Café Firenze
563 W. Los Angeles Ave., Moorpark
(805) 532-0048
Dinner for two $60-$100

Café Firenze in Moorpark is a happening spot. Actually, any place not defined as a family restaurant where you absolutely need to have a reservation is a happening place in Moorpark.

On approach, you can hear music being pumped to the handful of outside tables where those without the foresight to make a reservation on a Friday night are banished. But the music announces your entrance into the very appealing martini lounge in a way that magnifies the expectation of a spectacular dining experience. There was not an empty stool or couch in the lounge, mostly occupied by the eternally hip, wearing facial expressions of long-term residency in the bar. If they did stay, they were rewarded with a live band several hours later.

I know it was several hours because that was how long it took to have dinner. We arrived on time for our 7:30 p.m. reservation. Twenty minutes later we were seated in a booth right next to the kitchen.

The table was set with the barware of the moment, from the stemless wine glasses to the heavy bottomed martini glasses you see in so many catalogues. A server instantly appeared with bottles of designer water, which we waved away. Real water was harder to come by.

The list of martinis was creative and extensive, so we decided to try a couple even though they each cost nearly $10. The traditional martini, a bit heavy on the vermouth, arrived with a variety of add-ons handed over in a napkin. Our companion had a raspberry lemon drop martini. It was closer to a smoothie than a martini, but the recipient was delighted.

We were famished. Quite a bit later, we ordered our meals. The unremarkable bread basket appeared at our table simultaneously with our appetizers.

The chosen starters were excellent. They were presented on overly large white bent and squared platters.

The bruschetta was served with four different toppings: traditional tomatoes, mushrooms, artichokes and shrimp. One person raved about the artichokes, the other swore by the shrimp. I shared a prosciutto and melon plate. This deserves mention because the sugary cantaloupe slices were grilled, and, when coupled with the transparent prosciutto, the arugula and the soft mozzerella cheese, it was a heavenly moment in my mouth and brain.

The entrees arrived a full two hours after our reservation time. By then, the restaurant was half empty, which wasn’t all bad because, when fully occupied with well-lubricated martini drinkers, you can’t converse with anyone at your own table.

Again served on the massive platters, my companion who ordered the aged rib-eye steak said, “It was absolutely perfect.” Another ordered the bowtie pasta with smoked salmon and shrimp in a light tomato sauce. Not one morsel remained on her plate as she proclaimed, “There was salmon in every bite.”

My husband and I shared two dishes. First, the pasta was a plate of spinach and ricotta cheese dumplings in a mushroom sauce. Definitely the highlight of our meal, the dumplings were perfectly cooked and not mushy or dry. We also split the grilled fennel sausage with mashed potatoes. It was presented in a coil which my husband found off-putting. It was tasty but so salty that I could not get very far on my split portion.

The consensus at my table so far was to stick with the appetizers and pastas for a true Italian experience.

Then came dessert. We shared a ricotta cheesecake served warm and bread pudding with shaved chocolate. The cheesecake was voted the best darn cheesecake in the universe. The bread pudding was routine.

During this long experience, we had to beg several times to get water refills. The service was simply not good. When our meals did arrive, they were consistently and unappetizingly placed in front of the wrong diners. The table was rudely cleared before we finished eating that course. Granted, we spent some time chatting, but we did not exit the restaurant until nearly three hours later. The bill with gratuities came to nearly $50 a person. For that hunk of change, the service should be impeccable, not a clumsy afterthought.

This is a pricey and, yes, pretentious restaurant which caters to the trendy set whose spending habits harken back to better times. I was surprised that a Moorpark restaurant which shares a parking lot with Albertsons supermarket and Baskin-Robbins has become a destination for a demographic more likely to be seen in Malibu.