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Cafe Carolina in Encino

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Cafe Carolina in Encino

TomSwift | Oct 7, 2005 01:52 PM

I wish I could take the credit for discovering this little gem but a post a couple of weks ago (by a Hound whose name I forget and hence can't credit) inspired us to go last night. It is Italian and has lots of vegan/vegetarian influences. It has 10 tables and is staffed by the chef/owner, Giuseppe, and a waitress/dishwaser.

Giuseppe is a very personable guy...I went into the kitchen (tiny) to introduce myself and compliment him on the food, and when we left he remembered my name. Giuseppe has credentials from Il Fornaio and Prego Beverly Hills. The space is sort of stark, think a brighter Gorikee. In fact, this may be the next Gorikee - a solid neighborhood restaurant but not a destination.

Service was excellent despite that 7 of the 10 tables were occupied. Everything is made to order (Giuseppe is a one man kitchen) so there were fairly long waits between courses and the tables are served in order of arrival. We brought a bottle (no wine list) and the glasses are the short, stubby French type. I'm not sure but I don't think there was corkage.

The bread was 2 disks of warm house-made (we were told that almost everything on the menu is house-made, and they looked and tasted it) focaccia with a dipping sauce of delicious marinara. Starters were penne puttenesca (house-made penne) which was quite flavorful but I would have ordered it extra spicy (it wasn't my starter). The house-made gnocchi ($10.75) with sorrentina sauce (mozzarella, tomatoes and marinara) was exquisite, some of the lightest gnocchi I've ever eaten. The rigatoni alla buttera ($11.25) with ggrilled Italian pork sausage, onions and mushrooms in a pink cream sauce was very good. The grilled Italian sausages with roasted red peppers, braised swiss chard and great northern beans ($11.95) was dynamite: two plump sausages, split, with great char and tremendous flavor. I asked but never got an answer as to whether the sausages are house-made. The woman at the table next to us gave me a taste of her ravioli cremaschi ($12.50, the most expensive item), 5 large house-made raviolis filled with amaretti (almond cookies), raisins, citron and Parmesan, with a sage-rosemary brown butter sauce. A little too sweet for me but perfect pasta and the sauce would make the "worn-out tire" ravioli taste great.

The clear winner of the evening was the tiramisu, made by Giuseppi himself. This was so rich, with a huge glob of freshly whipped cream right next to it. It disappeared as I was blinking my eyes after the first bite.

There were four of us, 2 iced teas, the corkage maybe, and the total before tip was $78. I have no idea how long he's been there but I certainly hope that he survives. With this kind of cooking and these prices (not quite as good as Gorikee) he should make it. Highly recommended if your in the neighborhood.

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