Review: La Tee Da | 206 Allen Street | Buffalo, NY | 716/ 881-4500
Reviewer: Lauren Tate
IN recent conversations with friends, we were discussing the current “farm to table” movement in Buffalo. We were delighted in the recent additions and direction this movement had taken in the last few years. We began comparing restaurants and the direction each was going. Quickly the comparisons began to lean heavily towards the great things happening at La Tee Da, a trendy yet humble place in the uber hip Allentown district.
As we talked, I realized that I had never been, and I could not understand why. The word on the street was certainly positive and I was listening. But still, taking the final step and making a reservation had not happened. So I moved quickly to remedy this. I searched my calendar and found a date. I began to reach out to friends. to see who could and would join me. The group was set. Reservation time had come.
I called on a Monday and left a message. It was before five so I figured staff hadn’t arrived and would soon return my call. The call never came. Tuesday turned to Wednesday and then Thursday. When Friday morning arrived and no call had come I ultimately decided to book on Open Table. I personally am not a fan of this, as I love to speak to humans and know that my booking wasn’t lost in the technology we are all caught up in. Nonetheless I made the reservation and a confirmation was quickly sent.
Parking is always a challenge on Allen Street but today it was easy. We found a spot in front, only a few doors down. I knew the lot next to the restaurant didn’t belong to them and I would need to pay until 9pm. So this was a huge coup to get a spot this close.
I didn’t quite know what to expect, as all I had heard before was that this restaurant grows many of its own vegetables and herbs, is a large supporter of the farm to table movement, is great for vegetarians and that the patio in the back was spectacular and one of the best in the city. So I hoped we would be on the patio.
We walked through a long restaurant space upon entering. The room was filled with tables that weren’t set. I was guessing that these were the main tables in winter. But not being set didn’t create the warm reception one would want. I later learned that the main entrance during the summer months is through the parking lot, at the back of the building. At the far end of the room there was a wait station. The gentleman at the station spoke to us the second we walked through the front door. “Do you have a reservation?” he commanded. “Yes” we said proudly. “The hostess will seat you. She’s in the other room,” he said and motioned for us to walk through the small door into the back room.
Once in the large room, the hostess and the bartender simultaneously asked firmly “Do you have a reservation?” Again we said, “Yes.” It seemed odd to us that there was no “Welcome to La Tee Da” or any other warm salutation, just the serious concern as to whether or not we had a reservation, especially since the restaurant was largely empty except for the two deuces at tables and one couple at the large bar in the entrance. Still, we wouldn’t let this deter our excitement; we were about to eat some great food and experience what I was told was a great example of “farm to table” in Buffalo.
The floors were wet with puddles randomly throughout. Large iron chandeliers were hung from the ceiling and it helped to create a warm almost New Orleans patio feel. We were seated on the patio as we hoped, but it was fully enclosed in a tent and the sides were up so the air was humid and stagnant (it had been raining). Our table was in the corner of the tent and was small and the seating was tight. To one side was a large eight top that was empty, and the opposite side a four top that was also empty. We were squeezed into the triangle and it felt tight. Some tables had linens and others were topped with brown paper. The forks and knives were cutely intertwined and placed on a white poly linen with red stripes; Very trendy and hip these days.
The hostess left a signature cocktail and craft beer menu printed on card stock letter sized paper with the wine list on the other side. The wine list was humble but precise. There were approximately 15 wines offered, seven bottles of sparkling wine and champagne, and 22 craft beers. Two wines were value offerings at the $15 price point. All other wines were at the $30 price point with one red at $40 and one white at $44.
We opted to start with the house signature Sangria ($7.00). This seemed appropriate given that Sangria is usually made with fresh and seasonal fruits and crisp sparkling wine or white wine. We weren’t disappointed. The Sangria was served in a large mason jar. There was however, no fresh or seasonal fruit, only a lemon wedge. The drink was bright, cool and delicious. We were off to a great start.
The menu was on two pages; one letter sized card stock paper, printed in house, for the main menu. Specials were offered on a slim, almost half a page paper also printed in house. There were no prices for each of the specials. I found this very unusual and surprising. The main menu was cut of at the top when it printed so it was hard to see what the categories were, but we were restaurant savvy individuals, we could solve this…….right?!
