Casual. Elegant. Authentic. Italian. |

Casual. Elegant. Authentic. Italian.

David L'Heureux
Shane Macomber/Vail DailyLa Scala's founding members from left are Jen Rizza, general manager and co-owner; Raoul Mejia, co-owner and chef; David Canpbell, executive chef and Mike Morrissey, front of the house specialist. La Scala serves rustic Italian food downvalley in Eagle.

When you walk into La Scala Ristorante Italiano in Eagle, owners Jen Rizza and Raoul Mejia want you to feel as though you are walking into their home.Truly, the warm lush reds and browns on the walls, and natural tile floors by the kitchen, have a soothing effect, instantly making customers feel welcome. The elegant, yet comfortable and cozy interior, and the salivating smells emanating from the kitchen, belie one of the most inviting aspects of this new addition to the downvalley dining scene – the affordable prices.”We live here all the time, and so do a lot of other locals,” said General Manager and Co-owner Jen Rizza. “We just wanted to offer a comfortable, elegant locals restaurant with great food, where people could go out and eat and not have it break the bank.” That concept comes through in the food, which co-owner and chef Raoul Mejia describes as “casual, elegant, authentic, Italian.””What we are trying to put out is simple, Italian rustic food,” said Mejia. “Most dishes don’t have more than five or six ingredients in them. When we present the food to the customer there isn’t an air of pretension about it.”Restaurant peopleInside the doors of La Scala resides almost 60 years of restaurant experience, mostly in Eagle County. A list of the restaurants in the valley, in which this staff has worked, contains the names of some of the finest eateries in all of Vail and Beaver Creek.Mejia’s culinary background has a strong Italian theme to it. Since moving to Vail in 1997, he has worked at restaurants like the Wildflower, Zino and the Left Bank. His love of Italian cooking was furthered when he went to Italy for a stage – a three-month internship with a native Italian chef – to learn from the best.”I lived at the chef’s house, I didn’t pay rent, and he didn’t pay me,” said Mejia. “So, it was free labor for him in exchange for me gaining his knowledge. It was a really good cooking experience, I learned to cook in volume.”His counterpart in the kitchen is a lifetime chef, as well. Dave Campbell, La Scala’s executive chef, has worked at the Golden Eagle, Xino, Tramonti and Larkspur to name a few. The Gypsum resident came to the area in 1990 after graduating from Johnson and Wales in Providence, R.I., and knew instantly this was where he wanted to be.”My second to last tri-mester I did an externship at the Hyatt in Beaver Creek,” said Campbell. “I saw how great the lifestyle was out here, and that I could make a living as a chef here.”

About taking his trade downvalley, Campbell said he is excited for several reasons.”I’ll get a chance to make some of the high quality food like I would have been doing in Vail,” said Campbell. “But it will be nice to bring it to the downvalley community. I’m also closer to home and my family.”Rizza is a self-admitted “front of the house person.” Her experiences include stints at the Wildflower and Balata in Singletree. When she and Mejia saw the Capitol Street location, something clicked.”We came to look for a house,” said Rizza, who is originally from Connecticut. “Then we saw there was commercial space in Eagle Ranch. When we saw this place we knew right away, we just looked at each other and said ‘that’s it.'”To add an extra level of professionalism and service to the staff, Rizza enlisted the help of former Sweet Basil server and host Mike Morrissey. “We have a good groundwork between the four of us with all of our experience,” said Rizza. “Thing’s have gone really well so far.”What to eatThe extensive experience of La Scala’s kitchen staff is evident from the minute you begin eating.From the salads and appetizers to the entrees and desserts, the quality and presentation of the food are beyond reproach. The food looks great when it comes out, and tastes even better on the way down.”I think what Raoul and I both strive for is that we want to make food that’s simple, but in making it simple, making it very good,” said Campbell. “We’re making sure that everything that comes out of the window is 100 percent great.”La Scala’s list of salads is short but effective. They offer a basic mixed greens, or a Caesar. There is also an amazing Pomodori e Mozzarella, featuring vine-ripened tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, watercress and kalamata olives, with a balsamic reduction.A taste of any of La Scala’s starters serves first notice that gastronomic bliss is not far off. Among the tasty dishes to help begin your meal are the Cozze con Peperoni, a steamed-mussel appetizer, served with sweet Italian sausage, peperonata over bruschetta, all in a saffron broth. Other savory beginnings are the grilled eggplant rolled with provolone and ricotta in a tomato-basil sauce, or the Carpaccio – thinly-sliced beef, with arugula, lemon vinaigrette, shaved parmesan, crispy capers and truffle oil.

“With the salads and starters we were trying to keep it simple, but also have something for everyone,” said Mejia.That concept continues with the entrees La Scala offers. In the mood for something traditional like an alfredo or meat sauce? Try the Salsa Alfredo with chicken, or the Campanelle alle Bolognese. Is it a seafood night? Then perhaps the Frutti di Mare – shrimp, scallops, and calamari in a garlic tomato sauce – might be fitting. Other popular items include the Saltimbocca, a veal dish served with prosciutto and fontina over a spaghetti-and-white-wine butter sauce; or the hearty Osso Buco d’Angello, a braised lamb shank plated with saffron risotto, summer vegetables and gremolata.”I think we are on the verge of changing the level of what’s expected when you go out to eat in Eagle,” said Campbell.The dessert menu is highlighted by the flourless chocolate torte, served with balsamic-macerated strawberries. The Tiramisu is another excellent option post-meal. La Scala’s version of the traditional Italian dessert is served with espresso and brandy-dipped lady fingers in a mascarpone cream sauce. La Scala also has an extensive, and affordable, wine list – featuring carafes, and half-carafes – making it possible to enjoy your favorite libation along with the multiple courses.”We wanted to give people a value if they were having wine,” said Mejia. “That’s why we went with the carafes and half carafes. We wanted people to get the feeling of having a nice house wine the way they would serve it in Italy.”Like any great restaurant, La Scala changes its menu seasonally. “We will add a lamb dish for the winter, and the chicken may change to a caciatore,” said Campbell. “It will just be heartier stuff for the winter. Then in the spring we will lighten it up a little.”The chefs will also add a calamari and rock shrimp appetizer, with caper aioli and spicy marinara, and a pork chop, with sautéed spinach and roasted potatoes. Lunch and jazz nightIn addition to being open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday, from 5:30 -10 p.m., La Scala also offers lunch Tuesday through Friday, from 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.The lunch menu has a few sandwiches, not found on the dinner menu. There’s a traditional meatball sub, the Polpeto, and a delicious veggie sandwich served on focaccia, the Verdure. Half orders of pasta dishes are also on the menu for lunch, along with all the soups and salads.

Thursday night is jazz night at La Scala, if you are looking for a little background music to go with your meal. The featured performers are area artists, who change from week to week. The bar also offers $5 martinis all night on Thursday.Artists of a different kind grace the walls of La Scala’s interior. The photographs are on consignment from local photographer Andrea Moore, and the paintings hanging in the restaurant were done by Robin Nash.”We had so much help opening this place,” said Mejia. “We wanted to give back and help some locals with what they were doing.”Rizza and Mejia were also quick to thank architect Glenn Harakal, interior designer Shelly Miller, and developers Jennings Wright and Henry Reed of Wright and Co. for their efforts in getting the doors of La Scala open.For more information, reservations, or to book group parties or functions, call (970) 337-7733.Eagle Valley Enterprise reporter David G. L’Heureux can be reached at (970) 328-6656 ext. 2804, or Colorado

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