Reno, NV 89509
I was having a shitty week that just seemed to get worse by the day, so when my friend Tim wanted to go to dinner at La Cucina, I had to force myself to go. Turns out La Cucina is like a giant hug from the Italian grandmother I never had. I found it hard to believe that the warm, lovely space was once a Godfather’s Pizza. La Cucina opened in November, and talk about an extreme makeover. The walls are now a welcoming yellow, with cathedral ceilings and exposed beams. Copper topped tables span the restaurant, with a large counter in the front for ordering.
La Cucina is also a deli, so on display were several varieties of Italian meats such as guaniciale (cured pork jowls) and mortadella, along with cheeses like provolone and caciocavallo, and a variety of salads. To the right were trays of desserts like cannolis and cheesecakes. Things were already starting to look up for me.
I went with straight comfort food and ordered a cup of minestrone soup ($3.95) and a grilled cheese panini ($7.95), with choice of fresh fruit, cottage cheese and ricotta blend with fresh fruit, house salad or caprese salad. The minestrone arrived steaming hot with large chunks of vegetables and herbs and a side of some of the best bread I have ever tasted. When my sandwich arrived, I already felt full from my soup, but one bite of that panini and I found room. The panini was served on that same awesome bread, which had a slightly sweet taste. Tomatoes, basil and melted provolone, mozzarella and fontina cheese rounded the rest of the panini out. Everything tasted fresh and although simple, this sandwich shone. I had a glass of Casa Cabernet Sauvignon ($7) which took the sting off my day.
Tim ordered the rigatoni Isabella ($8.95), which came with cream, parmesan, peas and proscuitto. This dish was rich but not overwhelming. The proscuitto was surprisingly tender and complemented the peas well. The dish came with a side of garlic bread—again that amazing bread! Tim had a glass of Cantele Primitivo ($6.50) that was smooth and fantastic.
When the woman at the counter saw we ordered wine, she instantly recommended we try the amaretto chocolate cheesecake ($3.75). Cheesecake is not something you really need to twist my arm on, so after finishing dinner, back to the counter we went for some more wine and cheesecake. I’m fairly selfish when it comes to dessert, but this cheesecake was so rich, I would definitely recommend sharing. Topped with a thick layer of chocolate ganache above a large serving of chocolate amaretto cheesecake with a pecan crust, I started to forget the suck-fest that my life has been lately. I wished the cheesecake had been a little closer to room temperature, but maybe if Tim and I hadn’t shoveled it in our mouths so fast it could have warmed up a little.
The woman at the counter came to check on us and was happy to answer all of our questions about the food and restaurant. I found out the reason this place is so good: La Cucina is owned by the Cassanari family, owners of Reno restaurant Johnny’s Little Italy, and La Cucina is Louis Cassanari’s “baby.” The amazing bread and desserts are baked fresh in the restaurant.
La Cucina is good food without being pretentious, so I’m coming back, and maybe someday I’ll even get brave enough to try that cured pork jowl.