Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Scopa in Healdsburg: an Italian kitchen in wine country!

There has been so much goodness going on for the last week while w and I were on our honeymoon/food & drink fest....that it may take a couple posts to get you caught up on the highlights. We ate our way around the Napa/Sonoma wine country, took advantage of the Cali/Oregon coastal offerings, even got our grub on at the best steakhouse in America in Redding (!!). Today though, it is all about a singular experience.
The one word you need to remember if you find yourself in Healdsburg and thinking about dinner: Scopa! If I had an Italian grandmother, this has got to be what eating her food would be like. This tiny spot on the Healdsburg Plaza just opened in early May. For some reason the gods of indulgence were smiling on us last Friday, and we were able to snag a hard-to-come-by rezzie for four (we were with w's sis and her hubby). This place has been grabbing huge buzz for chef/owner Ari Rosen's home style Italian cooking and insanely (for wine country) reasonable prices. He and his wife Dawnelise Regnery have transformed this cozy room into a den of Italian comfort. One look at their menu and I knew we were in for some food fun. Luckily my dining companions were up for the ride, and we put a nice size dent in their menu. Here's the rundown....

Starting in, we ordered the Lupini beans (left), which is a classic Italian card playing snack ("Scopa" is an Italian card game played in most parts of the country). Kind of fava-like, with a tender bean under the outer skin. You can peel and eat, or just do the whole bean. Slightly salty, totally addictive.

We also had the Burrata Cheese with artichokes and arugula (below), which was a softly sensuous mouthful of housemade mozzarella. Really fabulous stuff. Also on the table was the Tonno del Chianti, which is a traditional marinated, shredded pork dish with greens and a fig balsamic marmellata. This was awesome as well (you might hear that descriptor a lot about Scopa), the meat tender, perfectly matched with the fig jam.

They had two pizzas on their menu, and the debate was on...margherita or sausage? I see any mention of pork product, and I'm sold. But since this wasn't all about me (or so I said) we opted for margherita, as this is w's favorite kind of pie. It was perfect, the crust cracklingly crisp, not too thin, the dough with plenty of chew, and the tomato sauce, basil, and mozz topping in just the right proportion. Lots of smiles around the table, and four entrees to go!

After being blown away by the apps, we knew the mains would kill, and they did exactly that. The Moscardini (left)...baby octopus with Yukon gold potatoes, caper berries and olives...was sensational. Tender, incredibly flavorful, with a piquant bite from the sauce. The House-Made Gnocchi with a Napolitano meat ragu were pillowy perfection, some of the best I've ever had. The beautifully presented pot of Nonna's tomato braised chicken (right) over creamy Piedmontese polenta was so homey I expected to see Nonna herself in her housecoat serving it.

And not that I'm spoiled, but everyone consented to yet another pizza (left), because how can you turn down house made sausage. Again, this is what all pizzas should aspire to be!

Perfectly pillowy gnocchi!

By now we were reeling....from the food, the three bottles of wine, our full tummies....so of course we ordered two desserts. A kind of molten chocolate cake (left) with a vanilla sauce poured on top, and marinated strawberries. Yeah, they were spot on, too. This place absolutely nails it, and again an incredible bargain in this high priced town. Along with the great food price, their wine list has some great deals with lower than expected markups. I took along a bottle of wine (a perfect bottle of 2003 Cameron "Arley's Leap" Pinot Noir) and was happy to pay their $15 corkage, but remarkably they waive the corkage if you buy another bottle off their list! I can't imagine eating better, as this is exactly the kind of neighborhood-feeling place that we all wish was on the corner in out towns. The service was excellent, and even though they had a reservation for our table and we overstayed a little bit, we never felt rushed (thanks Rachel!). There's some fabulous stuff going on at Scopa, and if you get a chance, you HAVE to check it out!

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