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Cox: Making memories at LoCoco's Cucina Rustica

  • Joe LoCoco, owner and chef of LoCoco's Cucina Rustica, in Santa Rosa, Calif., on September 24, 2013. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

The pace of change in the modern world is furious — and all the more reason to cherish those few institutions that haven't changed, that tie us to our roots.

While the culinary culture rushes to keep up with the latest food fads, there's LoCoco's Cucina Rustica (in English, LoCoco's Country Kitchen) on Fourth Street in Santa Rosa's Railroad Square, providing today's adults with memories of their childhood infatuation with Italian food, and today's kids with the memories they'll treasure when their kids are their age.

Just look at this place. The waiters are Italian (or a reasonable facsimile thereof), and they and the cooks in the back of the house often break into song as they go about their work. Of course, red-and-white-checkered cloth napkins wrap the utensils at every place setting. That's Frank Sinatra on the sound system. The walls and ceiling are hung with old-fashioned copper pots and cooking implements. And there are no small tapas plates here. This is Italian, so you'd better be prepared to mangia, then mangia some more.

LoCoco's Cucina Rustica

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The wine list features local and Italian wines. Among whites, a 2011 Umbrian Orvieto is $38. Among the 26 Italian reds, a 2008 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is $40, and a 2008 Nebbiolo from Piemonte is $48. Corkage is $15.

A good way to start the feast at LoCoco's — for feasting is what you do at this restaurant — is with the Burrata ($10.95 **?), a softened water buffalo-milk mozzarella. This is a commercial burrata cut into four pieces, topped with olive oil and basil threads, then sprinkled with crunchy crystals of salt and set around with purple cured olives and four thin slices of grilled bread. While this burrata doesn't rise to the level of the best quality — it's not a ball of soft cheese filled with a runny-gooey center of cheese dissolved in milk, but is just soft cheese throughout — it still is delicious.

This is the best time of the year for Figs and Prosciutto ($11.95 **?), and these four pieces of prosciutto-wrapped figs accompanied by toasted bread spread with mascarpone are almost enough to be a meal by themselves. A creamy Caesar Salad ($8.95 **) had good points: light green hearts of romaine, croutons, lots of thick flakes of parmesan cheese; and not so good: the creamy dressing is not a genuine Caesar dressing and chopped lettuce makes it a chopped-lettuce salad rather than a true Caesar.

Mama's Baked Lasagna ($15.95 ***) was one of six nightly specials. I'd encourage management to keep it on the regular menu. It's a hefty hunk of lasagna 4 inches wide by 5 inches long and nearly 4 inches tall, the pasta sheets interspersed with ground beef, condiments, and succulent marinara sauce. Those kitchen ovens must be roaring hot, because the top was crunchy and the dish was steaming. That Mama is a good cook.

Linguini with clams is another traditional dish at classic-style Italian places, but LoCoco's amps up the dish to Linguini di Mare ($21.95 **?); that is, linguini with seafood. In this case it's scallops, prawns, squid, and clams in a broth enriched with marinara sauce and given a pinch of chopped parsley.

None of the dishes had any spicy heat. One can add crushed red pepper to any dish, of course, but the lack of spice is good for the little ones, who might not be used to a mouthful of fire.

Just in case you're still hungry by the time you reach the entrees (secondi piatti), the Costoletto di Vitello Parmigiana ($24.95 ***) will take care of that. This huge, bone-in veal rib must have over a pound of tender veal covered in marinara sauce and parmesan cheese. It's served with oven-roasted potatoes and broccoli rabe.


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