Eat and Drink

This section of Eat & Drinks is all about discovering existing or new places in Tallahassee and Thomasville. Despite Tallahassee being a small city, there is a quite big local community. I still have not found a good Italian restaurant beside my house but in the meantime I will enjoy other cuisines. All reviews are my own opinion. I don't get paid to eat and drink, unless otherwise stated. Many of these articles appear also on the Tallahassee Democrat where I write on the food scene in town. 

Food Review - Moda Tallahassee Italian Restaurant

From time to time I review places in town whether it is a store, a pub or a restaurant. This week review is about Moda the 'Italian' restaurant located at 815 West Madison, Tallahassee FL 32304 by Madison Social. Now, let me just tell you that I am Italian so my standards for decent real Italian cuisine are very high. I also studied Italian history in details which  I will use to explain why there is no such a thing as authentic Italian cuisine in the States unless you are in Miami or New York.

Italians migrated in the States in mass during different phases but predominately at the end of the 1800s and after War World 1 and 2. Italians who migrated came predominately from southern regions of Italy with dinstict cuisines. As a matter of fact because of the geographical territory of Italy each region and even city has their own traditions and cusines. For example, the south is rich in fish, the north is based more on heavy, starchy foods, using butter rather than olive oil and so on. This is again just a result of geography and invasions back in the day (e.g. Arabic influence in Sicily). Italian immigrants were also predominately poor, escaping poverty to make enough money to buy land back in Italy. {This is a very simplistic explanation of Italian immigration, there is of course much more to it}.

How does this relate to Italian Food in America? Let me state here that according to research in food studies, authentic Italian food accounts for only one third of Italian food purchased in the States. Everything else that is called Italian cheese, wine, etc. is a product of American marketing. In addition, food regulations around authenticity of food in the United States are low if not inexistent, making every cheese a possible parmesan cheese. {Real Parmigiano Reggiano cheese needs to follow rigid processes and validation checks to be called parmesan cheese, same with real pizza (e.g. diameters, water, etc.) Otherwise you are not allowed to sell your cheese as parmesan cheese}

American advertising played a crucial role in framing American food as Italian. Advertisers perceived Italian language as exotic and a way to sell more products. Here why we got some crazy Italian names for 'Italian dishes'.

So, are we or not eating something that is close to Italian cuisine? Here, I will get back to the story of immigrants. The answer is yes and no. The lack of Italian ingredients in the United States has led immigrants to readapt and re-invent Italian popular dishes. This is exactly why I consider Italian food that I eat in the States Italo-American. There is nothing wrong with this cuisine, but it is not Italian and purely for the simple reason of ingredients. Take a simple pizza dough. The flour used in the States is very high in gluten if I remember correctly. In Italy we use Farina 00 (can be found in speciality stores). Dishes that are 'Italian' but you will probably never find in Italy are: pizza pepperoni. Try order it in Italy and you will get bell peppers. Garlic bread covered in butter and toasted. Italians do like their garlic, but Americans have an obsession with Italian garlic. Anything Alfredo, Vodka, and lasagne with ricotta cheese..... fried mozzarella sticks, cheese bread sticks, gigantic meatballs served with spaghetti and marinara tomato sauce.....
Pretty much everything on the menu of so called Italian restaurants in the States is not authentic. These dishes are creations of either Italian immigrants from specific regions or pure advertisers and American entrepreneurs.

With this said, please find my review for Moda, an "Italian" restaurant in Tallahassee. I never eat in Italian restaurants in the States unless I am in Miami, but I thought I should have an open minded since the restaurant claims to be authentic Italian. [Foolish me.]

There are many things that are wrong with the restaurant in my opinion from the service, to the atmosphere of the restaurant, to the table outside with dripping water from the ceiling to the food which is overpriced and bland. I will only focus on the food.

The first red flag was the length of the menu - There are too many dishes ranging from pizza, focaccia, fish, meat, jumping from Tuscan dishes to southern dishes to ravioli with lobster. Italian restaurants usually focus on few items that are local. If you are in Lucca, Tuscany you will be eating dishes based on that territory. This means fresh ingredients and well-done. We ordered the fritto misto, a combination of calamari and zucchini. We also ordered a focaccia with prosciutto crudo. Then we ordered wine, which in itself was a story, the waitress referred to moscato as a prosecco (cute, but scary at the same time). Before we even started we got complimentary house bread, the one that looks like garlic 'Italian' rolls from a fast food chain like Fazoli. They were burned, drenched in butter or some unknown liquid and they were just hard. They tasted like something you keep in the freezer for a year, you forgot about it so you cook it but does not quite turn the way you remember it: fresh.

The calamari fritti $14: Not too bad but again too oily and saggy, not crispy and light like those you eat in Sardegna. The batter was off the zucchini, so not really a fried zucchini at that point and they were served with a marinara sauce. Why? Why everything Italian and fried must be accompanied by a marinara sauce? That is not Italian. It kills the flavors of the entire dish.  And why serving a tomato base sauce with a lemon? Acidity with acidity on top of fried fish?

Focaccia with prosciutto $12-14: we received a pizza. I was confused but that was a pizza, not a focaccia. It had tomato sauce, cheese, arugula and prosciutto: a pizza and not even a good one. The dough seemed home-made because it tasted like when I used to make it as a child (not that great), also the shape of the pizza and the edges were not smooth, again like when a child makes a pizza. The wrinkles on the edges of the pizza were an indication of dry and not crispy. Seemed like the dough was sprinkled with too much extra flour before working it. Not an Italian pizza.

Here you have it, a review of an Italian restaurant from a real Italian. I know I am super picky about Italian food and that is why I cook it myself in my house, but I don't understand why it is so hard to make and sell good Italian food. It's bread and pasta with some tomato or herbs. How hard can it be? I don't mind if a restaurant serves Italo-American food, but don't call it authentic Italian. If only people knew what authentic Italian food was.... They will be shocked and probably they would either hate it or love it.