Polpette della Mamma $14
The meatballs, says Tony Ruggeri, started off as a joke. He and his sister Carmel, co-owners of La Casa Ristorante, had always kidded around about putting their mum''s meatballs on the menu of their new restaurant. As the restaurant opening drew near, Tony said, why not? Let's put them on.
"Meatballs? Are you serious?" replied his sister. Thank goodness they did. La Casa has all the finishings of a serious restaurant, but these taste just like a homecooked meal, chunky hand-shaped meatballs that are jaw-droppingly soft, smothered in a rich tomato sauce that is thick and tangy. This is a dish made with love, by an Italian Mama who always knows best. Of course she does. Mama Giuseppina comes in every second day to make these meatballs herself, and you can feel the meatballs wrap their way around your stomach in a hug with every comforting mouthful.
You only have to watch the reception desk for a few minutes to witness the irrepressible charm of hosts Tony and Carmel at work. They may as well be standing in their living room, welcoming friends to their home. Their smiles are genuine, the laughter is constant, and every customer looks like they've been here a dozen times before. They probably have.
The dining room extends down to the woodfired pizza in the kitchen down the back. Huge prints of Italian street scenes adorn the walls, and rustic wooden tables set with sparkling glassware are fancy enough to please the romantic couple, without being too intimidating for those with young families. At this early hour on a Friday night, we spot several school kids happily holding aloft slices of floppy pizza as their parents nurse precious glasses of wine.
Even the simple offer of "sparkling or tap water" when we sit down is enough to impress. We choose tap water as always, but it's nice to not have to politely decline a mineral water up-sell.
We start with margherita pizza, perhaps a little soggier than we would have liked with its generous slather of fresh tomato sauce, but the base is light and airy and the Fior Di Latte mozzarella yields plenty of cheesy string action.
It doesn't take long for Tony to notice my camera, and after realising who I am, he offers a free round of drinks which we steadfastly decline. "Don't you know you should never say no to a Sicilian," he warns, and it's only later we realise our desserts have been comped from the final bill.
Meanwhile we move onto the fettuccine with prawns which has enough garlic to wipe out every vampire in Bon Temps. Carmel says it's the dish she eats most often at the restaurant. "This is just like the spaghetti we make at home," she explains. "We have a big dinner, we play cards, and then we make a big pot of aglio e olio for supper - just olive oil, garlic and chilli."
'Nsalata Portualla orange and fennel salad $8
A small pot of orange and fennel salad offers palate-cleaning refreshment, fine slivers of licorice-scented fennel sweetened by fresh segments of juicy orange.
I've left our favourite dish until last, the squid ink linguine that has us each furtively returning for more. The glossy black strands of pasta are sexily smooth and slippery, the faint taste of squid amplified by fat lumps of king crab meat dotted throughout.
There's no question about dessert. We dive our spoons into a glass of tiramisu, creamy with mascarpone and covered liberally with shavings of real chocolate. There's more mascarpone than espresso-soaked savoiardi biscuits, but thankfully it's not overly sweet, and we relish the boozy dregs at the bottom.
Cannoli Siciliani $8 for two
We finish with the Cannoli Siciliani, crunchy scrolls freshly piped with a whipped ricotta that's as light as mousse. Thank goodness we ordered one each, otherwise things would have gotten very messy.
Tony and Carmel Ruggeri
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3/07/2011 03:21:00 a.m.