For a number of years, I've been trying to get things going with dealers in La Crosse, WI. I had a great prospect that sort of petered out and died on the vine a couple years ago. However, I had a phone call from a dealer I'd called on for awhile in Onalaska, WI, a suburb of La Crosse, who was interested in our speaker line, Focal. I went up to see him earlier this year and I ended up taking him out to Ciatti's, an Italian restaurant in Onalaska (see map).
One of the reasons I like going to La Crosse is not only for the beautiful scenery in the area, but for the great restaurants in the town. After our meeting in La Crosse, I asked the dealer if he wanted to go out to dinner. He readily agreed and I told him, "Your choice. I know there's a ton of great restaurants in this town."
He said, "Ciatti's is a very good Italian restaurant just down the way. Do you like Italian?"
I said, "I love Italian, but I'm on a pretty strict diet, so no pasta."
The dealer replied, "Oh, well, we can go somewhere else."
I said back, "They'll have something on the menu that I can eat, that's for sure. Not all Italian food is pasta."
Pronounced "Chee-AH-tee's" - Ciatti's is part of a small chain of Italian restaurants owned by Superior Concepts, Inc. based out of the Twin Cities. There's also a Ciatti's in St. Cloud, MN, and a Chianti Grill in Burnsville, MN and Roseville, MN that have been under the Superior Concepts umbrella since 1997. The La Crosse location has become a favorite of many people in the area. The decor is very elegant and there is a certain classiness without a lot of pretentious attitude at Ciatti's.
It was around 7 p.m. when we were seated at a table at Ciatti's. We were handed our dinner menus and I took a look at the wine menu to see if there was anything that I couldn't live without for dinner.
The executive chef at Ciatti's/Chianti Grill, Angelo Montes, grew up in Sicily and brought years of experience cooking to the company. The food at Ciatti's is made from scratch relying upon the freshest ingredients and highest quality in their dishes. They make their pasta and breads in house each day.
The menu is wide and varied offering a number of exotic Italian dishes, as well as steaks, seafood and chicken dishes. I've been really good about staying away from pasta during my diet and Ciatti's had a number of items on their menu that were non-pasta dishes that I could choose from.
Before we got started, I ordered an appetizer that was Ciatti's version of a tomato caprese salad - the Mozzarella Caprese - which also came with prosciutto ham and homemade garlic crustini bread. I hadn't been eating much bread for a while, but I have to say that along with the caprese salad the bread was great.
On the wine list, I saw a 2005 Franciscan Cabernet that they had for about $45 bucks. I didn't think it was that bad of a price. In fact, they had a bottle of the Jordan 2006 Cabernet for $75 dollars. That was a great price for a Jordan Cabernet in a restaurant, but the deal hadn't been sealed with this guy yet. So I opted for the cheaper, but still very good, Franciscan Cab.
I was torn between getting Ciatti's beef tenderloin filet, as I read where they age their steaks for four weeks before serving them, or a veal dish. They had a great sounding Veal Marsala, as well as a Veal Sorrento - medallions of veal topped with capers, mushrooms, tomatoes and served in a white wine/lemon cream sauce. I wasn't too certain how heavy the cream sauce would be, so I asked our waiter. He said, "Oh, it's very light. In fact, I don't know why they call it a cream sauce because it's a lot more of a lemon/wine sauce than it is a cream sauce."
And almost as soon as I was getting ready to order the Veal Sorrento, I saw the bacon-wrapped scallops on the menu. I deferred to my dealer guest while I tried to make up my mind. My guest didn't even flinch when he ordered, "Lobster ravioli with the balsamic/gorgonzola dressing on my salad."
The lobster ravioli did sound good - five large ravioli pillows stuffed with real lobster meat and topped with asparagus, tomatoes and lobster meat in a brandy cream sauce. Well, that didn't help me one bit. I wavered and finally ordered the Veal Sorrento. I also got a house salad with the balsamic/gorgonzola which came with a one dollar up charge.
My potential new dealer and I talked a little more business while we waited for our salads to show up. He was moving to a new location later in the spring that would give him a little more visibility in the market place. Up to now, he had been in a small retail/office area off the beaten path and he was running out of room. His new location would be on a well traveled street with some good visibility. I was excited for the chance to be able to sell him something.
The balsamic/gorgonzola salad was very good and somewhat filling. And that was OK with me. I've really been trying to watch my food intake on my diet and I knew the veal medallions wouldn't be all that big.
The dealer really liked the Franciscan Cabernet. He said, "I don't drink as much wine as I should. We have three kids and we hardly get a chance to go out to a nice restaurant like Ciatti's or Piggy's here in town. I may drink wine, maybe, two or three times a year. And that may be for an anniversary or special occasion, or when guys like you come to town and take me out to dinner. And that doesn't happen all that often since not a lot of reps travel to La Crosse these days."
Our dinner showed up not long after the salads were finished and I was right - the three veal medallions weren't all that big. But for the price - $17.99 - I thought it was very adequate. I've paid well over $20 bucks in much larger cities for basically the same size of veal medallions.
But they were also very good. VERY good. The waiter was right, the lemon/white wine cream sauce wasn't a heavy cream sauce. Along with the tomato chunks, capers and mushrooms, the taste sensation was very high.
My guest's lobster ravioli looked scrumptious. He said, "I get this every time I come to Ciatti's. I know they have a lot of other great things on the menu. But once I had this about three or four years ago for the first time, I just can't have anything else, it's so good. My wife gets mad at me when we come here because I won't even open the menu."
Based upon the crowd Ciatti's had on a Tuesday night, I'm guessing a lot of people liked the food they served. For a city like La Crosse, Ciatti's was the epitome of fine Italian dining. I was impressed with the place.
It wasn't overly cheap - about $120 with tax and tip for the meal. But a meal like that in the Twin Cities or Chicago would have been 20 to 30 percent more in cost. Like I said, I thought the Franciscan wine was priced very reasonably. And the entree prices weren't all that out of hand. Maybe I'm just used to paying big city prices and I get pleasantly surprised when I get great food at small town prices.
So far, I haven't been able to close this dealer on the product. But I'm trying because I want to get back up to La Crosse and Ciatti's at some point in the near future.