In many “farm to table” restaurants, one normally sees the farms that the restaurant supports, the people that raise the beef, pork, lamb or chicken, where the fish was caught or what ingredients were grown in house; not so with this menu. There was no evidence of the origins or artisans in the process. Disappointing. We wanted to be part of this celebration of food and know the small but important pieces of information. This is an opportunity for the restaurant. They should toot the horns of all the artisans that helped in creating this experience. I hope in the future this may change.
We started with the Spinach Balls ($11.00), a house specialty; the house All Beef Meatballs ($10.00) and the interesting Eggplant Wings ($9.00). The meatballs and the spinach balls were the first to arrive with the eggplant wings not far behind.
The meatballs were served in a large modern bowl presented simply with a garlic and Parmesan crouton. The large generous all beef meatballs were covered with house “Sunday Gravy” and shaved Parmesan. The meatballs were delicate and tender; cooked perfectly. I could tell the chef cooked these low and slow. There was not the normal crispy and caramelized outside – only the melty tender kind of meatball one gets when a chef knows his or her craft, and this chef truly does. The sauce was rich and bright. The balls were topped with this sauce, almost way too much of it. There could have been much less of it… and I’d have preferred the sauce on the bottom rather than on top so we could savor the meatballs alone. The server didn’t know where the beef for the meatballs was from nor did he know the origin of the tomatoes for the “gravy”.
The Spinach Balls were also excellent. This vegetarian option was a great idea. Frozen spinach lightly blended with Parmesan, pressed tightly into two nice sized balls cooked crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. It’s mostly all spinach. If one wonders why they use frozen spinach rather than fresh I’m guessing it’s because if they used fresh it would require 4 pounds of fresh spinach per ball. There is THAT much spinach. These were served atop the same house “Gravy” as the meatballs. Perfectly placed, the spinach balls were on top of the “gravy” so we could savor each and every bite without too much sauce.
The six vegetarian Eggplant “Wings” were served on a rectangular plate with shaved carrot ribbons and celery sticks atop a small pile of mesclun lettuce. I never get this. The food is so clean on its own and presentations simple, no real need for further adornment. Also, there was a small ramekin of house made blue cheese dressing. The dressing was creamy but almost too mayonnaisy with very little blue cheese. The “wings” themselves were small and had too much breading. We could hardly taste the tender eggplant. The sauce was standard Buffalo sauce thickened with butter to help it stick to the “wings”. While good, this was really all you could taste. As a vegetarian dish, I would hope that the eggplant would be more of a feature. That said, it’s a great idea for a dish and a very good gateway dish for non-vegetarians. With a bit of refinement this could be one of their best dishes.
Soon the busser arrived and politely and efficiently removed our plates. She immediately returned with fresh silverware and more water. Again she placed the silver intertwined together. It’s a small, simple but very cute touch that I haven’t seen anywhere but here.
Our server soon brought over our requested glasses of red wine. We had ordered the Cinco ($8.00). It was served in a Reidel style O glass with no stem. Not everyone likes stemless but here it makes sense as the patio is slightly un-level – in open air. The wine was served at a great temperature and we felt perfectly complemented our preceding courses.
Next came the Caesar salad. We opted to share this dish but when the salad came we had to request share plates. Caesar salad seems so simple but the variations and opinions of this salad are endless. Mildred Amico, the former Director of the James Beard House in New York City once told me, she can always tell a chef’s mettle from two things: a Caesar Salad and Roasted Chicken. Great points and advice I follow to this day.
The standard romaine lettuce was crispy and cold, as it should be. The portion was large, almost too large but we were sharing so we were delighted. There was no farm indicated nor did the server know where the lettuce was from. As previously mentioned, our group had varying opinions of this salad. For me it was to mayonaissy and slightly fishy. I loved the five fresh citrusy white anchovies on top, the shaved Parmesan and the beautiful crispy Parmesan garlic crouton. I felt there was way too much powdery Parmesan tossed in so it made the salad very salty and dense. I didn’t taste any citrus or Worcestershire. Two things typically in Caesar dressing but again every chef does it his or her way. My dining partners found the salad pleasant and enjoyable and didn’t see it my way. We were disappointed that we weren’t offered any fresh pepper upon arrival.
