I’ve been going to Scala’s Bistro for well over twelve years. It's a main late-night destination after the theatre, and when my friends and I want to have a great consistent meal. Consistency is the key word. In the past twelve years I’ve been dining at Scala’s, I’ve never had bad service or a bad meal there.
My friend and I had a 10:30pm reservation after the theatre, and we were seated within minutes of that time. Always make a reservation at least a week ahead. The waitstaff is very knowledgeable and kind, offering up suggestions of what they really like. This particular evening we started with a seasonal appetizer of Dungeness Crab Stuffed Squash Blossoms. It was served over a sweetcorn and pancetta vinaigrette. It was to die for. The combination of the sweet corn, sweet crab, and the spiciness of the herbed vinaigrette was a knockout. We also had a staple at Scala’s, the Pesto and Ricotta Ravioli with lemon cream sauce. In the past, I had this dish with the optional tomato sauce, which is fresh and a good compliment to the ravioli. But to really roll your eyes in the back of your head, have the lemon cream sauce. You’ll thank me.
For our main dishes, I had the Olive Oil-Poached Halibut served over white baby asparagus, tomato consommé, and fava beans. The process of poaching in this manner made the halibut succulent and fluffy. My friend had the Braised Monkfish served with saffron butter beans, baby sunburst squash, caperberries, and smoked prosciutto Meyer lemon relish. Trust me, after you had this monkfish, you won’t need sex that night. The flavor combinations were so spot on.
For dessert, we decided to have the Mini Bites. These are small selections of most of the desserts on the menu. The real hit was the Pistachio Crème Brûlée, the Peach Melba Sorbet, and the Chocolate I.V.
All dishes came to our table in very good time. All hot food plates were warm and allowed us to take our time and savor every bite without the worry of our food getting cold. The portion sizes are very good. Some of the meat dishes they currently have on the menu, such as the Veal Milanese or Grilled Pork Chop or the Lamb Osso Bucco, come in large portions, as we saw from the other diners around us.
You can’t help but leave Scala’s with a smile on your face. Dining there is always an opportunity to slow life down and experience the love and art that go into the preparation of fine foods. Scala’s is one of the things that make me feel very fortunate to be living in San Francisco.
Location: Menlo Park
Favorite Restaurant: Amber India
Reviewed Amber India: Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Before being asked to review this restaurant for Check, Please!, I had dined at Scala’s once with a co-worker for a weekday lunch and once with friends for brunch before going to the Geary Theatre for a matinee. Each time, I remembered quick efficient service and good, but not exceptional, food, in an attractive bright setting with big windows up front, beautiful light fixtures and paintings, and a high gilded tin ceiling. (Rococo decor?)
Because each time I only had a limited amount of time to dine, I always ordered something simple like a hamburger or a pasta dish, and I never ordered wine or beer. Each time, I was too busy talking or planning my next activity to really savor the food. At the brunch, eight people shared a few desserts, and they were really good, but because we were sharing, and I only got a few bites, they did not make a lasting impression. Each time, my share came to about $20 to $25 with tax and tip.
Based on my pre-Check, Please! visits, I thought that Scala’s was a good place to get a quick bite while on the way to somewhere else. The key point for me was always the convenient location in Union Square near shopping, theatres, and business hotels, coupled with really efficient service that gets you in and out fast, if that’s what you want to do. (They don’t rush you, if you want to linger)
This time around, I decided to really pay attention to the food, and, as a result, my lunch turned out to be more expensive than I expected -- with tax and tip for two people, it was $100. One reason for this is that my coworker and I both ordered specials mentioned by the waiter who did not tell us the prices. (To be fair, we foolishly we did not ask him the prices.)
I had the crab cake sandwich, which turned out to be $14.50, and my coworker, Lynne, had the seafood risotto, which turned out to be $27.00. I thought that the sandwich was priced fairly, but I would not have ordered the risotto had I known the price in advance. (I treated Lynne, so if she is reading this review, this is the first time that she is finding out about the $27.00 risotto.)
