Had a lovely visit to Rocca in Santa Monica on New Years Eve and thought it would be nice to share the experience.
Randomly hearing about the restaurant and not being from Santa Monica I was not sure what to expect from my dining adventure at Rocca, but at the end of the night I certainly left feeling very positive about the choice and very satisfied......drunk on an equal combination of the food, wine, dining partners, and just the night in general.
There were 5 in the party and the reservation was for 8. It was no problem getting a table and when we arrived the place was pleasantly full but far from jam-packed. We range in ages from 24 to 31 and I'd say our party was a good 15-20 years younger than the average party, but in no way did the restaurant feel stuffy or uptight. We might have been a tad bit more animated in our conversations than the rest of the diners, but everyone was dressed well and was having a time.
The decor of the restaurant is very nice. It's quite simple, but does a perfect job of offering a warm and intimate setting for a nice meal. Nothing is overstated, but everything from the chairs, to the light fixtures, to the stemware, to the linens was of a high quality that made one feel totally at ease and at home.
The food is what we came for, and when it comes down to it the food is what makes the place stand out. The menu is lovely as all the plates are small in size so it's perfect for everyone in the party to have an antipasti, primi, secondi, and a dessert or it's great to just order a smorgasbord of each and share. We did that latter and it was dining the way it was meant to be.
We started off with olives, a prosciutto tasting platter, a shrimp and polenta dish, and an arugala salad. Each one was stellar. The prosciutto's were wonderful....each one being slightly different in saltiness, sweetness, and richness. The polenta was a buttery, creamy mess with 3 fresh juicy shrimp placed atop. The salad was simple but very good. And then the olives were surprisingly good. The combination of fresh herbs, olive oil, and I want to say a little salami rind? made them just divine.
The first course after the starters consisted of 4 pastas we shared, and these were the dishes that really stole the show. We had the ricotta gnocchi in an oxtail ragu, linguine with clams, fettuccine with chanterelles, and a tortellini. The fettuccine with chanterelles was absolutely remarkable. Such a simple dish .just pasta, mushrooms, butter, and a little garlic and parsley but the fresh pasta and the mushrooms combined to make it absolutely heavenly. It is one of the best dishes I have ever tasted. The ricotta gnocchi were very good, though slightly gummy, and the oxtail sauce was very nice. The linguine with clams was stellar. There were a good 8 littlenecks scattered over the fresh linguine and they, and the dish, tasted as if it just came from the sea. Very very nice. Lastly we shared a tortellini dish which while good was nothing remarkable.
The second courses were very good as well. We had roasted chicken, quail stuffed with fig and prosciutto, salmon, and the pork chop. Typically I am not one to order salmon at a restaurant, too many other good choices, but this was a pristinely fresh piece of salmon that had been slowly roasted in the oven to rare, served with a butter and herb sauce. It was amazing. It seemed to just melt in your mouth and the combination of herbs and garlic in the sauce complimented it perfectly. The quail was stuffed with a single fig and a slice of prosciutto and served on a bed of garlicky greens, and was very nice. While a tad bit tricky to eat because of size, the salty prosciutto, sweet fig, and rich quail were perfect compliments to each other. And the greens were perfectly cooked as well. The pork and the chicken were both very good in their own right.
Desserts were very solid. A pear crosttata, an apple tart, and a chocolate mousse type dish were all very good, but nothing spectacular.
My only disappointment with the meal was that the restaurant only serves beer and wine, so I went to order an after dinner drink and was informed all they had were dessert wines. It was fine as I went with a glass of a Muscat type wine, and it was very good with the pear dessert.
Overall the dinner came to a little over $100 a person, wine, tax, and tip included.
It is definitely a place I would go back to.
Another thing that intrigues me about the place is Tueday nights when they roast a whole pig. They call it Celebration of the Pig, and even though I dont live close to Santa Monica, Ill have to make the drive some Tuesday night.