a bit dodgy walking to them over the gravel and mud-coated street. This location is fairly new; the restaurant used to be located further north on Preston, but they closed about five years ago for some reason and then reopened at the new spot perhaps two years ago. It’s a long narrow space with a gorgeous stone wall dotted with black square shelves holding wine, olives and oils, heavy wood tables and chairs, white linen and low lighting. It’s very modern and nice, but I agree with Chris, who noted that he’ll like it more in about ten years when some of the shiny gets worn off.

We were settled in by a rather gruff waiter (as it turned out, the only one working that night) and drinks orders taken. Recovering from a flirtation with a migraine (hooray, drugs) I stuck with Pellegrino, though Chris had a Heineken (from a bottle – they were out of draught beer entirely, apparently). While we perused the menus, bread and butter arrived, and yes, I’m going to nitpick about them both. The butter, served in those little plastic tubs, was bright yellow and ice cold; the bread was a selection of lackluster whole-grain rolls that I noticed came from a large bag marked “Kirkland” (Costco’s house brand). Would some simple Italian bread from one of the nearby bakeries and a dish of olive oil (maybe from one of the bottles showcased on the wall) not have been a far more appropriate choice?

Fortunately, things looked up from there. Chris asked if I wanted to share a Caesar salad with him, which sounded good to me. (He’s on a Caesar kick these days.) He opted for the veal parmigiana with linguine in red sauce, as did his mom. My father-in-law ordered cannelloni, while K got her coveted calzone stuffed with veal and cheese and I think mushrooms, alongside a Greek salad. After much deliberation and a couple of changes of heart, I finally decided on the seafood pizza. La Favorita’s claim to fame is their wood burning oven, which I had a prime view of, and it does do lovely things for the pizza crust, which was lightly browned at the edges and nicely chewy, though I found it got a bit soggy under the juicy toppings. (To be fair, seafood yields a lot of liquids while cooking, and the shrimp, crabmeat, lobster meat and chunks of sea scallop were obviously put on the pizza raw and cooked in the oven, which makes me happy). The toppings were generous, for a dish that only cost $15, and the sauce and mild cheese took a backseat to the lovely and delicate flavours of the seafood, as they should. I could only manage half of the 9” pie, but that’s fine – I have lunch for today!

As for the veal parm, Chris pronounced it to be far superior to the one he had at Trattoria Italia a few months ago, and polished off the whole generous piece without offering me a single bite (though he did take home some of the pasta). Our shared Caesar was generous in size and boasted crisp, fresh romaine and a decent dressing that was helped by a squeeze of fresh lemon; several tiny black olives were enjoyed by yours truly, as well as a paper thin slice of prosciutto that crowned the salad. I was less impressed by the too-finely grated and powdery parmesan; some shavings or properly grated cheese would have worked better.

As for the other diners, K made a valiant effort to get around the enormous calzone that arrived on her plate, and was about 90 per cent successful. She said she enjoyed it immensely, though she was confused as to why the veal was left in large pieces inside the pastry, rather than cut into chunks for easier eating. My FIL’s cannelloni disappeared and was deemed delicious.

The five of us shared two orders of tiramisu for dessert; their version comes in a square of feather-light, boozy cake marbled with espresso-chocolate cream and topped with sweetened mascarpone icing; it was rich and delicious but not overly filling, just as it should be. A dusting of cocoa would have finished it perfectly, but that’s a nitpick; it was lovely as it was.

Despite the gruff waiter and lackluster beginning, it was a very tasty meal. Nowhere in Ottawa have I found thin-crust pizza quite as transcendent as Wooden Heads’ in Kingston, but La Favorita’s version is definitely worth eating and most enjoyable.

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