By ROBIN DOHRN-SIMPSON
Every neighborhood needs its own authentic Italian restaurant. One that is casual, warm and inviting. One that is not too big and not expensive. One where you can be seated 20 minutes after you had the idea to go there. If you live in La Mesa, you are in luck, because all that is found in Cucina Basilico.
Around the turn of this century, Francesca and Danilo moved to San Diego from Milan, Italy. Their passion for food and hospitality inspired them to start a restaurant business. They returned to Italy off and on for years to study traditional northern Italian cuisine.
Once ready to commit, they searched for a neighborhood location in the city in need of Italian flavors and La Mesa was the lucky recipient of their quest.
At Cucina Basilico, everything is homemade daily, from scratch, including four kinds of pasta and bread.
Unique appetizers that are eye-catching are Carciofi Romani, which are long stem artichokes hearts with herbs in olive oil; or Bruschetta Colorata, a homemade Piadina bread with goat cheese and roasted bell peppers.
If you are a fan of prosciutto, their Prosciutto Crudo Parma is a must. Aged 18 months, this imported delicacy melts in your mouth.
For your primo course, choose your pasta, which is all house-made — four regular kinds of pasta and one that is gluten-free. Then choose your sauce from a large selection, such as Pesto with Parmigiano and Pecorino cheese, Ragu’ alla Bolognese and Marinara (both family recipes), Arrabbiata with garlic and chili flakes. Other choices include Polpette, a family recipe with meatballs in a marinara sauce; or Pantera Rosa, which is a marinara sauce with a bit of cream and pancetta (Italian bacon). The vodka sauce with smoked salmon, cream and marinara sounds amazing, as does the Norcina, which has a light cream sauce with mild Italian sausage and onions. Lastly, add chicken, shrimp, mushrooms or sausage.
The secondo course can be Italian-style chicken. Pollos include Parmiagiana, Lemon and Capers or Panna e Funghi, in a light cream with porcini mushrooms. The other category is fish. Salmone Livornese is a wild raised salmon fillet sautéed in cherry tomatoes, olives and capers. Cioppino is another house specialty, a seafood soup with baby clams, shrimp, salmon, calamari and white wild fish.
If you like to experiment with Italian wines, they offer a variety of imported wines to pair with different foods. You can also purchase a bottle of wine to go.
Enjoy these true Italian flavors for lunch or dinner. Reservations are highly recommended for Friday and Saturday nights.
— Robin Dohrn-Simpson is a local freelance food and travel writer. Reach her at www.robindohrnsimpson.com.