Last night I traveled to Palo Alto to celebrate a friend's birthday. My friend and his wife -- both of whom are from Torino -- had been speaking very highly about a new Italian place on University with a cook from Bergamo, Italy. We decided to go there. The name of the restaurant: La Strada.
Typically, Bergamesque cuisine is on the heavy side because of the severe winters of the Italian Alps. Perhaps the most famous dishes are the many types of polenta preparations -- for example, grilled and served with salami, braised meats, or donkey stew (!). Other highlights include orzo soup, vegetable risotti, and gnocchetti of spinach or stinging nettles, as well as various meat stews.
Of course, none of the food listed above is very appropriate for a hot August evening. Perhaps, then, it is not too surprising that there aren't many Bergamesque offerings currently on La Strada's menu -- though the chef indicated to us that more will be coming with the autumn chill.
We sampled several offerings for appetizers -- a baccala spread accompanied by fennel flat bread, fried shrimp and soffritto, and grilled sardines. Of these, the grilled sardines were the clear winners -- perfectly prepared and simply garnished with lemon. As to the baccala, I found the parmiggiano crust an odd touch (it could well be that my sensibilities are offended any time cheese and fish are married).
Since we weren't very hungry, my friends split a grilled prawns entree that didn't look too exciting and I limited myself to the sole Bergamesque offering -- casonsei. Casonsei are half-moons of pasta stuffed with crumbs of amaretti cookies and sausages dressed with guanciale, sage, and butter. They're wonderful examples of traditional Italian home-cooking.
Given the chef's provenance, La Strada's rendition of casonsei was unsurprisingly authentic and decidedly delicious. I would suggest that anyone wanting a change-of-pace pasta to try this dish. In fact, I would return to the restaurant just to have some more casonsei; they were that good!
As to dessert, the cook generously offered us a tiramisu, which was decent, and an excellent warm chocolate tart served with vanilla ice cream.
On the whole, I'd recommend La Strada. It's a nice change to try some out-of-the-mainstream Italian food. However, I'd be even more excited to go to La Strada on a rainy winter night, when more Bergamesque fare should be available.
335 University Ave.
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