Dining Reviews

A Very Fine House

dining costraCasa Nostra rolls out traditional Italian fare under the redwoods of Ben Lomond

A trio of restaurateurs with backgrounds at local favorites Star Bene and Oak Tree Ristorante have upgraded the old home of Ciao Bella and created Casa Nostra, a welcoming Italian eatery.

Adjacent to the front door, the long, clean wooden bar is surrounded by pumpkin-colored stools. At the entrance to the dining rooms, there is a new low-slung cafe door hung in the wood-covered arch. Where there once was a stage, stocky wooden tables are neatly arranged perpendicularly on a new tile floor, each set with square white plates and burnt orange cloth napkins.

Recessed lighting is joined by antler-like tree branches rigged with clear decorative bulbs. For-sale still-life photographs of appetizing ingredients, from trees of dangling pears to bowls of scrubbed potatoes, hang on the walls.

Outside, a second patio was recently added adjacent to the charming redwood grove dining area.

It took us some time to evaluate the creative dinner menu. Floury thick-crusted bread, which is baked fresh in the restaurant’s kitchen every morning, was served thinly sliced with olive oil and rich balsamic vinegar. 

The wine list ($28 to $52) is equally split between Italian and mostly local California vintners, with about 20 reds and half as many whites. Fans of sangiovese-rich Chianti, we selected a bottle from la Ginestra ($36).

We started with a combination of salads, appetizers, and first courses. The Ravioli del Bosco ($15.50) arrived, boasting half a dozen half moons of pasta stuffed with puréed and woodsy bits of porcini mushroom and topped with a creamy white sauce with a tiny touch of truffle oil.
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The artistically plated Mozzarella al Forno ($13), a ball of smooth but firm warm mozzarella and rich basil pesto was cradled in prosciutto on a pedestal of crostini. It was served with greens, shaved carrot, and colorful herb-topped tomato slices.

Spinach Salad ($9.50) with sweet, white, still-crisp caramelized onions, cashews, and soft white crumbles of goat cheese was tossed with mild balsamic-cashew vinaigrette.

The Nostra House Salad ($6.50) was a mix of buttery and peppery field greens with balsamic Italian dressing.

Also in the mix was the Antipasti ($6 to $14), which included artichoke croquette stuffed with ham, garlic and cheese, a risotto mushroom and rice cake in truffle cream sauce and creamy mushroom polenta.

The Primi Piatti ($14 to $17) selection includes a dozen pasta dishes plus traditional eggplant Parmesan. We tried the Spaghetti con le Polpette ($15.50), was topped with a trio of huge, herbed, smoothly textured meatballs, its pasta lightly touched with house-made marinara.

Linguini al Frutti di Mare ($17) was loaded with salmon, calamari and shrimp, its bowl ringed with mussels and clams in their shells. A rich seafood flavor penetrated the fettuccini noodles.

It was difficult choosing from the meaty dishes that comprise the Secondi Piatti ($16 to $19) offerings. A multitude of seafood is served in a light tomato broth, herbed salmon is touched with cream sauce, and pancetta-wrapped tiger prawns are mixed with capers, fresh tomatoes and wine.

In the Chicken Boccancini ($16), chunks of chicken breast in a salty, tomato-based, red wine mushroom sauce were served with buttery, thyme-sprinkled fingerling potatoes and a medley of lightly cooked matchstick summer squash with carrot and onion.
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Pork Saltimbocca ($17) included strips of tenderized scaloppini layered with fresh sage and prosciutto under a thick and rich brown sauce.
A selection of desserts ($6) included classics like custard panna cotta, tiramisu and chocolate mousse. Other temptresses included semifreddo gelato with limoncello sauce, and Tartuffo, with zabaglione gelato incased in chocolate gelato. Any of these could be paired with an espresso drink or hot chocolate ($2 to $3.50).

At lunch, a selection of salads are available including Caesar ($6) to which you can add chicken ($4) or prawns ($6). The panini ($10) options hold delectable combinations such as Italian sausage with spinach and fontina cheese, smoked salmon with mascarpone, romaine and red onions, or classic eggplant Parmigiana, all on house-made bread and served with salad. A short list of hearty pasta (gluten-free is available) dishes and sautées round out the menu.

Casa Nostra also serves brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. Eggs Benedicts ($10.50 to $11.50) include traditional, vegetarian and a version with sautéed shrimp and sun-dried tomatoes. Scrambles and omelettes ($9 to $9.50) include appetizing mixtures of spinach, mushrooms, bacon and mozzarella, and broccolini with mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, onion and smoked mozzarella. Especially pleasing to the little ones are pancakes and French toast ($8).  

Casa Nostra, 9217 Hwy 9,  Ben Lomond, 609-6132. Beer and wine. Serving lunch from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. daily, and dinner from 4 to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday brunch from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. Visit ristorantecasanostra.com.

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