We’re not restaurant reviewers. You will never read a critique of a restaurant or a dish on Due Spaghetti. Everyone’s tastes are different, and who are we to publicly criticize a meal that someone prepared for us? In short, on Due Spaghetti we write about that which we like, but not that which we don’t like.
La Chaya opened in our neighborhood a few years ago, and we had been there a number times before. We’re not frequent restaurant patrons – we love to cook at home, and our standards for authenticity are high. Our list of favorite Twin Cities restaurants is selective, but La Chaya earned a place on it right away.
What attracted us the first time we went was that the predominantly Mexican menu had very obvious Italian influences. We inquired, and learned that Chef Garcia had spent several years in Italy. It was curious to find these traditional Italian pasta dishes prepared to perfection – some entirely authentic, others with the subtle incorporation of a Mexican ingredient or two.
Last week, Stefano had a fettuccine with lobster meat, cherry tomatoes and wilted spinach, while Cara ordered fettuccine with lobster meat in a lemon-basil pesto with pecans. We shared fried calamari and shrimp, over a bottle of Spanish Nora Albariño white wine. Roasted sea bass was also was on the menu, as was carpaccio. After finishing our seafood-based meal, we honestly considered ordering a carpaccio just to try it (how can you not order carpaccio when it’s on the menu?), but rational thinking prevailed, and we agreed that we could defer gratification until our next visit to La Chaya. That will need to be soon, because we can’t stop thinking about that carpaccio.
The meal itself was wonderful and just what we needed at the end of a very long day at work. The evening became even better though, when Chef Garcia joined us at our table and we began a conversation about food, culture and hospitality. Over Grappa di Barolo, Juan told us about the years he spent in Italy, first in Fiumicino, a sea-side town in the province of Rome, and later in Porto Cervo, on the northern shore of the island of Sardinia, along the Costa Smeralda, or Emerald Coast.
Alternating between Italian and English, we shared tales of food, travel and culture. We laughed over the pungent smelling but delicious wheel of pecorino sardo that Juan brought home one day to his British landlord’s dismay, applauded his persistence and eventual success in getting Sardinians to try cactus leaves, and shared opinions on the best way to drink Campari.
Juan, originally from Mexico City, spoke about the different ways Italians and Mexicans prepare seafood and meat, and the different spices they use to season food. While discussing the good cooking and overall hospitality of the Italian family that hosted Juan when he first arrived in Italy, and chuckling over menu items that more conservative diners are slow to embrace, the evening’s theme began to unfold for us.
The food experience and the client relationship are what matter. The culture of food, of enjoying a meal prepared with care, is too often absent from the modern-day North American experience. At La Chaya, Juan not only offers his guests exceptional meals that reflect his Mexican heritage and Mediterranean experience, but in doing so he also shares with them his deep appreciation for hospitality and the culture of food.
La Chaya Bistro
4537 Nicollet Ave S.