Wednesday, June 20th, 2012
The food, of course, is Italian, but focused around small plates and pizzas rather than the heartier pastas and entrees at his original restaurant. Design-wise, the big reveal is a large covered patio in back that’s big enough for a bocce court, 65 seats (including a large family table), a wood-fire pizza oven and food-prep “shack” and even a bar. Even locals familiar with the space in previous iterations gasped at the transformation. “I didn’t even know this space was back here,” was most often repeated. Inside are reclaimed fixtures, rough brick walls and cozy red banquettes.
On the menu, Cichetti (little bites), Forna A Legna (wood oven) and Antipasti (small plates). Best bet is to start at the top and work your way down the list, nibbling here and there and ordering as you go. Carried over from Scopa is Larry Pacini’s ciabatta bread and DCV EVOO ($3.50), which is exactly what ciabatta should be with a crackling crust and moist, chewy inside. Honey roasted carrots with coriander and bread crumbs ($6.50) are sweet, almost to a fault, but with each bite yield with a perfect texture.
Wood-oven pizzas are all the rage in Wine Country, and there are as many styles as there are Mugnaini ovens dotting the vineyards. Too often crusts get blistered and burnt, and carbon is only delicious on campfire marshmallows. Here, simple mushroom, sausage or Margheritas ($12.50 to $15.50) get the kiss of the oven without being smothered.
Small plates are made for sharing, and are mostly 6-8 bite portions. Best bets: Smooth chicken liver pate (served in a mason jar) with peach relish and grilled bread ($8.50); charred octopus with wild chicory and potatoes ($11.50) and yellowfin tuno crudo ($13.50) served with tangy yogurt, fennel, radishes and sea beans. If you’ve ever questioned dairy with fish, the spritz of lemon and spanking fresh flavors in this dish will realign that thinking. Picnic chicken, pan-fried light and dark cuts, was good, but failed to reach the heights of the rest of the menu.
The best desserts are simple affairs, a brilliant buttermilk panna cotta with crumbles of biscotti, torn basil and cherries or sliced Dry Creek peaches in zinfandel.
The wine list runs two pages, well-curated with ten by-the-glass sips and a full page of Sonoma County and Italian reds. Wine cocktails are beer are also available.
If there’s a complaint, it’s only perhaps that the outdoor chairs aren’t made for American derrieres, pinching and squeezing in all the wrong places. The patio can get boisterous with kids and families enjoying themselves–which is kind of the whole point of this uber-casual eatery. So if you’re looking for a quiet rendezvous, update your expectations.
Though the motto, “When you’re here, you’re family,” may belong to an Italian mega-chain that dreams of authenticity like Campo Fina, it certainly fits. So pull up a chair, grab a glass of chianti and manga, manga!
Open for dinner daily, beginning at 5:30pm. 330 Healdsburg Ave. at North St., Healdsburg, 707-395-4640.