We made our second visit to La Porta, Peter McAndrews’ wonderful western outpost in Media (Edgemont) PA, on Rt. 352. The first trip was just pizza at lunch. Here on a Sunday night for dinner, EPBAC (Eats Pizza But Avoids Cheese) and I decided to get one appetizer, one entrée, and one pizza for sharing. Fresh off a recent trip to Italy that included a breeze through Tuscany, we were intrigued by the $28 Montepulciano red wine and ordered a bottle. It was the least expensive wine on the list (glasses of the house wine are $7.50) and very good for a wine in its price range.
|Salsiccia slice. Click any pic to enlarge|
We selected a seafood pasta Fra Diavlo from the specials that our server recited, and the "Salsiccia" pizza, with house made fennel sausage, plum tomato, fresh mozzarella, and rosemary for $12. The pies here are "personal" size but pretty big for one person. We learned that the menu has been tweaked, and we chose for our appetizer one of the new offerings -- "Dutch Fries."
What are Dutch Fries? Well, foodies may know that the "French Fry" is generally regarded as a Belgian invention, but the Netherlands have fries stands all over, where fresh fried potatoes are served in paper cones with (as in Belgium) mayo. The Dutch include other toppings, such as peanut satay that entered their culture during their colonization of Indonesia.
At La Porta, the Dutch Fries are beautiful golden-orange colored fries, cooked to a lovely crispiness, then topped with peanut satay, garlic aioli (mayo), siracha (Thai hot sauce), and (the real kicker) lightly toasted coconut. This dish was an absolute explosion of colors, textures, flavors. It was a grand slam home run. It was a generous mound, enough to feed four as an appetizer, yet the two of us demolished it. I don't want to know how many calories were in it, but for sure I'd order it again. It would also be a terrific Happy Hour snack.
|Spaghetti Fra Diavlo|
The Fra Diavlo spaghetti ($15) was another hit. Spiced to be piquant but not overpowering, the sauce set the tone. The pasta was perfectly al dente, and the seafood (shrimp, mussels, calamari) were fresh and succulent.
|The Salsiccia pie|
Naturally, the pizza is what motivated this return visit to La Porta. After our lunch there, (full review here) I noted "The crust was an absolute delight [with] some characteristics of a Neapolitan crust, but firm and crisp like a Trenton/Brooklyn slice. That crust was magical. Everything that topped that crust was a premiere ingredient, applied judiciously, and all in harmony." I was able to sample several different pies from lunch companions, and added "Everything I tried was wonderfully balanced; that sublime crust with a mix of tomato, cheese, and other savory toppings. This pie is art, the work of a great craftsman."
|Salsiccia slice, side view|
My sausage pie came out and looked beautiful, but as I pulled out the first slice, I was dismayed by its wet and soupy center. The first bite of each slice required knife and fork, because the crust was saturated by the excess moisture from the sauce and the fresh mozzarella. The pie improved with each bite closer to the cornicione. The fennel sausage was terrific, and the rosemary was a bold touch. Near the outer edge, the crust (with terrific char on the bottom) was again magical, with crunchy/chewy air pockets covered with delicious plum tomato sauce and cheese.
|Great pie, soupy center|
What went wrong? I don't think it was undercooked, because the underside and the edge were perfect. The problem, I'd say, is too much of the wet ingredients (sauce and cheese), especially in the center of the pie. It's heresy, but the more I eat fresh mozzarella on pizza, the more I appreciate the regular old dry stuff.
|Beautiful char underneath|
As before, the ambiance at La Porta was delightful; it's a cozy and comfortable space, with a casual rustic elegance. Service was again excellent. The pasta was superb, and the best $15 dish you can get this side of Italy. The decadent Dutch Fries were other-worldly. If you can occasionally embrace the "damn the calories" approach, be sure to try. The pizza, though flawed, was still wonderful and still the best in the western burbs. I'm wishing now that I had a slice left over. We'll be back, and often.