Monday, January 25, 2010

A Nice Surprise At Casa D'Angelo

After taking me up on my rather disastrous lunch suggestion of MJ Mugsy's in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, I was worried that our Fort Wayne-bound group might be a little hesitant before taking another suggestion from me. In doing my research prior to the trip, I had narrowed down the number of interesting looking Fort Wayne eateries to about half a dozen. But, due to time constraints, I knew that I would have to narrow it down even further.

Originally listed on the first cut of restaurants, Casa D'Angelo fit a lot of the criteria I was using. It was a local chain, lots of local folks were recommending it on the Internet, and there were six locations from which to choose. Ultimately what made me cut it from the final list was their menu. Fortunately, this time I was not relying on a third party website to dig deeper into the offerings, I could see it with my own two eyes on their website. Unfortunately, as I scrutinized the menu, I began to see the tell-tale signs of what I like to call the "Cheesecake Factory Effect." In a nutshell, the CFE is the tendency for the food quality to decline as the number of dishes available increases. I personally felt it would be better to stick with a more manageable list of dishes that could be executed flawlessly rather than a huge menu that tried to appeal to everyone but was mediocre.

At the last minute, however, my mother asked if I could make a dinner recommendation for Friday night. Knowing that nearly everyone loves Italian food and figuring that it couldn't be any worse than a national chain (or my lunch suggestion), I thought that this might now fit the bill perfectly. I was worried because we were a group of eight and Casa D'Angelo has a no reservations policy on Friday and Saturday nights. Fortunately, we arrived right at 5:30 PM and had absolutely no problem getting a table.

The location we decided to eat at was situated at 3402 Fairfield Avenue, Fort Wayne, IN 46807 and can be reached directly at 260-745-7200. Being only a mere two miles from our hotel, it took us all of ten minutes to get there. From the street, you saw the lit sign attached to a light pole:

A sizable parking lot and the restaurant's entrance were in the rear of the building:

Once inside, we were escorted through a number of hallways to our table at the rear of the restaurant. Instead of the dining room being one large room, there were many smaller rooms off the main hallway. Several members of our dining party wondered if this had been an old house that had been converted into a restaurant. I'm not quite sure. I know a number of old-school Italian places in Akron that had several adjoining rooms to the main one, just like Casa D'Angelo.

After we were all seated, menus were distributed:

I won't go into picture after picture of the menu since I've already posted a link to the entire contents on their website. After taking our drink orders, our server brought us pre-sliced Italian loaves with ramekins of butter:

Here was a shot of my portion:

This was a nice slice of bread. Nothing pretentious, nothing artisan. Just a nice warm slice of bread with perfectly softened butter. I'm not sure if they set out some of the butter to soften for the beginning of dinner service because after our server brought us out more bread and butter half-way through the meal, the butter in that ramekin was rock hard and ice cold.

I decided to start out with a cup of their Zuppa di Lenticchie (or Lentil Soup):

This had a very hearty, earthy flavor to it. What surprised me was that there weren't just lentils in it:

The broccoli floret in the above photo had completely given its flavor over to the soup and in return had absorbed the hearty stock and lentil flavors right back in. It was interesting how it definitely tasted like lentil soup, but there were clearly other ingredients in there as well that blended in so nicely. I was impressed enough (and hungry enough) to finish the entire cup. Several others at our table got a simple tossed salad with the only dressing available, the house dressing. I didn't have a chance to taste it, but those who had salads seemed to enjoy it.

As I was looking through the vast menu, my eye came upon a dish that suddenly tickled my fancy, Risotto con Pollo e Funghi (or Risotto with Chicken and Mushrooms). Knowing that risotto can be a tricky dish to get right and also knowing the tricks that professional kitchens use to prepare risotto so that it can be served a la minute (at the last minute), I figured this would be a good test. I was impressed that our food (for an eight top) came out all together and relatively quickly.

Here was a shot of my risotto:

The chicken was sort of buried in the rice, but the mushrooms were certainly visible on the top:

I have to say that this was actually a decent risotto. The rice was cooked but still had just a bit of toothiness to it, the chicken was very moist and tender, and the mushrooms, although not quite as exotic as the menu would lead you to believe, added a nice earthiness to the dish as well. It was creamy enough to "glop" off the spoon and back onto the plate, but not so creamy that it resembled a savory rice pudding dish. I also definitely picked up on the chicken stock flavor in which the rice had been cooked. The only thing really lacking was a real explosion of any single flavor. I would've loved had the mushroom flavor been more intense. That being said, for a chain restaurant, this wasn't a bad version. Had I been served this at a high end Italian restaurant and been charged twice as much, I would expect a lot more. For $9.79, I think it fit the bill.

Our server offered us the obligatory tiramisu for dessert, but unfortunately, the conference for which we had all driven the three hours to Fort Wayne was scheduled to start in about ten minutes. We quickly paid for our individual checks (which I have to give props to our server who did a marvelous job taking care of us, especially under our time constraint), hopped back in the cars and were back at the hotel/convention center just in time for the opening session.

While I was skeptical at first and even went so far as to cross Casa D'Angelo off my own personal list of places to visit in Fort Wayne, they did a pretty good job. I certainly found it to be better than a certain national Italian restaurant brand, but my viewpoint wasn't shared by all. And I'm totally fine with that. In the end, I'm glad I had a chance to try the food. I suggest if you live in Fort Wayne or are passing through and are looking a decent Italian meal, Casa D'Angelo might just be right up your alley.

Casa D'angelo on Urbanspoon Casa D'Angelo on Restaurantica

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