Sunday, March 18, 2007
It's always a good sign when a New Yorker (especially an Italian one) tells you about a restaurant. They will drive far and wide for the best pizza, pasta, steak or whatever else, and tell everyone they know about it once they've found it. It was a couple of years ago when I first heard about Antica Trattoria from my friend Anthony from the Bronx. I'm not sure what took us so long to get there - but we finally found the occasion to visit for James' father's birthday last week. Don and Jan live in Santee, and we thought they especially would appreciate the discovery of a good restaurant in the East County. (Make that the "woefully-underserved-when-it-comes-to-restaurants" East County.)
Antica Trattoria is located on the Northern end of a large strip mall on the corner of Lake Murray and Baltimore Drive. It's actually pretty attractive for an older mall - with dark wood and rambling sheltered walkways. Only a few tables were occupied when we walked in at 7:30 PM, and we were greeted effusively by our server and host, both of whom had strong Italian accents - generally a good sign. The owner was gracious and welcoming - chatting among the tables and getting to know the customers as if we were his guests.
The extensive menu is divided, according to Italian tradition, into antipasti, pasta and secondi - the latter being main courses. We started with the mixed antipasti -which was a platter heaped with salumi, caprese salad with fresh mozzarella, calamari fritti, grilled vegetables, and bruschetta. The only problem was that the tomatoes they had sourced that day were almost completely tasteless - pale and hard as rocks. We scarfed it down nonetheless, but I suspect on a different day the caprese and bruschetta would be much better.
We also shared a special appetizer that night, a large portobello mushroom cap stuffed with lobster and crab, and baked. It was very good (though rich), and just the right size for all four of us to have a taste.
For the main course, I chose Chicken Parmesan. I was presented with a whole butterflied chicken breast that had been lightly breaded, fried and topped with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. It was fantastic - the meat was tender, and the sauce was light and flavorful. Underneath were slices of grilled vegetables. James chose Pollo Modenese and Jan had the Marsala. Both were good, with the chicken bathed in a rich, winey sauce. Their chicken was not quite as tender as mine - no doubt because it was sauteed rather than fried. Don went a different route, with the Linguine Pescatore.
This was a gorgeous plate of pasta and seafood - definitely the dish I will try on my return trip.
They have a wonderul espresso machine, and they know how to use it. I finished the meal with a perfect shot, and James had a cappuccino. The espresso was served in a cute little Ferrari cup - I wish I had thought to take a picture. For dessert, we ordered cannoli and a creme brulee to share. The creme brulee had a nice crust - but the custard itself had a boozy flavor that I wasn't crazy about. I'm not absolutely sure, but I suspect it might have actually been made from a mix. Instead of one cannoli - the owner brought us four mini ones, so we would each have our own. These were freshly filled and crisp, and just the right size for an after dinner bite of something sweet.
The prices are very reasonable - entrees are in the range of $15.00 - $20.00, meaning you could eat for $50.00 bare bones, or $75.00 the way we usually do it, with wine, dessert, espresso, etc. We ordered two bottles of wine - a bottle of Prosecco that was around $30.00, and a wonderful Chianti that was about $40.00 - pictured above. (It was our server's suggestion.)
By the end of the meal we had done a bit of chatting with the owner and our server - and they bade us goodbye with hugs. (How often does that happen these days?) We don't eat out too terribly often, and we often feel like there are so many restaurants and so little time, but we will definitely make our way back to this one. As we left - James said he almost wished we lived even closer so we could become regulars. If you know him (he hates to leave the house) you know that is really saying something!
5654 Lake Murray Drive
La Mesa, CA 91942
Dinner - M-Su 4:30 to 10:00 PM
Lunch - Tues - Fri - 11:30 to 2:30