SCALI RISTORANTE OWES MUCH TO
MAMA'S ADVANCE WORK
By Doral Chenoweth Dispatch Restaurant Reviewer
Thursday, March 2, 1995
Italian food in the broad sense is my favorite of all the world cuisines.
Italian food is nourishment, it is robust, it is a mesh of wonderful flavors and aromas brought on by natural and pungent seasonings such as garlic, bay leaves, olive oil, red wines, vinegars, real cheeses.
I am preparing a Top 10 list of non-chain Italian eateries, and Scali Ristorante & Deli is a firm candidate. Mama Scali is the reason.
Eighteen months ago, the Scali family quietly opened this establishment in a corner of a remote Reynoldsburg shopping center. Mama (Maria Scali) is the cook, but she qualifies for the elevated position of chef. She spends daylight hours doing what amounts to advance work. She packs and rolls the bracioli and prepares the lasagna, meatballs, manicotti and other dishes.
When the dinner crowd arrives, son Frank Scali is in the kitchen. Mama floats into the dining room. She is the star attraction, moving from table to table, asking about the food, your welfare, fullness, your pleasures. I suggest you roll your eyes in responsive delight, kiss your fingers as a sign of acceptance and blow a culinary kiss in her direction - Mama speaks little English. She doesn't have to, because her food is universally expressive.
Consider the bracioli - the roll of thinly sliced sirloin features various layers spread with mozzarella, Parmesan, thin slices of soft salami and cappicola ham, all baked in a plain tomato sauce. With a combination of such meats and cheeses, an acidic sauce would not do. The roll is about the size of a pop can. What makes the bracioli so appealing is the center (like a cream puff) of mozzarella.
The other test:
Mrs. Chenoweth du jour's rosemary chicken, a sauteed breast prepared from scratch with olive oil, modest garlic and heavy, fresh rosemary leaving a fragrant minty taste. When the menu says breast, it doesn't mean half, or slices thereof. The serving comes with a side of rigatoni prepared in oil and garlic. Some delis charge as much for a chicken sandwich of far less merit.
As my readers know, my major measurement in a quick restaurant appraisal centers on the house bread.
Is something with an expiration date being served?
Does it taste like cellophane?
Does it have as much food value as cellophane?
Is it stone cold, moldy, purple, smashed, or overdosed with sesame seeds, poppy seeds or unidentified droppings?
(Circle all that apply.)
Does the bread fit standards set by the American Ceramic Society?
Mama Scali bakes all the good answers.
Another future Top 10 list will offer restaurants doing good things with bread. Scali Ristorante is likely to make that list, also. Mama's bread basket greets diners as they are seated. Slices are hot and buttered.
My first encounter with Mama Scali was about two minutes into the evening. My Italian is limited to Sophia Lorenese, but Mama pointed to the bread as if to get some nodding approval. All I said was ''garlic.'' Two minutes later, a basket of hot, garlic-buttered slices arrived. Her loaves have chewy bottoms, crusty and flaky tops, with interiors floury and moist.
When I open my own Italian restaurant, Mama Scali will be my first hire.