Step up to smaller scale at La Scala

April 11, 1996|By ELIZABETH LARGE | ELIZABETH LARGE,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

Has your favorite Little Italy ristorante gotten too big, too sophisticated and too impersonal for you? Try La Scala instead, a restaurant with doll house proportions and good old-fashioned home cooking.

It doesn't look like a traditional middle-class Italian restaurant any more than its predecessor, Raphael's, did. The colors are soft peach and deep green; and it's filled with fat little cherubs -- both statues and prints on the wall. There may be a few more tables this time round in the tiny dining room; I can't be sure. Let's say it's very snug. If you're a smoker, check out the appealing little bar with four formally set tables downstairs.

The menu is a nice balance of traditional dishes and more inventive fare (although scaloppe di manzo alla terra e mare, "filet mignon served over a veal scaloppine with shrimp and cognac sauce," seems a little too inventive).

Oddly enough, though, the most spectacular dish of the evening wasn't Italian at all. The fish of the day was a superb broiled rockfish -- fresh, firm and mild -- on a zingy bed of chilled salsa made with sweet peppers, onion and a bit of pineapple.

Almost as good was a lovely, chewy risotto studded with plump shrimp and slithery slices of porcini mushrooms.

Less successful, although not bad, were those concoctions that involved numerous ingredients -- chicken with artichokes, prosciutto, mushrooms and mozzarella, and a spaghetti dish with shrimp wrapped in veal. Unlike the rockfish, there were no clear notes of flavor here; and they were oversalted as well.

Some combinations work very well. Artichoke bottoms topped with white lumps of crab meat and a few fat capers, enticingly bathed in lemon butter, were quite elegant. Bruschetta with three different toppings -- chopped tomato, goat cheese and caponata (eggplant relish) -- was a bit much for a first course, but still very pleasant. If you feel like starting with something less heavy, you might try the thin slices of polenta with their winey mushroom sauce.

Some of our dishes, notably the rockfish, cried out for a vegetable accompaniment, but it was not to be. We made do with various salads: a traditional Little Italy house salad, a fine Caesar and sliced tomato and mozzarella.

As for desserts, the offerings are very simple but very satisfying: A crisp cannoli shell filled with chocolate mousse, a classic tiramisu.

All in all, La Scala is a happy addition to Little Italy. True, the service is ragged when every table is taken. (I counted one waiter and one busboy.) But if you're willing to go with the flow, eventually your order will be taken, and once taken, there's no problem with the kitchen. Have a glass of wine, make sure you get a basket of the restaurant's good bread and relax.

La Scala

411 S. High St.

(410) 783-9209

Major credit cards

Open Sunday through Thursday 11: 30 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m.

Prices: appetizers, $2.95-$8.95; entrees, $7.95-$25.95.

Pub Date: 4/11/96

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