La Jolla’s Osteria Romantica restaurant offers gourmet Italian dishes in a cozy atmosphere

The flavors and aromas of the Lake Como and Sorrento regions of Italy are alive and very well at Osteria Romantica Italian Restaurant in La Jolla Shores. Co-owners Fabio Speziali and Antonino Mastellone offer a menu featuring the best cuisine of both regions.

“We have both been around food all of our lives, so some of our dishes are inspired by my northern dishes and others by the southern region,” Speziali said.

Speziali met Mastellone when he worked for him as a waiter, and 15 years later the men teamed up to open Osteria Romantica, a cozy, Italian restaurant with regional cuisine that reflects their birthplace and provides ample charm from the Old Country.

The seasons influence the restaurant’s daily menu, but ravioli is always in season and remain a big favorite with diners — even though the ingredients may vary.

“Every day, we do small batches of different kinds of homemade ravioli, and in December, we’re still making a lot of pumpkin ravioli cooked in butter and sage sauce,” Speziali said.

With the cooler temperatures, diners seem to crave warm, nourishing dishes, including the popular Papparadelle (pasta with braised lamb sautéed in a mix of wild mushrooms, olives and rosemary in a brandy sauce).

“Where I come from, polenta (corn meal) mixed with blue cheese sauce and mushrooms is on every menu,” Speziali said. “And people use a lot of porcini mushrooms in their dishes, including risotto.”

Pork shank served with a combination of vegetables, port wine and a sauce of shitake and crimini mushrooms and spices is also a top choice at Osteria Romantica.

Salmone Ripieno (salmon stuffed with scallops, crab meat and spinach in a white sauce) tops the list of popular fish and seafood dishes.

The Gnocchineri — handmade potato squid-ink dumplings with a ground fish ragu of octopus, mussels, clams and a tomato sauce base — further makes for a flavorful dish for seafood lovers.

“Our artichokes (lightly sautéed with garlic, onion, parsley and basil in olive oil) are very tender and very popular right now,” Speziali said.

Top salad choices are D’Anatra (baby spinach with pine nuts, raisins and thinly sliced duck on top) and Romantica (a bespoke salad with spinach, red onions, figs, walnuts and gorgonzola).

Made-in-house dessert favorites are the classic tiramisu and napoleon mille feuille with fresh cream and strawberries.

There is a private room with seating for up to 40 people at the back of the restaurant. On Tuesday nights, bottled wine is half-off with the purchase of an entree.

• Osteria Romantica Italian Restaurant is at 2151 Avenida de la Playa in La Jolla Shores and open daily for lunch and dinner. (858) 551-1221.