I have been intrigued by the postings on Rocca for the last couple months and finally tried it. I have been up and down that swath of 4th Street in Santa Monica dozens of times in the last couple years, and if we didn't have the exact address, I would have walked by the place again without noticing it. Inside, the place is lovely, with tables spaced nicely apart.
They were not seating upstairs but downstairs was full for the most part at 7 PM, so it was a good thing we made reservations.
The menu was very interesting to me, featuring on Sundays, "Ragu" which read like a very large meal: pasta to start (farfalle yesterday), and then a large selection of different meats, which consisted of (yesterday, at least) chicken thighs, sausage, and two other kinds of meat, for $27 per person -- sounded fascinating, but way too much food. Prices in general seemed entirely reasonable, particularly once we started tasting the food.
There is also a separate section on the menu featuring smoked meats, primarily pork, and you can order a sampling of the entire selection for $23.
This is definitely a place to go to when you're very hungry, and we weren't, so we ended up splitting three appetizers, ordered a pasta dish each, and one dessert. They do present the menu in a way that very much encourages you to order both primi and secondi, but the meat/fish dishes, except for the "ragu" special, sounded like too much food for us this evening.
Our server was very knowledgable and friendly, and made very good suggestions. Still, the menu, while printed daily, was full of so many different choices, it took us a while to decide. We ended up taking her advice on a couple of things, and ordered the burrata with prosciutto, the panzanella salad, and the asparagus milanese for starters, which was served with parma ham -- that way we got to try some of the smoked meat offerings paired with other foods. Of these three, the burrata and the panzanella salad were really wonderful, the asparagus merely "very good," tasting something like very high class ham and eggs. The asparagus was very fresh tasting, with an egg fried in olive oil and bread crumbs, with parma ham alongside. I only say it was "very good," because it wasn't at the level of the other two dishes, or maybe not as much to our taste. I certainly would eat it again.
The panzanella salad was made with lemon cucumbers, persian cucumbers, chunks of tomato, slices of sweet onion, and sizeable croutons in an excellent vinaigrette. The flavors were so clean and fresh and light we could have eaten this all night. The burrata was a decent sized hunk of soft mozzarella served with their two best slices of prosciutto and I'm no Italian gourmet, but this was really excellent.
I had the butternut squash tortellini -- our server let us know that the primi dishes were fairly small in size, and this was true, but the two we had were very rich -- the tortellini were bursting with butternut squash and the flavor was outstanding. This was sauteed in a sage butter sauce, and sprinkled with toasted pumpkin seeds. Everything was eminently delightful, down to the fried sage leaves on top, the crunchy pumpkin seeds and the sage butter sauce, which I schmiered up with some very good country bread.
My partner's pasta was less outstanding -- I forget the actual Italian name, but it was ravioli-like and filled with corn, however, the dish was overly salty and with very little corn flavor. Really the only disappointment of the night.
For dessert we split the wonderful limone, which was a super creamy lemon gelato, topped with some cream, sour cherries, and slivered almonds. The sweet cream on top, while at first seemed like superflous richness, really brought out the tart cherry and lemon flavors of this dish.
No coffee, we split half a carafe of a pinot grigio for $19. Bill total, which included a $20 tip, was $120. All in all, I thought a very good deal, certainly when compared to the overpriced and very hubristic Cucina Paradiso we ate at about a week ago.
ON a non food note, I really liked the fact that they posted all their extremely favorable reviews of the place upstairs in the hallway by the restrooms, instead of shoving them in your face as you walk in. I liked the understated excellence of this place and would highly recommend it to anyone.
On Tuesdays, they celebrate, "The Pig," in which they spice rub and roast an entire pig, serve it with a bunch of sides, for $14 a person. Their regular menu is also available.
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