Monday, August 8, 2011

Man Shall Not Live By Bread Alone

Little Village
14241 Airline Hwy.
Baton Rouge, LA

Cuisine Rouge Rating:

I’m sure most of us are familiar with the origin of this review title, but in case you’re not, it’s a biblical reference. Not that I’m here to get preachy. Absolutely not. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that I think I’m going to get quite a few “Amens” on what I’m about to say.

Chad and I decided to visit The Little Village (Airline Hwy) location, for what we sincerely hoped would be a quiet and relatively elegant dining experience highlighted by phenomenal Italian fare. And the bread. Let’s not forget about that bread. I’d had the pleasure of experiencing this creation a few weeks back at a work function, so I knew that the bread would be a big hit that night.

We arrived on a Saturday evening, and it seemed to have a Saturday-night type of crowd, which is nothing unusual for Baton Rouge. What was unusual, to our delight, was that we didn’t have to wait. We were seated right away at a cozy table not too far from the front doors. Not necessarily the best table in the house, but it was fine for us. We placed our drink orders with a person we thought was our waitress, only before walking away she said “Your waitress will be with you shortly to take your order.”

So we examined the menu and prepared to place our order. I was thrilled to see that in the appetizer section, they offered aracine – something I have been desperate to try for a very, very long time. In fact, I’ve even pulled up the recipe a few times, but have a slight fear of frying, so I’ve always hesitated to give it a go.

According to Wikipedia, “Arancini or arancine are fried (or, less commonly, baked) rice balls coated with breadcrumbs, said to have originated in Sicily in the 10th century. Arancini are usually filled with ragu (meat sauce), tomato sauce, mozzarella, and/or peas.” I was imagining an Italian twist on a fried boudin ball, and could not wait to try it for the first time, so I chose it as my entrée.

We made our selections, quite pleased with what we’d be feasting on, and waited for the waitress to come.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

The drink order waitress came by after 20 minutes had passed and apologized profusely, explaining she had no idea where the “real waitress” might be. She then presented a delicious bribe – a free full loaf of their signature bread! I was pretty excited. We were going to order the half loaf, but this was a treat. And on the house, at that. It was a literal “buttering up.”

For those who haven’t experienced this bread, allow me to clue you in. It’s more than bread. It’s an experience. Italian manna. This is the kind of bread you want to be alone in a room with. It’s a very large braided rope studded with sesame seeds that’s baked to golden perfection. After baking, it’s placed in a pool of olive oil, dusted with cracked black pepper and then topped with more olive oil and a heaping portion of freshly grated Romano cheese. It’s served with a side of their signature olive tapenade. For the most part, I steer clear of olives – but I ate this tapenade. It was, in a word, amazing.

But, the bread honeymoon was short-lived. After we’d had our fill of their incredible manna and were ready to order, we found ourselves waiting and waiting yet again.

We had two unpaid for drinks and no cash to throw down on the table and just walk out. And so I began to feel almost as if I were part of a hostage crisis. I took to Facebook and Twitter to voice my complaints. And then began getting responses and comments. A friend had just waited over an hour for take-out soup and salad. She was livid. Another friend had a similar experience weeks back and vowed to never go again. Then a really big clue was delivered – Little Village had just offered a coupon on one of those websites specializing in half-off deals.


Now it all made sense.

Was it an excuse for terrible, practically non-existent service?


From what I understand, businesses use those coupon sites to increase their sales, not ruin their reputation. Apparently, this backfired on Little Village that evening. Sure enough, we saw several employees with the vouchers in their hands, looking a bit confused.

Over an hour after we had been seated, our meal arrived. I was hoping against hope that the quality of the food would redeem the bad experience. I was keeping my fingers crossed that incredible Italian flavors and artful cuisine would wipe away the sins of the wait staff (or whoever might have been to blame). But, it was not the case.

The long-anticipated aracine arrived – a large single fried rice ball – about the size of a baseball. I had expected a few, but I wasn’t sure how they are traditionally served, so I chalked that up to ignorance on my own part. It was . . . ok. Strangely I didn’t see much rice. I noticed meat. And peas. Lots of peas, which I do enjoy, but my husband does not. If we would have gotten this as our appetizer he would have been in for a rude awakening. It was in a pool of their Village red sauce. The only flavor that really dominated this dish was salt, and plenty of it. In fact, the red sauce was so salty that it seemed more like salty red gravy with very little hint of tomato.

At some point, we heard yelling towards the back of the restaurant and assumed that another disappointed diner was tired of waiting for something that clearly wasn’t worth the wait. All around us, patrons had scowls on their faces.

Chad ordered the chicken parmigiana –also served in the red sauce with a bed of spaghetti. I told him my take on it and he readily agreed. Like salty red gravy. The chicken was mediocre, at best.

And that’s what we don’t expect when we dine out: mediocrity. We don’t have the stomachs for it. And considering the bill, we shouldn’t have had to pay for mediocrity. But we did. Lesson learned.

We skipped on desert and chose to go to Latte et Miele, a place that’s fast becoming famous for being extraordinary in every way. (And was it EVER!)

And so, I hearken back to my title. Little Village, your bread is phenomenal and the best I’ve ever had. But you’re a restaurant, not a bakery. And if you want to drum up business by offering coupon deals to the public, be prepared for the first weekend after you offer it. If not, you’ll end up angering the people who didn’t come in to get a “steal of deal” but wanted a nice evening with their significant other. Not that I’m coming down on the use of those coupon sites – I use them myself and very often.

That being said, we won’t be back any time soon. But, here’s a little secret: they sell the bread unbaked with all the trimmings for a very decent price -to go! Just call ahead. Way ahead.

Little Village II on Urbanspoon

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