Made-From-Scratch Italian: Romeo Cucina

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Romeo Cucina has tempted Lagunans with authentic Italian food for more than 20 years.

By Katherine Duncan | Photos by Jody Tiongco

 

The arancini di riso (back) is perfect for sharing, while the panzanella can double as a starter or entree.
The arancini di riso (back) is perfect for sharing, while the panzanella can double as a starter or entree.

The flavors of Northern and Southern Italy are evident in the gourmet plates of comfort food served at Romeo Cucina. Behind the scenes, chef-owners Vincenzo and Antonio Romeo transform fresh ingredients using traditional techniques with ease.

The restaurant is surprisingly spacious in an area where real estate is more valuable than gold. Considering how packed it is on an average weeknight, it seems that the family needs every square foot to share its made-from-scratch Italian classics with hungry diners.

The panzanella Calabrese is a refreshing way to begin a meal, and would also serve as a beautiful standalone lunch on a warm afternoon. Arugula, oregano, ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced red onion, chunks of buffalo mozzarella and croutons are simply dressed with extra virgin olive oil, allowing the crisp flavors to come through unimpeded. The croutons are the star here; they’re crafted from house-made polenta, with a crisp exterior and—best of all—served while still warm.

No one will blame you for wanting the salad all to yourself, but the appetizers are made for sharing. The arancini di riso (fried risotto balls) are a must-try. A golden, crisp exterior houses rich saffron risotto with mozzarella and flavorful bolognese sauce at the center. Their circular shape and deep orange color resemble the citrus fruit they’re served with. Don’t be shy about eating these with your hands—after all, Vincenzo says that’s how it’s done in Italy.

The bruschetta is a lighter starter that’s equally enticing. The focaccia, baked in the restaurant’s wood oven, is thin enough that the flavor of the bread doesn’t overpower its toppings: ripe tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and basil with crumbled ricotta salata (a dried version of ricotta that’s saltier than its fresh counterpart). LBM_53_Dine_Romeo Cucina_By Jody Tiongco-45

Nothing cures a craving for Italian comfort food as well as handmade pasta, however. Seafood fans will want to sample the panzarotti d’aragosta: Lobster- and crab-filled ravioli are topped with a luscious, deep pink whiskey sauce, then dotted with perfectly cooked shrimp and scallops. A heartier dish, the tortelloni di carne, will satisfy beef lovers. Large pasta shells with ultra-tender braised rib-eye are covered with creamy pesto, then garnished with arugula and shaved Grana Padano (a hard cheese). Both dishes pair well with an Italian red wine.

For a sweet finale, save room for the torta nocciola. The dessert features multiple layers of rum-soaked hazelnut sponge cake separated by hazelnut ganache, all topped off with fine chocolate shavings and a sprinkling of crunchy, toasted nuts.

 

Tip: Stop by during happy hour, offered daily from 5-7 p.m., when all drinks are half-priced.

Hours: Monday-Thursday, opens at 5 p.m. for dinner; Friday-Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for lunch, 5 p.m. for dinner

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