Friday, January 11, 2013

From Scratch Italian Bistro Restaurant Review

Cuisine type: I would classify the menu as Italian/Canadian

Located at:
From Scratch Italian Bistro on Urbanspoon677B South Railway Street
Medicine Hat, AB
Phone: (403)526-5661
11:30am - 2:00pm and 5:00pm - 9:00pm Tuesday - Saturday
Reservations welcomed
Gluten free menu options available upon request

I was invited to join some friends for supper at the From Scratch Italian Bistro.  I had never been there before, and had heard mixed reviews of the place, so I was eager to give it a try.

First impressions:
To me it seems like an odd location to have a restaurant, and the outward appearance of the building gives the impression that it would be a lunch-counter style establishment, serving the local businesses on South Railway and Kingsway. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the decor when I entered.  It was warm and welcoming, much more upscale than I would have expected.  There was a stage at one end of the restaurant for live music, although there was none that night.  I did feel that the decor lacked cohesion however.  The lighting and decorative touches felt higher end, but the musical icon wall mural seemed like it belonged in a fifties diner; and the mismatched tables & chairs and menus printed on legal size paper and distributed on cheap utilitarian hardboard clipboards felt temporary and "make-do".

Parking - There is angle parking available alongside the building.

The Food
Left: balsamic vinegar & oil, Right: olives & peppers
On the table were placed two small serving dishes that held a few large, stuffed olives and spicy peppers.  I checked quickly when they were first set down on the table and saw that there was one olive for each person at the table.  After that we were brought baskets of bread sticks, which I'm assuming were homemade, and bowls of oil and balsamic vinegar.  Again, there were as many breadsticks as there were people at the table. I was excited to try the bread, as I was extremely hungry by this time (I'll get to that in the Service section of this review), but was disappointed that it wasn't warmed. Attention to this small detail would have made a big difference, as would even a partial refill on the bread basket when it was empty.  To put it bluntly, they were parsimonious with the free starters, which would be excusable if the entrees were more reasonably priced, but considering the high entree cost, they could have been more generous.

Typically, when eating out, I order things that I wouldn't/can't make for myself at home.  My family is not a huge fan of lemon flavoured foods, so I decided to order the lemon shrimp pasta with cream sauce (it had another, far fancier name on the menu, but I forgot to write it down, so you'll have to settle for what I've called it).  Firstly I'll say that the pasta was divine.  I've made my own pasta before and it can be a tricky business; getting the thickness right, drying it just enough before cooking, and not over-cooking it.  This fresh-made pasta was tender, but not mushy.  The shrimp were cooked perfectly as well, which is harder than you would think. Shrimp cooks so quickly that if you aren't paying attention, you'll be left with an end product that's dry, rubbery and tough. The only two faults I could find with this dish were it's lack of seasoning, and the fact that rather than using a microplane to zest the lemon, they must have used a large sized grater.  The pieces of lemon in the pasta sauce were too big and hard for how delicate the dish was. Using a large grater also meant that the pieces of lemon peel included pith, which is never palatable as pith is bitter and generally not used in cooking.  The lack of seasoning was easily remedied with salt and pepper, but I kept biting into lemon peel where there should only have been lemon zest.

I found the portion size to be more than adequate, and I ended up taking about a quarter of it home with me.  Some of my dinner companion's meals looked a bit skimpy, while others ended the night like me, with a take-home container.  I would suggest that you ask the server about the portion size when ordering, so as to not be surprised when your order arrives.

I found the prices high.  Perhaps if you don't cook at home very often and are looking for a meal that has been made "from scratch", you won't mind paying the higher prices.  The reality though is that I cook from scratch almost daily, so it's not a novelty to me.  My entree was $22, which seemed a bit overpriced, and it was even one of the less expensive options on the menu. If I were to choose a price that I felt was appropriate, I would say that $18 would have been closer to the mark for this entree.

Service is an area that could use some work.  When we were arrived, there were another two groups in the restaurant, one large, about 14-16 people, and one small, just two women and a baby. The women and baby left shortly after we arrived.  We were seated immediately, but then waited without service other than our initial drink order being brought, while the servers focused on serving the large party the rest of their meal and dessert which was prepared table-side.  It didn't seem like our service and meal preparation began in earnest until that party had left.  I would like to point out that we had a reservation, and undoubtedly, a group as large as the other one would have had a reservation as well, particularly on a Saturday night.  So if the issue was having enough hands in the kitchen, they should have known in advance and made sure that there were enough people available to prepare & serve in a timely manner.  Our reservation was for 6:30pm and we weren't served our meal until at least 8pm, possibly closer to 8:30pm.  So you can see why I was desperate for more breadsticks.  The service was good once our food arrived, but getting your food in a timely manner is probably most people's main concern when it comes to service.

Personally, I would give this restaurant a pass, as I found the service slow, and the food, while delicious, to be overpriced.

UPDATE: Typically I don't respond to negative comments on my blog, but it has come to my attention that I misquoted the price of the entree I reviewed and I wanted to make sure that I am as accurate and truthful as possible in all things that I talk about on here.  I distinctly remember leaving a tip at the table when we left, so I assumed that the price on my receipt was the entree cost + GST (I'm not so great at math).  However, I must have felt that the amount of tip that I left at the table wasn't sufficient (I don't often carry cash), so I must have added an additional tip when I paid at the till as well, hence the confusion on entree price (and no, the amount wouldn't have included drinks as I only had water to drink). My till receipt was for $22.80.  My sincerest apologies for any misrepresentation on the entree price, which is apparently actually $19.  However, I fully stand behind the rest of my review without apology.


  1. Dear Alison,

    After reading your review I felt that I wanted to respond to it. I am unsure why you would have spent such a large amount of time detailing all of the faults you found at From Scratch.

