Lunch with Louie at Pascucci’s
Santa Barbara food reviews with Louie the pessimist food critic
Jan 28, 7:23 PM (PT)
The proliferation of books that preach living in the present above all else continues. And the more I read, the more I nestle myself among my memories and my past. Wasn't the past so much better? The music sure was, and loving was so much easier. Even the marinara sauce was so much tastier. Down in Santa Monica, at Marquis West Restaurant, Pietro made the best marinara sauce in the world. So how about some Italian for lunch?
There is one Italian restaurant in town that has always intrigued me to no end - Ma Dolce Vita on Ortega and State. What's with the "Ma"? Did Fellini hold the copyrights on La Dolce Vita? And how come nobody ever talks about the food there? And, even though it's been around for years, how come it's always quasi-empty? I call Ed. We meet Tuesday at 12:30.
Well, the place is closed, no sign of life, only a sign that reads "Sorry we are closed." But there is no explanation, and there is no “back in 5”, or “back tonight”, “tomorrow”, or “back at all”. There is something ominous about it. A padlock is on the place, and a feeling of despair envelops the entire corner. Could it be they found out we were coming? But, what's even worse: How am I going to find out what's up with the "Ma"?
Let's look for an Italian restaurant close by. The memory of Pietro's marinara will not leave me. We cross the street and Ed is telling me how popular and successful this place called Pascucci’s is. Why, on a Saturday night, the wait can be as long as one hour or more. Can that many people be wrong? Probably.
We ignore the "wait to be seated" sign and walk in by ourselves. We find a booth, a little dirty but a few words in Spanish to the busboy and the table is clean and ready to go. Spanish is very important if you are eating out. The service improves instantaneously and the bread comes fast and plentiful. Except in this case, you get garlic bread. You don't like garlic bread? Tough. That's what you get.
The menu is extensive and incredibly reasonable. I order a halibut filet that comes with an order of penne in a tomato caper sauce; priced at $7.75 it's a steal. Where are you going to get a piece of fish and accessories for that kind of money? Ed orders Chicken Parmigiana with a side order of Fettuccini Alfredo priced at, you guessed it, $7.75.
The food comes and the drama starts. The most striking feature on the plate is a pinkish leaf of kale; I'm guessing it's for decoration. It is enormous and takes up a third of the plate. But that's okay, because the halibut is about the size of an anchovy; the penne is cold and the sauce covering it is inedible. Ed doesn't do that much better with his selection; the pasta is totally overcooked and cold; as for Alfredo, well, he must be on break because he isn't on the pasta. We taste each other's pasta because it is hard to believe such culinary disaster. The check comes quickly and to our amazement the Sprite I ordered is $2.25. How can the entire production, including a large pink leaf of kale, cost $7.75 and a glass of Sprite cost $2.25? I guess profits must come from someplace.
Our only satisfaction came from the fact that, like children, we had disobeyed orders and found a table on our own; a small compensation for such a poor meal.
“Ma” Dolce Vita was open for business on Wednesday. They told us on the phone that even though the Yellow Pages says they’re close on Monday and their website says they’re open 7 days a week, that they actually close every Tuesday.
edhat.com reader comments:
“As a retired restaurant person for 18 years, I can attest to the fact that every restaurant has bad days and apparently this was one of them. The owner of this restaurant does a fantastic job usually and she has priced the food very affordably. Duh, most people know if they have been around at all, that restaurants make money on drinks - especially sodas. The food is a loss leader and the volume is what makes the money. People go there because it has ambiance and affordable food - and they have that large outdoor seating area to people watch on State Street.
I suggest you have Louie try it again sometime and not focus so much on the place in Santa Monica. Sounds like he had a preconceived notion anyway! How can you critique a place when you go in comparing it to something in your youth?
There is no better deal for Italian in town. Why don't you try Emilio's? A piece of kale will cost you at least $10 there!
A fan of Pascucci's! “
“I just want to say that we have been going to Pascucci for years and we love it. They must have had a bad night. As for the portion sizes, I enjoy the fact that I don't leave there completely stuffed. It is refreshing to get real-size portion of food for a real price. I do encourage you to go back some day. Also, their tomato basil soup is excellent, as are their salads. And just for future reference - you can get plain bread - you just have to ask for it. :)”
“Despite the lines of hungry fans and the nice decor, the food at Pascucci's is bad. Great deal price-wise, boring flavors. Nothing is ever quite hot, TOO much garlic (and I like garlic!), careless service - Laura's restaurant was much better before she expanded, but probably made a lot less money.”
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