What I ate: As soon as we sat down to a table in the corner, the endless bread began. Cut into two-bite (maybe one), perfectly hand-held slices paired with a herb-seasoned olive oil dipping sauce, we went through one order fast. Then another and another. That didn't mean there wasn't room for appetizers.
First we ordered the bruschetta, which meant more bread, this time crostini-style, topped with plenty of fresh diced tomatoes, onions, garlic, olive oil, basil and drizzled with balsamic glaze. I can't really go to an Italian restaurant and not order bruschetta, and I am glad I did.
Next, the server brought out our second appetizer, a head of cauliflower that was breaded and deep fried. The sheer size of the dish amazed me. We pulled out the steak knife stuck in the middle of the giant cauliflower head and cut into it. Though a bit dry on its own, the mayo-based dipping sauce brought out the flavor.
We also had the house salad, which was a bit too mustard flavored for my taste, but I also hate mustard.
For entrees, two people from our dining party ordered the special, a gnocchi Bolognese and both raved about it (gnocchi is one of my friend's favorite foods). Plenty of sauce and freshly made pasta.
My other friend and I, a little full from all of the bread but not regretting it, shared the tortellini al forno. The tortellini was stuffed with beef then mixed in a tomato cream sauce with caramelized onions, truffle oil and plenty of cheese. The creamy combination and truffle flavor just melted in our mouths. The caramelized onions were cooked into the sauce, so their texture didn't take away from the perfect tenderness of the pasta. Cannolis sounded delicious for dessert, but none of us had room.
What It Cost: The bruschetta cost $6.95, the cauliflower was $14.95 and the tortellini al forno was $17.95. $3 sharing fee.
What I Thought: As soon as the restaurant's owner and chef Luigi Cavallaro called me back himself to confirm my reservation in his thick accent with a tone that made it feel like we had been friends forever, I knew I was in for an authentic Italian dining experience. The BYOB aspect was especially nice because we stopped at Walgreens for cheap wine and didn't feel guilty spending money on whatever dishes we wanted.
The servers were always on top of everything, refilling our bread basket and water glasses as soon as they were empty, and they uncorked our white wine and brought out a bucket with ice to keep it cold. The server was so accommodating to the point where he kicked out a table of two (luckily it was his parents) to make room when we added last-minute guests to our party.
The intimate, lightly lit restaurant decorated with red and orange walls made for a cozy, homey ambiance. Seeing how quaint the place was, we got nervous for a second that they would only accept cash. Luckily, that wasn't the case. The family feel was apparent throughout with images playing on a television in the corner, displaying photographs from Northern Italy and Luigi's family trips. Luigi himself came over to see how our meals were. He threw around jokes and again made it feel like we'd known him forever.
The place itself has about 13 tables and reservations would definitely be suggested, especially on the weekends. It's hidden in a strip on Manhattan Avenue that people passing by would probably miss. In front is a tiny patio area with tables and umbrellas. We all took our time eating, feeling relaxed — maybe too relaxed because we stayed until it was time to close.
Times staff writer Arielle Waldman