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Old World charm found in La Taverna on Silverado

La Taverna is one of the smallest restaurants in town, with a cozy interior that holds only a few tables and a small sidewalk patio that accommodates diners at long picnic tables. However, when it comes to the quality of the cuisine, La Taverna reaches epic proportions.

That’s the reason this neighborhood eatery is so popular.

The restaurant serves classic Italian food with a strong Tuscan influence. The Tuscan influence is also present in the delightful decor. The walls feature beautiful murals and painted windows. There’s even a wrought-iron balcony on one window, which welcomes diners to the restaurant.

Owner/chef Mary Ann Vitale has created a wonderful menu of lunch and dinner favorites, based on fresh products, imported cheeses, prosciutto and pastas and her own intimate knowledge of fine Italian cuisine.

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Chef Vitale’s house specials are among the most sought-after dishes on the local culinary landscape. The parmesan-crusted breast of chicken ($18.95), for example, is the only chicken preparation some diners ever order. Unlike many chicken recipes, this one comes out crisp on the outside and juicy and tender on the inside.

The parmesan-crusted breast of chicken owes its distinctive flavor to the bread crumb and parmesan cheese crust. The thick chicken breast is baked and topped with a lemon shallot sauce and, if that isn’t enough to get your juices going, try the garlic smashed potatoes and vegetables that accompany the dish.

The pastas are as exciting as any you’ll find this side of Italy. The eggplant stack ($15.95) is just one of the enticing pasta preparations you’ll find irresistible. It features a mound of spaghetti tossed with fresh cut Roma tomatoes, basil and extra virgin olive oil. High atop the pile of pasta is a stack of grilled eggplant with imported goat cheese. What a wonderful dish.

You can add the house-made sausage to any of the pastas or enjoy it on the side. Sauteed spinach ($4.95) is another great side dish to complement your pasta, but the portions are so huge, you really don’t need anything else, especially if you indulge in one of the marvelous starters.

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There are 10 pasta selections on the menu, including the pennette alla vodka ($13.95), which gets a touch of cream, red chili pepper flakes and vodka tossed into the fresh marinara sauce. This is definitely a must for pasta lovers.

If you like more protein in your pasta, try the salmon fettuccine ($18.95) made with fresh salmon and mushrooms or the shrimp scampi ($19.95), a mix of large Mexican white shrimp and thin spaghetti tossed in white wine and Italian parsley.

The restaurant also offers about three daily specials, and the Acqua Panna from the hills of Tuscany is one of many excellent beverages served at this popular dining spot.

A standout among the salad offerings is the caprese with prosciutto di parma ($10.95). It consists of basil, tomato, fresh mozzarella, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, paired with a very fine imported prosciutto. Enjoy that with the fresh baked bread for a great starter.

La Taverna serves lunch Tuesday through Friday, and it even has a quick pick-up number for to-go orders. Many diners take advantage of the pick-up service and take food back to the office or to their homes.

Among the great lunch items is a large assortment of pastas, even more than you’ll find on the dinner menu. Included on this menu is old New York spaghetti and meatballs ($8.95), gnocchi pomodoro ($8.95) and pasta primavera ($8.95).

Several hand-tossed 10-inch pizzas show up on this menu. For $8, you can select one topping for your pie, and for another $.50, you can add another topping. The list of choices includes chicken, gorgonzola, eggplant, olives and broccoli. There are more than a dozen toppings available.

There are also several salads available for lunch, and the beverage list includes cappuccino, beer and wine by the glass. The dinner menu features a more extensive wine list.

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Chef Vitale opened a deli market a few blocks away, which offers party planners a wide assortment of prepared foods and gourmet ingredients for home cookery. That keeps the chef busy, but not too busy to see that every detail of your dining experience is outstanding.

La Taverna Restaurant is at 927 Silverado St. Call (858) 454-0100.