Friday, January 30, 2009

Big Night at Lembo's?

I was feeling in the mood for Italian tonight and even more in the mood for something hearty and filling like lasagna. Considering my options between work and home, I remembered that there was a mom and pop style Italian restaurant close to where I live that I had never been to, Lembo's Italian Restaurant. After realizing that they also had an on-line presence, I decided to visit their website and was delighted to learn that they also had their menu on-line as well. I began looking through the menu and noticed that many of their menu items had the word "home made" in front of them: the sauce, the pizza dough, the lasagna.

And then it hit me. Right in the middle of the pasta section, Timpano was listed. I sat at my desk at work for a moment, stunned. I have only had timpano once in my life and it was never at a restaurant. Immediately my thoughts turned to Primo in the movie Big Night. This couldn't be the one and the same, could it? Seeing as the restaurant was on the way home, I figured I would find out for sure.

I was seated at a table just past the all-you-can-eat salad bar and by the entrance to the kitchen. When my waitress finally came over, I asked about the timpano and how it was constructed. The waitress explained that it was just rigatoni layered with cheese and marinara. I further questioned her as to what other layers were in the timpano and she kind of gave me that ok-what's-your-deal kind of look. I quickly apologized and pulled up the link to the timpano I made earlier in the post. I explained to her about Big Night and the true timpano that is layered and covered with a pasta sheet. She looked relieved that I actually wasn't some creepy stalker guy. She finally dashed any hope that I would be mind melding with Primo tonight with a "you know, the one you're showing me does look really good, but ours is definitely not that." Rats.

So, instead I went with my original inkling and ordered the cheese lasagna with meat sauce. Almost all of the meals come with the all-you-can-eat salad bar and I have to say, if you like choices on your salad bar, then this is the place for you. It was absolutely huge, two full-sized islands with greens, pasta salads, soups, desserts, and breads.

First up, I grabbed a couple of pieces of focaccia bread from one of the covered steam tables.

First the positives. It was nice and warm. It had a nice softness to it. The herb and olive oil on the crust added some nice flavor. Unfortunately some of the positives were also some of the negatives. Sitting on the steam table kept the bread soft, but ultimately robbed the bread of any of its integrity. There was no difference between the crust and the crumb. Secondly, a light dusting of kosher salt would've really elevated this bread. It lacked the fine tuning that just a little bit of salt could've brought out.

Next up, a trio of pasta salads:

On the left we had a farfalle pasta with carrots, red bell peppers, and a creamy Italian style dressing. In the middle are small shells with celery in a creamy sauce. On the right are a fettucine style noodle tossed in oil and dried parsley. All three were unremarkable. Clearly the "home made" aspect applied to the food on the menu, not these salads. And looking around at my other choices on the salad bar pretty much resulted in the same conclusion: if you're really into the standard salad bar, this is the place for you. If you're looking for something special, you aren't going to find it here.

Finally, my lasagna came out. It was freaking huge.

First, I tried the meat sauce surrounding the lasagna on the plate. It was ok, a good depth of tomato flavor, but a little sweeter than I would've normally liked it. I could also pick up a hint of anise, more than likely fennel seed. I then started in on the lasagna. The first thing I noticed was that overall, it was a nice cheese to sauce to noodle ratio. A lot of times places absolutely douse the top with mozzarella cheese and it becomes too much. This one was nice. It was nice and sliceable as well.

I sliced off a bite that had layers of the pasta and cheese and sauce and let the flavors roll around in my mouth. And suddenly it dawned on me as clear as day: nutmeg! I could taste nutmeg. Thinking back quickly to my cooking school courses, a bechamel is often finished with nutmeg. But then it dawned on me that most lasagnas don't use a bechamel sauce. I actually liked the nutmeg in this. It was present just oh-so-slightly, but wasn't too overpowering.

When the waitress came around to check on me, I asked her about both the fennel and the nutmeg. To the fennel question, she said that she wasn't entirely sure, but they do make the meat sauce from scratch in house. When I asked about the nutmeg, she got this stunned look on her face and admitted that yes, there is nutmeg in the ricotta cheese mixture layered between the noodles. She asked how I knew that and I simply answered that I could taste and smell it. She copped to the fact that only a handful of people have ever been able to identify the nutmeg. Who knew?

This is a shot of the side of my lasagna showing the layers of pasta, cheese, and sauce. The pasta had a lovely bite to it, not too soft, not too chewy.

Fortunately, I had more than enough left over at the end of my meal, so I brought it home and will have it tomorrow morning for a late breakfast before leaving for a small trip to Cleveland, OH to have a fabulous meal at L'Albatross.

While the salad and bread was eh, so-so, the lasagna was definitely a winner in my book and I'm definitely eager to get back and try some of the other homemade specialties, such as their gnocchi.


Nancy Heller said...

Great review. Your lasagna photos have my appetite whetted for the Super Bowl Lasagna I'm planning to make for dinner tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Next time try the pizza. Lembo's has great pizza.
- Tino's Mechanic

Tino said...

Actually, Mr. Mechanic, I did try Lembo's pizza (read up a few posts) and thought it wasn't particularly good.