Monday, October 28, 2013

Impastato's Cellars in Madisonville

On Saturday, Oct 26th I invited some friends from the southshore to try the new northshore Impastato's Cellars restaurant. Parking is incredibly difficult but thankfully there was one spot open. Mind you, I chose a 6:30 reservation and arrived at 6:15, thinking that I'd "beat the crowd" which I expected at 7:00PM. WRONG! Upon entering the building, I went to the hostess station and notified them that I had arrived. Actually all members of my party were there already. But they had to "put the table (for 5) together" so we were not seated until about 6:40PM. Two friends had a drink at the bar which is next to the refrigerated dessert display cases. There are only 13 tables inside of the restaurant but there is additional seating on an outside patio which is screened in. The view is beautiful from the patio but I will have to wait to experience that in a future visit.
I did not particularly care for the fact that our table was directly in front and slightly to the side of the soft drink dispensing machine. In my opinion, that should not be visible to diners and should be out of sight. To my left were shelves containing wines, pasta sauces, olive oil and other items for sale. While I loved the brick arched walls, having a display case area next to a bar and then the store goods to my left made me think how very different the decor and environment is at Sal and Judy's compared to this branch of the family's restaurant. If you are looking for dark and romantic (not that I was) this is NOT the place for you.
When menus were presented, we found that there was a special 5 course meal for $32-$36 depending on the entree that you chose. You had a choice of one of four appetizers, small salad, appetizer portion of their famous fettucine alfredo, an entree from a select group of items and a dessert (cheesecake or terra misu.)
Two of the guests chose that and both had the veal parmesan for their entree and loved everything that they had. The plates were served HOT... I mean 'burn your finger if you touch them' hot. You will never get lukewarm food here.
 I chose to go a la carte because I am not an afficiando of fettucini anything. I just don't care for that style of pasta. I asked the waiter if they had canneloni but sadly, no, which was dissapointing (Sal and Judy's is among the best I've ever had) and there were NO soup or gumbo options whatsoever. No fried eggplant or calamari appetizers either. (Sal and Judy's doesn't offer fried eggplant either but they do have calamari!) So I tried their shrimp au gratin, figuring it would be a good choice (in lieu of the crabmeat au gratin and crawfish au gratin I've had at Sal & Judy's in the past) and I was not dissapointed. It was wonderful. Creamy bechemel type sauce with cheese over the shrimp then run under the broiler to give it a 'crust' - and the hot Italian bread provided was perfect for sopping up the remaining sauce once the shrimp and cheese were gone. Recommended appetizer based on my experience.
 I then chose the Veal Peyton which had artichoke hearts, mushrooms and shrimp in a lemon butter type sauce over two generous veal fillets which were seasoned and paneed to perfection. The strange thing about this dish is that it came with a side salad but NO pasta whatsoever. I checked the menu and no mention was made of pasta so I didn't bother to ask the waiter about it. Things worked out for me because my 90 year old mother had the shrimp scampi (with beautiful butterflied shrimp over angel hair) and couldn't eat her pasta, so I happily relieved her of most of it, which went perfectly with the Veal Peyton.
 I did not get dessert but the "5 course meal" guests chose both desserts. I did not taste the cheesecake but was told that it was "divine." I did sample the terra misu and agreed with the diner that it was the lightest version I'd ever had. Delicious and very very light. You could easily have this to top off even a heavy meal and still enjoy it. Recommended.
 The manager (I assume) came over to ask how everything was. I said that what we had ordered was perfect. Generous portions, correct temperature, seasoned well and even the Italian bread was hot and crusty. NO complaints. Our server, Josh, was very professional and eager to please and checked frequently on us to see that our drinks were refreshed in a timely manner. He answered any questions I posed and seemed knowledgeable about the menu. BUT... compared to the other two properties, the menu is limited and I would like to see gumbo added. The manager said that they were going to have an oyster/artichoke soup for winter. (He did not mention gumbo though.) So soup WILL be on the menu in the future. I brought up fried eggplant and calamari as glaring appetizer omissions. His reponse was that they are working on the menu and slowly adding to it. For now, though, they have four appetizers and that will remain for a while.
 I'd like to see trout menieure and almondine, soft shell crab, crawfish au gratin and crabmeat au gratin and steaks and prime rib on the menu as well... perhaps in time... they DO have lasagna which appeared to be every bit as good as Sal & Judy's but I did not taste it.
 The manager mentioned that they are now open for lunch on Tuesday-Friday as of last week. That was news to me as I remember when I called to make the reservations a few weeks ago I was told that they were not open for lunch. The lunch menu includes a number of sandwiches as well as plate lunches. So I'm definitely going to try it out.
 Our experience was a very pleasant one. Great food and service but be aware that it's 'brighter' and noisier (because of the large open areas across from your tables) than the usual restaurant. You might want to try to get outside seating if that interests you. I'd also recommend getting as early a reservation as possible so you won't have problems parking. They open at 4PM on Fri/Sat. Just be aware that parking may be an issue as it is limited to the spaces in front of the building. There is NO parking availble elsewhere on the property.
 Prices are reasonable and in line or actually a bit less expensive than some other "upscale" restaurants. Worth checking out if you like Creole Italian style food.
 Unfortunately, at least for the time being, if I want canneloni (veal/spinach) or trout meuniere or almondine or soft shell crab almondine I'll have to go to Sal & Judy's in Lacombe or Venezia's (Carrollton and Iberville in New Orleans) or Mandina's in Mandeville or Gallagher's Grill in Covington. What they DO offer on their menu is delicious and well-prepared and served.
 We will definitely be back. Count on it!

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