    First let me point out that you are not reviewing a multimillion dollar chain. You are talking about the personal aspirations of a sole proprietor, China Laughlin. Your comments offend me as you obviously have no idea about what it takes to run a business. People like you with your flighty reviews are exactly the venom and bad taste typical of someone who is willing to freely give their opinion, irregardless of the impact on a very hardworking, passionate, lovely person.

    Chins singlehandedly prepares all of the food. She also all alone with very little money opened a treasure with the help of a few friends that love her. How can your so easily judge the decor and not just love the eclectic feel? Can you paint beautiful murals? Do you know that each of the musical artists represented are the inspiration to China? Do you operate a design company? Do you have any idea how hard it is for any business to find awesome staff? And why would you complain about pricing? Go to a chain and pay the same price with no accompaniments and prepared form a prepared frozen state. Or perhaps, stay home! You mentioned how great of a cook you are. And I am sure you love the decor of your home.

    Also you misrepresented the price of the Lemon Shrimp linguine. You quoted $22.00. It is in fact $19.00 including accompaniments and HOME MADE BREAD! I certainly truly hope you never come to my personal business and critique it on your blog. I am sure that my 25 years of epertise would also fall short to your demands even though it is the top of it's game in Medicine Hat.

    Next time you blog try to research a little more who you would like to trash. China is one of the most lovely, hardworking, and beautiful people I have ever had the pleasure to share life with. It disturbs me that people are so easy to judge those they have no idea about. China has created an amzing place with no backing or finances. I commend her achievement!

  2. Hey Anonymous,

    Perhaps you should read the blog above for what it is... A personal account of one persons experience.

    She did not once attack the proprietor but provided her opinion on the decor, food and service.

    We are all entitled to opinion, and I'm sure the staff at the restaurant lived a different reality that night than the author, but she shares her experience on HER blog. If you don't like it, don't read it.

    A mind of my own.

  3. How unfortunate to find business proprietors with so little understanding of customer service. Any business owner should know better than to go on the defensive like that when their establishment is reviewed. And to pick on the misquoted price just shows that they just don't "get" it.

    To invalidate the experience and opinions of a customer like this is possibly the biggest mistake a small business can make.

    It is not only inappropriate, it makes me think a lot less of that particular place.

    I too have had a negative experience at From Scratch and have no plans to return there.

    I am sorry you received such a crummy response to your review, Alison. I believe this will turn out to be one of those cases where ANONYMOUS will quickly find out that it would have been much better to adhere to the old proverb of "silence is golden". Or better yet, an apology and an offer for another visit to remedy the negative experience.

    1. The business proprietor here is China and she has not written about Alison's blog. That is me. So don't accuse her of having "so little understanding of customer service". Also if you or Alison gave her the OPPORTUNITY to handle your concerns she would have given you the care you deserve as a customer. You say "silence is golden" but you limit it to business people and feel that you and Alison should have a loud voice even though you don't even have some of the basic facts right. Alsion quotes her Lemon Shrimp Pasta at a price of $22.00. It is in reality $19.00. She then suggests a "better" price would be $19.00. So is she arguing over $1.00 and a mural she doesn't find appealing?

    2. Thank you for showing us what kind of friends China has. I would have given the restaurant a try even after reading the review but you alone caused me to rethink that. Customers have the right to voice their experience and if you don't like what they say, too bad. Use it to improve your business - at least you don't have to pay for mystery shoppers. A customer's visit IS your opportunity to show them how it should be. If you screw up, that's your own fault and not the customer's. Thanks for helping me decide that this place is not deserving of my hard earned money. I'm sure your friend is also going to thank you for screwing her over by opening your flap.

  4. Welcome to Medicine Hat, where people find it personally offensive if you don't appreciate a business because it's locally owned. Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing and I wish more people would take the time to give honest opinions instead of the sugar coated BS that gets spread around. I would have still given this restaurant a shot based on your review Alison, but thanks to "Anonymous" getting so butt hurt over the review I plan on avoiding the place based on association with such a small minded individual until an apology is presented.

  5. I am with Justin here.. I would have taken the review with a grain of salt and still allowed my own personal experience to guide my opinion. Thanks to China's personal friend who claims to have 25 years of great service within our city, I won't even allow this place a chance until an apology is issued. For the poster - I suggest you take management and social media classes - both skills you seem to lack. I'm sure China will be glad to know her own friend tarnished her business name worse than this review ever could have.

  6. From divine pasta (Alison's words, not mine) to venom being hurled by a friend of the restaurants owner; 'With friends like these'

    As a friendly FYI towards 'Anonymous Friend of From Scratch' (and anyone else reading) - in the future i would encourage you to take a blog post as that 'opportunity to handle your concerns' you request/suggest (most business owners beg for feedback, positive & negative, as all can lead towards positive growth and change in the business). If you truly care for your friends business, and you sound like you do, pass the concern on to be addressed. That's what most honest, hardworking entrepreneurs would appreciate. Not this show of defensive indignation that pushes people away. From Scratch could WOW people with her passion and confidence in her business by responding with empathy instead of this knee jerk response of insulting people for sharing their opinions. #stayhome indeed.
    ~ jace

  7. I moved here two years ago and I don't understand why restaurant owners and managers here take reviews as a personal attack on their business instead of viewing the criticism as constructive and working harder to ensure the customer is satisfied.

  8. Owner is very bitchy. Food is great but customer service is sad. Someone in know worked there but couldn't handle it they loose all their good customer service people. Its a shame. I will never eat there again

  9. Wow, that kinda got hostel for what seemed a fair review. Which to me didn't come off as a negative so much as an honest.