La Plaia - In the Know

5766 Emporium Sq. Columbus, OH 43231 (614) 890-2070
Lots of places advertise themselves as the “best-kept secret in town.” It happens everywhere. Almost always, those places aren’t secret at all. In fact, the phrase “best-kept secret” often adorns sweatshirts, beer koozies and truckers’ caps. It’s a marketing tool, and by marketing something, one is necessarily letting the secret out of the bag. The best way to keep something secret is secrecy. What you want for a real best-kept secret is for people to not know what you are talking about, or for them to say stuff like, “I think I’ve heard of that place” and “…I must be thinking of that other place – the one with the coy pond and belly dancers on Thursdays.” Then, you know it really is a well-kept secret.

La Plaia is one of those places. They don’t market themselves. They don’t advertise. They don’t make a big deal out of it. They don’t have to. La Plaia has a regular clientele that knows the secret. Sure, they may let a few people in on it every now and again, but, for the most part, the secret remains secret.

So, what is the secret?

Authentic, old-world Italian food, prepared to order by the man who owns the place with help from his family and friends, that’s the secret. There’s nothing over-the-top fancy about the dining room at La Plaia – just comfortable chairs, soothing music at a conversation-friendly volume, tasteful décor that doesn’t try to upstage the food and tables big enough to hold family-sized platters of the Italian food available in any area code beginning with 43.

Those in on the secret know that they’ll be treated right at La Plaia. Servers go out of their way to explain dishes like Gnocchi All’Amatriciana and the difference between Pinot Grigio and Orvieto. Chef and owner, David Pascalone, comes to your table to elaborate upon the already thorough work of the servers. He’ll also give you a sip of some great new Italian white he’s discovered and tell you why tonight’s Chicken Marsala is a better choice than the Veal Scaloppini, even though the veal was better last night. He’ll make you feel like he personally invited you and that he’s cooking just for you.

Have him prepare an antipasto platter to start and ask him to have the server bring you a bottle of that interesting white he let you taste. Or, get something off the list that you choose. Either way, the acidy fruit of an Italian white will mitigate the pungent sharpness of aged cheese and the salted richness of air-cured prosciutto. La Plaia’s antipasto features a zucchini and cheese dish that deconstructs itself into every constituent component of deliciousness when it comes into contact with a wine-soaked tongue. It’s like tasting everything you want to taste at once, but not being able to tell what any of the individual flavors are coming from. The fresh mozzarella brings your palate back together with the familiar creaminess that prepares your mouth for another swig of the tart and floral wine you will use to chase the sweet and sour of tomato down the hatch.

Save some of the white for the pasta course, especially if you (or chef Dave) have chosen any of the pastas in a white sauce. It’s the same creamy/tart dichotomy from the antipasto, but hot and noodly. Speaking of noodles, La Plaia offers just about every kind imaginable, from the better-known spaghettis and pennes to their under-explored cousins, like capellini. Since everything is served family-style, the more people you have, the more different things you can try. It would require a huge family to conquer every possible combination, since you can get every combination from Gnocchi Alfredo to Ravioli Bolognese. Smaller families will have to make more visits than the larger ones to cover all the bases.

If a Bolognese or Amatriciana is to be part of the pasta course, it would be a good idea to augment the already-available wines with something light-to-medium-bodied and red. Something Tuscan would probably suffice, provided it was not “Super.” Nothing confronts the meaty tomato and spice of a Bolognese like a Chianti or similar bodied Italian red. The gentle fruit and mid-level tannins coax a completely different type of savory from the sauce that on its own already has you convinced.

In the same way that more people in your party enable you to try more pasta combinations, more people also allow you a better selection of meat courses. Yes, meat courses. Italians have dedicated an entire course to meat, and for good reason. La Plaia’s Chicken Marsala is a stand-alone stand-out. There is no need to clutter it up with a side of noodles or some steamed broccoli or anything at all. It should simply be enjoyed alone… with a glass of wine, of course.

The same can be said of the scaloppini and every other selection from the meat courses. That’s not to say that it’s going to hurt anything to try the meats with a little bite of tortellini or whichever pasta may still be left. It’s just to say that there is no need to do so. It also wouldn’t hurt to try some of the white wine (if there’s still any left) with either Chicken or Veal Marsala, but a red might compliment things better. For those that enjoy big reds, like Cabs (which one might find in a Super Tuscan) and Amarones, now is the time. There is nothing like the way the juicy tannins and spicy/woody finishes compliment the tangy sauce, firm, juicy meat and thin-sliced slight-gaminess of prosciutto.

Save a little of the big red to go with the cannoli, or keep the remaining white to accompany some lemon sorbet. Or, drink all the wine with the meal and have a fresh cup of Italian roast with dessert. But, whatever you do, you got to have some dessert. We’ve decided op keep that menu under wraps so you have to go there to know. Now, go tell your friends and family about La Plaia, but be sure they know to keep it a secret.