20 February 2017

Lela, Bloomington, MN: The kitchen can't do it alone

There's lots to like about Lela, the classy Italian restaurant at the Sheraton Bloomington Hotel. The food ... is amazing. It's creatively prepared and beautifully presented. The flavors are fabulous. The decor is comfortable and modern. The space is open and bright.

Yet, despite all that's attractive about it, my wife and I were let down after our belated Valentine's dinner. It was not a busy evening. We had a reservation for 7:30, but it would not have been necessary. There were many open tables available. (I hope that's not a telling sign.) Still, somehow, the service was slow and inattentive.
A glass of Prosecco and deviled eggs

At first, I dismissed my wife's impatience. We planned to go out to hear music after dinner. But we weren't really in a hurry. So when it took longer than necessary to get a couple glasses of Prosecco, I just said we should relax and go with the flow. Unfortunately, it wasn't just slowness.

We started with an order of Lobster Deviled Eggs. They were so lovely - creamy white eggs, topped by a basil leaf and lobster with a dollop of tarragon aioli. I suppose we both could have eaten off the serving plate. But we asked for individual plates instead. Our server expediently snatched plates from the empty table next to us. That's ok. But for some reason, he seemed compelled to complain to us about what a poor job the busboy had done by not having set our table properly with individual plates. That seemed unprofessional.

Next we ordered a salad to share. It was the Haricot Vert Salad, and when we placed the order, my wife inquired as to whether it contained any cilantro. The server assured us there was not. But it only took one bite to detect the not-at-all subtle sharp pungent flavor of cilantro. Neither of us like it, and she is very sensitive to it. So we always ask and specify "No cilantro." While cilantro wasn't a primary ingredient of the salad, it was topped with micro-greens that included the offending herb. We sent it away and a replacement came back without any of the micro-greens. Oh, and by now, the plates we had used for the deviled eggs had been taken away, new ones had not been brought with the salad, and we had to ask for some.

Not an auspicious way for the meal to proceed. But the salad was excellent. And the presentation was so attractive and unusual. It was served in a wreath-like ring circling the plate.


Happily, our entrees were served without incident. My dish was called carrot agnolotti. The house-made pasta was tender and excellent. On the plate with the pasta was a mound of brilliant orange pickled carrots. The whole thing was delicious. My wife had lobster truffle gnocchi. The gnocchi were fluffy pillows of ricotta bathed in a rich sauce with bits of lobster and beech mushrooms. She enjoyed it very much. While not a large serving, because it was so rich, she couldn't finish it. So she brought some of it home, and I had the pleasure of having it for lunch the next day.

I do have one more complaint. I know it's not the restaurant's fault. But some of the other diners came into the restaurant looking very shabby and unkempt. This is a nice restaurant, not inexpensive, that's trying to maintain a sophisticated appeal. It's not a hotel coffee shop. It would be nice if people would take the effort to dress up a little bit; at least change out of your sweatpants.

I have been to Lela for lunch a couple of times. I don't recall having slow service either of those times. Maybe it was just an off night. Or maybe this is one of those restaurants that's just better for lunch than it is for dinner. Unfortunately, our city does not seem to be a place where sophisticated Italian dining can thrive. I hope Lela makes it.

Agnolotti with pickled carrots
Haricot Vert Salad

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