Osteria Romantica in La Jolla is for lovers of home-cooked Italian dishes … and life
By Daniel K. Lew
In Italy, osterias are gathering places for people in small towns and city suburbs to enjoy local comfort food in a neighborly setting. In La Jolla, restaurateurs Fabio Speziali and Antonio Mastellone aim to recreate that atmosphere at Osteria Romantica. The La Jolla Shores restaurant offers plenty of traditional Italian dishes along with Italian-American favorites in a very sweet setting. “We want this to be a place for everybody — young and old, rich and poor,” Speziali said. “Not too fancy, but still nice and romantic, and most importantly with very good food.”
Osteria Romantica has a bright, open and airy feel. The walls around dining areas consist of several glass-and-wood-framed doors that serve as giant windows, often swung open to allow in ocean breezes from La Jolla Shores Beach. Alfresco dining is available on a patio and along the sidewalk for a European vibe.
Walls are decorated with vintage photos, decorative plates, cooking utensils and garden-watering pots to create a rustic feel for guests seated around intimate-sized tables covered with green-checkered tablecloths.
The menu features “tour of Italy” selections since Speziali hails from Lake Como, and Mastellone grew up in Naples. In offering home-style cooking with some family recipes, Speziali said the kitchen staff makes minimal food preparation in advance.
“We try to do everything on the spot; we try to put together everything after you order,” he said. “There is nothing ready except for those items that have to be pre-made. We don’t prepare all the sauces ahead of time, everything is fresh made — that gives it a different taste and makes a difference.”
Osteria Romantica also makes its own egg pastas, such as gnocchi, lasagna and ravioli. Ravioli is stuffed with choices of ricotta cheese, Portobello mushroom, salmon or lobster, and different sauces. Seasonal ravioli includes pumpkin filling with sage butter. For a gourmet twist, Speziali suggests the Mezzelune Allaragista: Half-moon shaped ravioli filled with lobster in a saffron sauce.
For starters, Speziali recommends Calamari Fritti, deep-fried calamari and zucchini served with warm marinara sauce, or the artichoke with stem sautéed with garlic and parsley in olive oil.
One of the gourmet salads, big enough to share, is the Insalata D’Anatra with smoked duck breast placed over warm spinach with pine nuts, raisins and balsamic vinaigrette.
Traditional gnocchi can be served as an appetizer or main course. Gnocchi Gratinati has the homemade potato dumplings smothered with a Parmesan cream sauce and finished in the broiler for a light crust. Gnocchi Puttanesca is served as an entree with capers and olives in a tomato sauce alongside an arugula and bay shrimp salad.
Speziali especially recommends the Pappardelle (pasta with braised lamb, mix mushrooms, olives and rosemary in a brandy sauce); Strozzapreti (pasta with sausage, porcini mushroom in marinara with a touch of cream); and Pork Ossobuco (braised pork shank).
Those with a love of seafood should try Grigliata Di Pesce (mixed grilled fish marinated in olive oil, lemon and pepper), or Salmone Ripieno (salmon filet stuffed with crab, bay shrimp and scallop with a curry sauce).
Authentic-style dishes featuring rabbit, squid-ink pasta, and a variety of seafood are highlights on the specials menu.
As an essential part of Italian culture, Osteria Romantica offers wines from Italy and other countries, along with specialty liqueur, and Italian after-dinner drinks. Every Tuesday is Wine Night with half-off bottles (not valid for large groups and maximum of two bottles per table).
For dessert, meals can be rounded out with daily-made Strawberry or Neapolitan Tiramisu.
• Address: 2151 Avenida de la Playa, La Jolla
• Phone: (858) 551-1221
• Website: www.osteriaromantica.com
• The Vibe: Casual, comfortable, rustic, romantic
• Signature Dishes: Ravioli, duck salad, fried calamari, gnocchi, grilled fish
• Open since: 2004
• Reservations: Yes
• Patio Seating: Yes
• Take Out: Yes
• Happy Hour: Half-price bottles of wine Tuesdays
• Lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. weekdays
• Dinner: 5-10 p.m. weekdays; 5-11 p.m. weekends
On The Menu Recipe:
Each week you’ll find a recipe from the featured restaurant online at lajollalight.com. Just click Get The Recipe at the bottom of the story.
This week: Osteria Romantica’s Espresso Martini
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