For our entrees we ordered the special Three Cheese and White Truffle Butter Risotto ($21.00); the Organic and Free Range Chicken Cutlet with a side of pasta ($22.00); and the Salmon Filet with house salad on the side ($23.00).
The Organic Chicken Cutlet was large. The server didn’t know where it was from and the menu didn’t indicate the origin. The white meat breast was pounded thin, breaded with breadcrumbs and seasonings, sautéed till crisp. The chicken was pounded too thin for our tastes. We couldn’t taste much of the chicken, as the breading was so dense. Further one side of the chicken was over cooked; very dark and hard but the top was cooked perfectly and had a beautiful golden color. The side of pasta was very large, almost twice as much pasta to chicken. The pasta itself was cooked perfectly al dente, almost never found in Buffalo. It was tossed in the house “gravy” and then topped with the “gravy”. Again, way too much sauce. The sauce it was tossed in was plenty and needed topping. You couldn’t taste the perfect pasta.
We didn’t know where the salmon was from but the portion was perfect and presented beautifully. It was slightly overcooked and a bit dry but more and more I see chefs doing this, as a majority of patrons return it and won’t accept it mid rare. I personally think servers should ask at time of ordering rather than patrons trying to remember to specify. The fish was topped with what the menu referred to as a “chutney” but it was really a relish. It wasn’t cooked and gooey as one would expect from a chutney. The tropical fruit “relish” was slightly under ripe Mango and red onion, among other things. The side salad was huge, the dressing lovely. It tasted like mustard dressing and I could have had more of the fish. It was yummy.
If there was any real disappointment of the evening it was the Three Cheese and Truffle Butter Risotto. The portion was very large, served in a chipped round rimmed bowl but it was so over cooked, mushy and bland. All we could taste was the simple cheese and no truffle butter. It ate more like porridge rather than a slow cooked creamy risotto. It was garnished with a lemon wedge but there was no acid in the dish to balance the cheese and earthy truffle. Rice wasn’t the expected al dente but rather broken and sticky. At this point we wished we had ordered something else.
For dessert we opted for the house made, locally grown Strawberry Shortcake with house made Whipped Cream and the Triple Chocolate Cake. We were informed the cake came from the bakery next door but that all of the shortcake was house done.
Our Strawberry Shortcake was just ok. We loved the strawberries, as they were ripe, very bright and lightly sugared. The whipped cream was also light and not very sweet with no hint of vanilla. The shortcake itself was very dense and dry. We would have loved some of the strawberry juice from the maceration to have been poured over the cake moistening it and giving it some flavor.
Lastly the Triple Chocolate Cake was spectacular. The dense cookie bottom, the mousse like middle and delicately moist chocolate cake were all perfect. Our table could have eaten several of these. This was a great end to a great meal.
All night service was attentive without being overbearing. Our server was fun and we enjoyed him overall. We wished he knew more about the foods and their origins but over all we were very happy.
Our opinion was that the restaurant is a gem and Buffalo is lucky to have it. I’m not sure it’s so much a farm to table restaurant (which is what I was told by a number of friends) as it is a lovely place one can dine when on a date or with friends. Ultimately we didn’t miss knowing where the food came from. The portions were generous, the price for our meal a value and our experience worth the trip. So we decided our food ultimately came from their hearts; and that’s all that matters.
Rating: One and a half forks
*The photos were taken at a later date, after the initial review
Four Forks: Impeccable – True perfection in all areas. Too few flaws to mention. The best of everything, from cuisine and ingredients to service and ambiance.
Three Forks: On its way. Needs a small bit of work. A few flaws, but stellar. Uses amazing ingredients, service is warm and professional and ambiance is above average.
Two Forks: This is a good dining experience. A place that you will want to frequent more than a special occasions. Not going to set the world on fire but should be proud of the effort. Good ingredients. Lovely place. Service attentive but spotty.
One Fork: This is an approachable restaurant, with a number of attributes to be proud of.
Zero Fork: Needs work in all areas, but could have potential.