Monday, September 10, 2007

All'Italiana - La Mesa Ca

We must have driven past All'Italiana restaurant well over a thousand times in all the years that it has been in La Mesa and every time we did, we would say to ourselves, "We really need to go to this place". None of our friends had ever been and virtually no one we spoke to about it had been either. How can that be? in our own backyard an Italian restaurant that we had never been to? So it happened that on a Friday night we decided it was time to check it out. As we parked and walked to the eatery there seemed to be a large group of people eating and drinking and having a great time outside. So we opted for a more intimate table inside. This is a quaint little place and has the ambiance of eating in a home in the hills of Italy. it felt like we had indeed strolled into a small trattoria. Although really dark inside when the sun goes down. Very small only 6 or 7 tables and the room lined with shelves containing photos and knick knacks from Italy and it's surroundings. The shelves also served as the wine cellar as the very limited wine lists inventory was stored there on the shelves in the dining area as well. I believe there was only four offerings of wine on the list and all priced at $18.00 per bottle. we opted for a bottle of the Vestini, a Sangiovese from the Campania region of Italy. Very nice and light wine. Typical of the region and European wines on the whole. More about slight earth tones and regional mineral qualities and how they mix ever so subtly with the grape than about a bold fruit taste like and Aussie wine. I love both styles of wine making.

As we picked over the menu it became very clear that this place was a pasta house. No pizza and none of the classic red table clothed varieties of what you would expect. Chicken Parmigiana and Eggplant Parmigiana being the exception. All the rest are pasta dishes. OK. No problem I thought. But being Italian you know that it better be done right because chances are your family dog has had better left overs after a Sunday family get together than most places can make.

Very interesting dishes on the menu. I ordered the special of the evening, Which I thought very amusing to call it the special of the evening. And maybe after I tell you the origin you will get the humor as well. So I ordered up a batch of the Pasta Alla Puttanesca ($12.00) and for Sue, She had the most interesting dish on the menu. Pasta Alla Caruso ($15.45). First came out the salad and an order of the house specialty, A bowl of the Tomato Basil Bisque. The salad was journeyman in nature and was nice and fresh. The Bisque on the other hand came in a nice little bowl with dried basil around the rim like an Italian Margarita. I didn't care for it. It had a rather uninteresting tomato sauce taste. although pinkish in color letting you know this was a cream sauce the soup just had no distinct or robust tomato taste. Should have been bursting with concentrated tomato taste. The Garlic bread on the other hand was some of the finest we have ever had. The bread light and flaky with fresh garlic rubbed into every nook and cranny. and then butter slathered on. Awesome stuff.
The pasta dishes arrived. I dived into the Pasta Alla Puttanesca first. This is a dish that is normally served without cheese. But first let me tell you the back story on this dish. Pasta Alla Puttanesca literally means "Pasta the way a whore would make it". It seems that after WWII the brothels were state run in Italy and these lady civil servants were only allowed to go to the market once a week so they had to stock up on a lot of non perishables. And apparently back then you got a home cooked meal as well with your paid admission. Only the Italians. The recipe consists of the following items: Anchovies, capers, tomatoes, black olives, garlic, red peper flakes and maybe some basil or parsley chopped and thrown on top and of course your pasta of choice. This is one of those classic little seemingly easy to prepare dishes, that cause a lot of trouble for most cooks as the simple yet very powerful ingredients all try to vie for your taste buds attentions. So you have to learn to balance them out and to coach only the ones you want to be predominate to the forefront. This version was served with a perfectly cooked Linguine, nice and firm to the tooth. The Puttanesca sauce was very tasty but seemed to lack any anchovies or red pepper flakes. otherwise it was an excellent rendition of a dish you rarely see anymore on menus. Worth asking if they make it at your favorite Italian eatery.And speaking of dishes you rarely see on a menu comes next, Pasta Alla Caruso. A favorite of that classic voiced opera singer and named for him as well, Enrico Caruso. I cannot remember the last time I saw this dish on a menu. Done well it can be sublime and like a good tenor, it's culinary voice can either be on or off. It's made with mushrooms and chicken livers all blended together in a red wine reduction sauce and tomatoes and when done has this rich and velvety brown creamy sauce that just wraps itself around the pasta and your tongue like a kid holding onto a carousel pony for the first time. This version at All'Italian was spectacular and one of my favorite pasta dishes anywhere and can possibly be the best pasta dish in San Diego! It was that good. the chicken livers just melt into the sauce and they're taste mellows. The mushrooms are usually crimini and have that nice and slight woodsy flavor. This dish was pure heaven.
The owners of this quaint little eatery open and close when they feel like it. Very European feel and just very nice people here. If you are in the mood for some very tasty non run of the mill pasta. You really should try this place out.


8356 Allison Avenue
La Mesa, CA 91941




Anonymous said...

I went there with my husband about 7 mo ago and I had the clam sauce. Worst clam sauce I have ever had, the sauce literally looked like, well, boogers. I found the decor more depressing and dusty, the night we went we were the only people in there. Obviously it must be inconsistent, but I am willing to try it again to see if it has improved.

Anonymous said...

I completely disagree with your assesment on the tomato basil bisque. I went there not even a month ago and I am craving this tasty soup all over again. To me, it was bursting with flavors and the texture was unimaginable. I think you should give it another shot - this time dip a little bit of that delicoius garlic bread! :)

Blinddog said...

I have not visited All'Italiana in about a year but I have got to agree with the previous comment, I LOVED the soup! As a rule I don't like tomato soup in any form but the tomato bisque is wonderful and has me wondering why I have not stopped by more often. Then of course I remember, I have, twice, and they have not been open. This is not a criticism, just a statement of fact. Since I'm local it's not a big problem since there are many other fine restaurants in the area but make a phone call first if you are coming in from across town.

The reviewer is correct, if you want pasta, this is the place for you. Sorry, it's been a while so I can't remember exactly what I ordered but I do remember that both of the pasta dishes that I have had there have been very good, as well as the dishes ordered by my guest that I also sampled. I'm hoping to get back there this weekend for Valentines day so I'll see how the menu is holding up. Good food, nice QUIET atmosphere, attentive service, and one of the most interesting pasta selections that I have ever seen.

Regarding the previous clam sauce "booger" comment. Not to flame you but, uh, have you ever SEEN a clam? I hate to break this to you but clams in general rather resemble "boogers" inherently. How did it taste? Did it taste like "boogers"? Was it too fishy, to salty, without flavor, or did it just look like "booger" pasta? I just wish there was an indication as to what was wrong with the taste so that I don't have to order it myself to find out. Now I may have to order up a portion of "booger" pasta this weekend just to satisfy my curiosity.

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