So where do you go out to eat Italian food?
Sometimes someone will ask me that.
I’m usually stumped. I don’t often eat out “Italian.” I’ve got a kitchen-full of Italian food and students coming over to cook it with me! So when I go out you’ll find me at a Japanese, Indian, Middle Eastern, Greek, or Chinese restaurant. A pub/sports bar or a meat n’ 3. A place with a Southern/or Southern re-invention menu. A bakery. A casual American joint.
BUT. I do occasionally get the urge to eat out “Italian.” Usually when I’m hanging with my mom and sister. We each have geiger-counter-style Italian palates that act like false-o meters. The food has got to have the right taste (even if it’s not the sauce you would make at home) — it’s gotta be in the proper “realm” — it has to hit the true Italian “note.”
One place we can rely on is Caffe Nonna in Sylvan Park.
We were there recently and hadn’t been for more than year. One of the waiters recognized us as soon as we walked in and welcomed us as if we were regulars. “Good to see you again! It’s been a while!”
The place is tiny. And full of people. The lighting glows intimately. The room hugs you with warm colors and old world decor. You immediately feel at home.
Their menu has lots of entrees but we get caught up with the pasta choices. Choose from a list of pasta shapes and a list of pasta sauces. Mix and match. That’s immediately such a fun game. Italians are very particular about which pasta shapes go with which pasta sauces. Certain dishes never change: Penne all’Arrabiata, Fettuccine alla Bolognese, Linguine alle Vongole, Spaghetti alla Carbonara, Bucatini con le Sarde, Fettuccine Alfredo, etc.
I think every other time I’ve eaten here I picked fettuccine with bolognese sauce. This time I went for fettuccine with white clam sauce. I loved NOT choosing the proper linguine or spaghetti. It’s an exotic treat to match fettuccine (the “wrong” pasta shape) with clam sauce! My sister got the same. My mom went for fettuccine, too, but with the bolognese sauce.
While we waited for our dishes we nibbled on bread dipped in seasoned olive oil (they don’t do this in Italy but it’s tasty.)
When our dishes arrived they looked wonderful. They smelled wonderful. And they were very healthy portions. Each bowl had a tablespoon in it. We each pulled out the spoon and set it aside. You really don’t need a spoon to eat long-stranded pasta. (I’ll tell you how if you think you do.)
The waitress asked if we wanted grated cheese. My mom took some (she thought they put too much but liked it anyway).
You’re not supposed to have cheese on any pasta with fish/clams, etc. in it.
But I was feeling rather decadent and asked for some cheese. So did my sister.
The pastas are seriously yummy. And I was surprised to find a bit of cream in the “white” clam sauce (which is usually white because it’s not red, but is actually clear with olive oil & white wine). If you would have told me cream was in the sauce I wouldn’t have ordered it. But tasting it (and eating ALL of it) I loved it. In fact, I’m stealing that idea!
My sister and I toasted our wine glasses a few times (my mom sticking to water). Nina had a Pinot Grigio, I loved my Barbera D’Asti. (The way I pair wines is like this: I pick a dish I want to eat. And I pick a wine I want to drink. They don’t necessarily have to go together but somehow they do….like fettuccine with clam sauce.)
Chef Dan even came by the table to see how we liked our dinner. Before we were done we were talking about coming back (that’s like talking about what’s for breakfast tomorrow while you’re having dinner tonight). And we will be back. Thanks, Caffe Nonna!