La Trattoria a pleasant little gem

  • La Trattoria's sausage ala Mariano features Italian sausage, roasted potatoes, garlic, red pepper, red onion, mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes.

      La Trattoria's sausage ala Mariano features Italian sausage, roasted potatoes, garlic, red pepper, red onion, mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes. Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

  • Pasta fagioli, filled with beans, spinach and fresh basil, makes a hearty starter on a cool evening at La Trattoria.

      Pasta fagioli, filled with beans, spinach and fresh basil, makes a hearty starter on a cool evening at La Trattoria. Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

  • For a kick, diners can opt for the spicy mussels peppate to start the meal at La Trattoria.

      For a kick, diners can opt for the spicy mussels peppate to start the meal at La Trattoria. Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

  • A separate bar at La Trattoria in Lake in the Hills provides a place to wait for a table on a crowded evening or a spot to enjoy a lighter menu.

      A separate bar at La Trattoria in Lake in the Hills provides a place to wait for a table on a crowded evening or a spot to enjoy a lighter menu. Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

  • The warm woods and intricate ceiling welcomes patrons to the bar at La Trattoria.

      The warm woods and intricate ceiling welcomes patrons to the bar at La Trattoria. Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

  • La Trattoria restaurant welcomes diners who venture into Lake in the Hills.

      La Trattoria restaurant welcomes diners who venture into Lake in the Hills. Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

 
By Carolyn Walkup
Posted11/18/2011 5:30 AM

La Trattoria is a hidden gem off the main roads in Lake in the Hills that counts on word-of-mouth to let prospective customers know they are in for a treat.

Co-owner Mariano Scandurra is a third-generation restaurateur, born in Naples, Italy. He and his wife, Theresa, opened La Trattoria 2 years ago. The food shows the family's dedication to fresh ingredients and fresh, made-from-scratch cooking of all sauces and a few of the pastas.

 

Decor is modest in the intimate dining room, set with dark wood four-top tables. Black-and-white photos of Italian scenes and families make attractive wall accents. My only complaint about the dining room is the dim lighting. Perhaps small table lamps would brighten the room.

A separate room houses the bar, where guests are welcome to eat if they wish. This room is a comfortable neighborhood gathering spot that offers a separate menu of panini, salads and lighter fare that changes frequently.

Our server was charming with a friendly style and willing to accommodate our timing requests. He gets credit for not trying to steer us to his favorite dishes.

The wine list is small but carries some good choices from smaller wineries, primarily in Italy or California. My Ruffino Chianti, a dry red, pairs well with the red sauces and even the chicken dishes.

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We started with the fresh mozzarella caprese salad, a light and satisfying beginning. Generous slices of mozzarella topped Beefsteak tomatoes, which could have been riper. A sprinkling of olive oil, fresh basil leaves and Kalamata olives accented the combination, served with toasted garlic bread -- an all-around good palate cleanser.

Next I had a bowl of pasta fagioli soup, a real homestyle classic made with cannellini beans, pancetta, spinach, fresh basil, a little tomato and Italian spices. The flavorful soup really hit the spot on a cool autumn evening. The portion size was too large for an appetizer, so half of it went home for a future meal.

The entree menu is dominated by pastas, the house specialty. I would have liked more variety to choose from, but the three dishes we tried were very good. I learned later that we visited on a night when Scandurra was not in the kitchen making dishes normally offered as nightly specials.

Pricing, from $15.95 to $22.95, is a bit high, especially for pastas. Scandurra said he plans to offer smaller portions for lower prices starting in 2012, in light of the lingering recession.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The meat ravioli in red sauce was a comforting and lightly seasoned dish. Jumbo ravioli came stuffed with a mixture of ground beef, pork and veal. A sprinkling of Parmesan is recommended.

Another tasty dish was the ricotta cheese stuffed shells with the same red sauce. This is one of several meatless dishes that both vegetarians and meat eaters can enjoy. The combination of ingredients in this dish was just right.

The highlight of the meal turned out to be a non-pasta dish: chicken Marsala. The tender, thinly pounded chicken breast came cloaked in a delicious sauce of fortified Marsala wine, mushrooms, onions, olive oil and butter. I recommend dipping some crusty Italian bread in the sauce.

Dessert is not La Trattoria's strong point. Normally just two are offered -- tiramisu and cannoli. However, on this night only cannoli was available. It was a perfect rendition of this classic -- the lightly deep-fried pastry shell filled with sweetened whipped ricotta and accented with chopped pistachios. Plans are in the works to add more desserts, Scandurra said.

We left satisfied with a couple of doggy bags in hand and vows to come back again on a night when Scandurra is in the kitchen. Carryout service is available and is discounted with an online coupon on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not review restaurants it cannot recommend.

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