Given the recs that have been popping up here and on SD blogs elsewhere we decided to give this hole-in-the-wall a try. I mean a former cook at the French Laundry in a casual setting - how could it not be great?
Well, not sure how it couldn't be - but it wasn't. The room is actually pretty nice, there is no feeling at all of being in a Henry's/strip mall. However, the food is just ordinary. We (4 of us) had two pizzas, an app, a pasta, and dessert. Everything was perfectly fine, but nothing really stood out. Everything was basically the level of Lorna's, but a little less food (possibly a little cheaper as well). The wine list was good, about 5-8 whites and reds, several by the glass and fairly priced (possibly everything under $30 with some under $20 I believe). I think the most expensive glass was 6, with several in the $3.50 and $4 range and the wines were of reasonable quality.
I have to say I was expecting more. The pasta (including the gnocchi) is NOT house made. The sauces were fine, but really lacking any depth of flavor. Really standard stuff, sort of what I whip up at home when I don't want to cook all night. Pizza crust was good - thin, somewhat crispy, but not particularly flavorful. I could go on, but I think you get the point. Nothing that made me say 'oh, now that is really good.' We did not try the special, a pork loin with...stuff (sorry) and mushroom risotto. Sounds promising and I love pork loin, risotto, and mushrooms. It was $19, compared to $11 for a generous 1 person (10inch roughly) pizza and $10-12 pastas. Perhaps it was great. Unfortunately, I don't think I'll be rushing back unless the Board is in serious disagreement and convinces me to do so. Menu is also small. Maybe 4-5 pasta dishes, 4-5 meat-type dishes, a special, 4-5 apps. They did have about 12 thin crust 10inch pizza choices.
I would say that Barolo is a notch above Trattoria Firenze (except for service, very friendly here), and Lorna's is about the same. In fact, Lorna's is the best comparison, based on this one experience. It is the kind of place I really want to like more. Friendly, possibly family run, a certain refined originality.
In the end, good place, but not the shining nugget of top-notch cuisine we all hope to find in a strip mall - in other words, this is definitely not the Sushi Ota of Italian.