Italian class

A glass of Chianti and bartender Sergio Gaspari’s good attitude are just two of the many reasons to call for a reservation at La Famiglia.

A glass of Chianti and bartender Sergio Gaspari’s good attitude are just two of the many reasons to call for a reservation at La Famiglia.

Photo By David Robert

Unfortunately, this is going to have to start out with a very bad judgment call on my part: the assumption that no reservation would be needed on a Wednesday evening. But La Famiglia, a praiseworthy new Italian restaurant along the increasingly classy downtown stretch of the Truckee River, has already attracted such a devoted following that newcomers might mistake its Wednesday evening crowd for a Saturday night’s.

The friendly maitre d’ told us that we—the four of us, Dan, Tim, Nicole and I—were welcome to dine at the bar and then move to a table if one opened up, which one never did. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing; the bar, adjacent to the dining room, is one of those romantic, epicurean settings where I wouldn’t mind wasting a week or two.

Our bartender was incredibly thoughtful and friendly, and an excellent waitress to boot. When, later on, our entrees were slow to arrive, she offered to buy us a couple desserts. Some of the more conscientious members of my party objected (after all, we had already bent the rules to a degree, dining sans reservations, and we were having such a pleasant experience we’d hardly noticed the time passing), but I greedily and gladly accepted the sweet offer. After sampling the delicious tiramisu (usually $5), I was the better for it.

But I digress. This was not one of those meals in which dessert came first (I call those meals ‘home-cooking’), but rather fresh bread and oil and vinegar. The bread was first-rate and set a nice tone for the meal. Dan was so inspired he exclaimed, “When I’m rich, I’ll have an enormous warm baguette baked for me to sleep in every night.”

For the main course, I had penne con salcicce ($14.95), fresh, tubular pasta with mild, titillating sausage in marinara. In a word: scrumptious. Dan, actually having his second dinner, opted for just a Caesar salad ($5.50), complete with the fishy anchovy taste that apparently distinguishes an authentic Caesar. Nicole had fazzoletti di seta ($14.95), thin squares of pasta, potato and green beans in a delicious pesto sauce. Tim scored big with ravioli ai funghi ($13.95), mushroom ravioli in a porcini-mushroom sauce. Nicole had been quite pleased with her dish, but Tim’s was so good that after sampling a bite, she proclaimed the dish “the best I’ve had in a long time” and made Tim trade plates with her.

The wine selection is large and seemingly impressive—though I must reluctantly admit that when it comes to wine, I am of the “don’t know much, but know what I like” school and tend to drink, primarily, to excess. That being said, we put away a few bottles of the house Chianti, Spalletti ($18).

Though the name La Famiglia rings vague, Mafioso-sounding bells, I never once felt that my life was in danger, which is always something you want to avoid in a restaurant.

You’ll probably want to make reservations—though to tell you the truth, I have no idea what it’s like to eat in this restaurant. But it has to be at least half as great as it is to dine in the bar.