Gabriele and I don’t go out for Italian that often, like some of you I’ll bet. Gabriele cooks it well at home, and a lot of so-called Italian food in restaurants just isn’t that good. When we go out, we usually are after something different. I can report that La Strada in Del Ray is working hard to refute that thinking, and is very much worth the trip.
We’re in Del Ray quite often but had not checked out La Strada until last night. It had some good buzz online, with some very good reviews on Yelp. A little research revealed a family operation that seemed to be doing things the right way — everything made in house, experienced chef, decent sized wine list for a small place. And maybe most promising of all, a wine room (enoteca) in front of the house.
The place was still busy when we got there a little before nine, and we were seated quickly. Gabe and I both like Barberas, which are often very under-represented on wine lists. La Strada had two, but strangely they were both identified as being made from Nebbiolo grapes, which is incorrect. Barbera is a grape varietal. I pointed this out to the proprietor, who told me No, Barbera is a region, Nebbiolo the grape.
Hmm… that’s incorrect, and especially surprising to hear at an Italian restaurant. But I decided to hold my tongue, assisted by my wife kicking me under the table. Arguing with the owner is no way to start off the evening. I’m so glad I didn’t, because that was the last off note of the meal. The waiter was experienced and pleasant, and La Strada offers most of its wine by the glass as well as bottle. So we asked for a taste of one of the Barberas, and a Super Tuscan.
The Barbera was a clear winner. It was a 2008 Damilano Barbera d’Asti, a delicious choice. It had strong cherry dominant fruit and seemed a bit “bigger” than most Barberas, and without excessive acidity. It was also smoother, with a pleasant finish on the palate. It’s incorrectly identified on the menu as a d’Alba, in case you want to try it out. I’ve found prices ranging from $15 — $19 online, and La Strada sells it for $43. That’s a steep markup, but we enjoyed the wine very much.
The wine was also a great complement to our food. We started with excellent mussels and an extremely flavorful white bean and tuna salad. Next time we visit I’ll order the salad in the “famiglia” size, which you can do for most items — it was fantastic.
So were the entrees — Ossobuco for me, and a pork tenderloin wrapped in pancetta over rapini and lightly mashed potatoes for Gabriele. The menu said the tenderloin won an award in a Del Ray 2008 cook-off, and we don’t doubt it. The Ossobuco was tender with not too much fat and the risotto was delicious as well.
The decor is warm and intimate and La Strada is clearly a favorite with the Del Ray locals. It provides the charm of a neighborhood place without sacrificing service or dumbing down the food. Give it a try next time you think, “hey, it’s been a long time since we went out for Italian.”
UPDATE — went again for dinner Saturday 3/27. Nice meal, although my folks recommend you stay away from the fried seafood appetizer — chewy, and nothing special. The pork tenderloin still is the star entree.
The waiter told us about a new Barbera not yet on the list, and that helped make the night. It was a 2007 Paitin “Serra” Barbera d’ Alba. I like it as much as the Damilano we had a couple of months ago, but it was different. It had plenty of nice fruit but was less fruit forward, with other tastes as well, a strong twang and a lingering finish. It was a bit heavier in texture than the Damilano, medium body with hints of licorice and pepper. Good value as well at $40.
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