As for quality, both the crab cake sandwich and the risotto were satisfactory but unremarkable. The food tasted fresh but bland, and seemed prepared with a heavy hand; a little too much cream or oil in each. The crab cake sandwich had no seasoning, although there were generous amounts of crab in the cakes themselves. The best thing about the sandwich was the bread. (The breads here are excellent, the focaccia and breadsticks that come before the meal served with olive oil are great.)
I tasted the risotto, which had lots of mussels in it. The mussels were good, but again there was little seasoning. (Maybe they need to be conservative to appeal to a clientele of tourists and business people who appeared to pack the place?)
I also ordered an appetizer. I chose the roasted tomato soup, because it was tantalizingly described by our waiter as the soup of the day. However, it again was a bit too creamy, and while not bland, the goat cheese crème fraîche seemed to clash rather than blend with the tomato. Also, if the tomatoes were roasted, I could not tell. Instead of having a smoky flavor, it tasted more like canned Campbell’s soup topped with a light dab of goat cheese.
The saving grace of this restaurant was the dessert, which was magic. I ordered the Bostini Cream Pie ($8.75), again at the suggestion of the waiter, who recommended it without being asked. For example, “Care for a dessert? May I suggest the Bostini cream pie?” This was a great suggestion, although the title was misleading. This dessert tasted nothing like an Italian version of Boston Cream Pie, which by this point, was what I was expecting. Instead, it was served in a round custard dish (the way that you would serve a crème brûlée or maybe a trifle), and it had vanilla custard on the bottom, a light orange-flavored cake in the middle, and was it topped with warm chocolate sauce and chocolate shavings. The quality of the chocolate was very good. I asked the waiter what kind of chocolate it was, and he said Valrhona. My coworker ordered the peach Melba sorbet topped with raspberries and a vanilla cookie. It was nothing like a peach Melba, but was light, with generous scoops of sorbet, and a generous amount of fresh raspberries ($7.75).
Bottom line: I would come here again, go back to my simple hamburger order, and be sure to have a whole dessert of my own -- preferably one with chocolate! But this visit reinforced my impression that, at least for me, this is not a destination restaurant. I would have to be in the area to begin with. This time around, again, the service was impeccable -- the food was delivered quickly, water refilled, courses cleared efficiently.
Two final notes: This restaurant is attached to the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, and one of the busboys told us that if you order room service at the hotel, it comes from Scala’s. I could definitely see doing a room service dessert order! There is also an impressive, extensive California and French wine list. You can get a bottle of wine here for over $200 or get good wines by the glass, which must make it popular with the business/tourist crowd.
Occupation: Business Consultant
Favorite Restaurant: Doña Tomás
Reviewed Amber India: Friday, August 25, 2006
I loved the experience of dinner at Scala’s! It is far more lovely once inside the space than it appears from the outside. It truly exceeded my expectations. It gets an A for atmosphere and service. It has the ambiance of a swanky club and urban bistro rolled into one. The staff was warm, professional, and efficient. I would definitely go back. I would also recommend it to others, especially out-of-towners in large part, because of its great location (walking distance from Union Square).
The food was good, it did not blow me away, but it held its own. Stand-out dishes for me were the heirloom tomato bruschetta with white corn and mozzarella di bufala -- which was a fabulous, a simple combination of seasonal freshness and crusty bread -- and the Moules Frites: steamed mussels served with delicious french fries; crisp, salty, and perfect. The other outstanding components of our dining experience were the Basil Lime Gimlet (outstanding!) and the 1994 Flowers Pinot Noir from Sonoma County (luscious). We shared the orecchiette pasta with fennel sausage and broccoli rabe for a second course. It was spicy and extremely flavorful. The oily sausage paired exceedingly well with the bitter greens.
The entrees were very good too. We had halibut poached in olive oil, and served with asparagus, tomato consommé, tarragon breadcrumbs, and fava beans. It was moist, tender, and very fresh. It wasn’t particularly well-paired with the Pinot Noir, but one of my dining companions was eating pork, so we were compromising. Another dining companion had the sea bass with chorizo, eggplant, and roasted tomatoes, and hers paired much better with the Pinot Noir. Her dish was earthy, flavorful, and again, very fresh and very good.
Another great feature of the menu is the fact that they offer their desserts in mini format. They are all about four bites each and equally pretty, delicious, and served with all of the presentation of the larger versions.