Tucked away in an obscure corner of Washington Square Shopping Center in Petaluma, Alfredo’s Italian Restaurant qualifies as a hole-in-the-wall. You’ll never see the barebones storefront unless you know to look for it, nested behind Staples on a narrow, hidden parking lot off Washington Street and McDowell Boulevard.
But seek it out. Chef-owner Ramiro Nolazco and his son and co-owner David Nolazco are quietly cooking up excellent pastas ($14-$23), chicken piccata ($18.50), veal marsala over polenta ($27), and an array of other classic Italian dishes. There’s nothing fancy or fussy here, just plenty of the delicious comfort food I could happily devour every single day.
Maybe even twice a day, considering the wallet-friendly lunch special of fresh baked bread, a half salad, a half pasta and a scoop of gelato ($16).
That’s not to say this is simple stuff. You can taste the care and quality ingredients, and dare I say it, this two-year-old trattoria is now one of my favorite casual dining destinations.
Start with the bruschetta, the four thick, griddled toasts smothered in lots of wild mushrooms sautéed with cream and a hint of truffle oil then finished with shaved Parmigiano and arugula ($9.50 lunch/$12.50 dinner). The regular bruschetta is very good, too, topped in diced tomatoes, garlic, basil, olive oil and shaved grana ($7.50/$8.50), but the mushroom model knocks it out of the park.
Chef Ramiro previously ran the kitchen at Ristorante Allegria in Napa, and some of his signatures show up again here. I’m happy to see his arugula salad, good as always with poached pears, jicama, toasted pecans, blue cheese and gently sweet white balsamic vinaigrette ($8/$8.50). I’m not as excited about the return of his warm cabbage salad, though — it’s too many flavors amid the pepper bacon nubbins, mushrooms, blue cheese and warm red wine vinaigrette ($9).
Another Allegria standby — sweet soy marinated skirt steak satay — is a weird appetizer for an Italian eatery, oddly propped over a bit of with sautéed spinach and tall pile of onion rings.
The skewered beef is tasty enough ($10/$13), though I prefer the traditional beef carpaccio ($12/$12.50). The paper-thin sliced filet mignon is elegant, dressed in its classic capers, red onions, arugula, Parmigiano-Reggiano and a swath of whole grain mustard sauce.
And rather than onion rings, I like my fried fix with the calamari, tossed with fried green beans and artichokes for dunking in spicy chipotle aioli and lemon caper aioli ($12.50/$13). Nice and crisp, I tell David, who takes care of the trattoria’s 10 tables and never seems to stop smiling.
For entrees, it’s tough for me to move beyond the perfect pastas. Chef Ramiro has a bold touch with seasoning, from the spicy marinara on the linguine tumbled with pan seared prawns, scallops, mussels, rock shrimp, manila clams and fish ($20/$23), to the basil pesto and cream-infused marinara on the penne sautéed with chicken, sundried tomatoes and sweet corn ($15/$16).
I also like the saffron notes in the homemade pappardelle tossed with prawns, sundried tomatoes and broccoli ($20/$21). The subtle floral flavor adds pleasing earthiness to the dish’s delicate roasted shrimp bisque sauce.
Yet still, I keep going back to the so simple, so satisfying capellini ($12.50/$14). Whisper-light angel hair pasta nearly floats in its cloak of juicy chopped tomatoes, pungent basil, plenty of garlic and glistening extra virgin olive oil.