There is something to be said for the quality of a restaurant when the road leading to it is so curvy and long, you feel more like throwing up than eating when you finally arrive at its front door. This is the path to La Bruschetta for me, through the town of Santa Cruz and up the twisty, redwood tree lined highway 9 to Felton. It is when I pass the sign that reads “Curvy Next 26 Miles” that I start getting nervous. One mile later, my window is down and my head is out of it, attempting with all of my might to calmly, slowly inhale and exhale.
The magic of La Bruschetta is revealed when you walk through its decisively idiosyncratic front door, adorned with a life size, cross-legged, nude, wooden woman, into the dining room and the misery of carsickness seems to float away on the tail of an olive oil infused breeze. As we entered, a warm, smiling hostess immediately greeted us and honestly instructed us to choose the table we would like to sit at so that it could be cleaned and set. By the looks of the place we had obviously arrived shortly after a massive rush of customers had seized the place. We chose a quite table in the corner, were seated shortly and left to ponder the traditional Italian menu.
Wanting to adhere to Italian custom, our choices were based in the plain desire for a family style antipasto, insalada, pasta and dolce. We began by ordering mussels in a tomato broth and a daily special, the roasted beet salad. To accompany the light and easily digestible genesis of the meal, we selected a white Sicilian “Grecanico” wine to whet our palates. The wine list was, like the ambiance of the restaurant itself, simple, quaint and appropriate to the menu. The wine arrived shortly before the food. It was buttery in color and taste, hit the palate with soft, easy acidic bite and ended with a quick, creamy finish. It was a perfect accompaniment for the meal we ordered.
The roasted beet salad was quite nice. The red beets were tosses with large pieces hard-boiled egg, which lent a necessary richness to the dish. The tasty mixture was served atop a bed of fresh greens with some crispy bell pepper slices to contrast the softness of the salads premiere ingredients. The mussels were cooked to a perfect plumpness and I was left wanted to find a chipped or empty shell. Although the thick tomato sauce was flavored nicely, it was a little too heavy and hearty for the delicate mussels. It worked better as a savory dip for the foccacia bread served with our antipasti. Both dishes were of a generous size, not overly large, but not too small to share.
As usual, thinking we could eat more than we ordered, we decided to supplement our meal with an order of “Bruschetta del Buongustaio”. One of about the 10 house specialty bruschettas, this was a happy over-indulgence. It arrived on a large serving plate, which shone with the glory of a bruschetta to end all bruschette. Four thin, fire toasted slices of foccacia circled the plate layered with a paper-like slivers of Italian salami, topped by a slender carved piece of brie adorned with two fluted diameters of vinegary pickle. Separating the bruschette were generous half circles of freshly carved pineapple. It was decadent, it was tasty, and it was interesting. I loved it, a new favorite. The flavors went great with the wine. It was so good, the meal was over for me.
Soon followed the “Rigatoni Alla Norma” an al dente tube pasta with a roasted eggplant, tomato and olive oil sauce topped with crumbled ricotta salata. It was good, but my heart was taken by the bruschetta, so I ended up taking my pasta home for lunch the next day. We then found ourselves to be the last people in the restaurant, marked by the new Eminem song making an appearance on the I-pod play list. This, to me, was funny and made me feel like I was in my grandma’s house, just as Mario Batali would want it.
We finished our meal with a Tartufo Classico, a deeply flavored chocolate snowball, with a center of zabaglione and a dusting of hazelnuts and chocolate powder. How could it be anything but delicious? We left the restaurant feeling satisfied and comfortable. Not only was the food cooked, served and eaten well, but La Bruschetta exuded three qualities I have grown to respect from any good restaurant: 1) you can see the kitchen from the dining room, 2) the head chef came out and spoke to us, 3) (this is only for Italian restaurants) there was something delicious besides tiramisu for dessert.
It was well worth the drive there, and even the exceedingly uncomfortable drive home.