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La Maschera (Old Town Pasadena) -- Review

The Oracle | May 24, 200604:15 PM

Hit La Maschera for the first time on Monday night. Went around 8:30 and it was virtually empty. There was one table of 4 finishing up and us (table for two).

The space is lovely. Dark colors, deep purple walls, rustic wood tables, low lighting. I really liked the ambiance. When you walk in, you are in the main dining room, there’s a similar sized bar area in an adjacent room. We took a seat at the tables lining the wall. Against the wall is a long bench lined with pillows. I sat there and thought it was bit hard/uncomfortable. My dining companion chose the seat and commented a couple times that it was very comfy.

We were promptly presented with menus and then ignored. No one inquired about drinks and I had to flag the waiter down for water. Throughout the evening, the waiter seemed nervous/awkward and he had a thick (Italian?) accent. I’m not sure if it was just a case of new waiter and trouble understanding each other – or what – but it definitely did not enhance the dining experience in the least... although, it also wasn’t the end of the world.

On to the chow!

A bread basket arrives with an assortment of white bread, crispy flat bread (plain and cheese?), and a lovely marinated, diced tomato/garlic/olive oil accompaniment and an odd tasting dip. It was a little watery and I kept eating it, trying to figure out what it was (it seemed to have traces of liver in it – as it reminded me of pate). My dining companion did not like it at all, but I was intrigued and enjoyed it, for the most part. I asked the waiter what it was – he looked unsure – and said it was beans. (Does anyone know what this was??) . The plain flat bread was good, but lacked a little crispiness in some parts (like it sat out too long and absorbed a lot of moisture).

Appetizer: rolled eggplant with goat cheese. This sounded SO good to me, and I was very disappointed when I tried it. I don’t know why, but I was expecting it to be warm – instead, it was served cold. There were 6 bite-sized wraps in all. The texture of the cold eggplant combined with unflavorful (green) goat cheese did nothing for me. Big bummer.

Mains: I had mushroom gnocchi with tiger shrimp. Perhaps the mushroom was in the sauce – or somehow in the gnocchi – but I couldn’t tell at all. The shrimp were small to average size and tasty. The gnocchi were good, but nothing stellar. The sauce it was in was the most confusing. It was very thin and reminded me of canned chicken soup and was very salty. My dining companion had spaghetti with lobster. It was a very pretty presentation, however, from the bite I had didn’t have that much pizzazz.

The concept of this place is restaurant/wine bar. I think this is a case where the owners took on one too many things, so, everything is just mediocre, instead of excelling at one thing (namely, the food!)

We ordered a couple different wines by the glass. They brought out nice, large red wine glasses and the wine in mini carafes. The waiter poured a small amount and left the carafe on the table. I really liked this touch. It's perfect if you want to taste different wines - especially if you are in a larger group of people.

All in all – I think this would be a good destination to enjoy a glass of wine with friends and perhaps have some appetizers – can’t say I’d be back for dinner...

2 glasses of wine, 1 appetizer, 2 mains – pre tip: $66

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