Dining Out

Review: Italian Cucina in New Hope

new hope free press italian cucinaItalian Cucina in New Hope is tucked away from the street and easy to miss for the average passerby. We had strolled by the tiny red restaurant a few times, and even walked up and put our faces to the glass to see a glimpse of the dining room. Yet it seemed that when it came time to choose a place, out of sight La Cucina was also out of mind.

But after a recent meal there that was anything but forgettable, La Cucina, with its easy, eclectic style and truly fresh Italian fare, has left an indelible memory of savory enjoyment.

My companion was kindly greeted and promptly seated as I parked the car in the rain. Our table was located next to the front window in the smaller section of what only can be described as a tiny dining room. A baked-on-premise Italian loaf was still warm in the basket, and was accompanied by olive oil infused with balsamic vinegar and parsley. The server was quick to attend to our wine, then describe the salads and appetizers for the evening.

Italian Cucina in New Hope (Photo: Sylvia Lewis)

Italian Cucina in New Hope (Photo: Sylvia Lewis)

As each night’s offerings differ, Italian Cucina provides no set menu, no printed menu and price is not discussed. Main courses are not announced until after salads and appetizers are finiished. Guests are advised that appetizers and salads are large enough to be split, and they truly are.

We opted for a burrata salad, and were wowed by the presentation and flavor of the dish. A tall mound of fresh-cut baby spinach was topped with cherry tomatoes and creamy, soft burrata cheese all dressed with a mild balsamic glaze. I smelled the freshness of the spinach on each bite like a surreal moment of summer in January. The burrata was so delicious and glaze so right that we decided to split the salad right away.

A small family of three joined us in the front section of the restaurant, and one knew the owner, Joe Lombardi. He came over and greeted the family, then politely engaged us in conversation. His authentic personality added a wonderful element to the evening.

Having passed on diver sea scallops, lobster ravioli and a mandarin salad, we moved on to our appetizer of meatballs marinara. That’s hardly a complex dish, but in any critic’s mind, one that should be solidly prepared by every Italian restaurant. Italian Cucina did not disappoint here. The meatballs (six) were crusted on the outside, but easily fell in two when cut with a fork. We discerned lamb, veal and beef in the meatballs, and allowed them to melt in our mouths accompanied by the smooth marinara that had just a little bite.

Our server detailed the dinner choices available, including flounder stuffed with jumbo lump crab meat, prime rib of beef, four-cheese sacchettini with house-made sausage and marinara, and casarecce in Alfredo sauce with house-made sausage. We requested some time to decide, and while we were mulling over the offerings, Lombardi came by and asked, “What can I make for you tonight?” I said that I would try the Sacchettini, but my companion was still reeling.

“The Casarecce sounds good, but I don’t need the cream sauce,” she explained.  “No problem,” relied Lombardi, “I’ll mix up some casarecce with marinara, and I’ll put a good spoonful of ricotta on top with a little vodka sauce for a some sweetness.” She agreed, and off he rushed through the dining room, now filled with a party of at least 40, all celebrating the New Year.

Our dishes came quickly. The sacchettini and casarecce were both freshly made. Each sacchettini was filled with smooth cheese, and melted in my mouth along with the mild house-made sausage and just-enough-bite marinara. The casarecce was delicious, and dipping a forkful into the smooth ricotta with vodka sauce made for a special treat.

For dessert we chose a chocolate, caramel and hazelnut tart that Lombardi told us he “imported” from the nearby Zoubi bakery. The crust was out of this world, as was the filling.

I cannot honestly rate Italian Cucina as anything but outstanding from a gastronomic, atmospheric, and “authentic” viewpoint. The experience was so comfortable and rewarding that we will be returning very soon.

Entrees were $25.95 each; salad $15; appetizer $15; dessert; $5.75 with coffee — total $114 with tip. Italian Cucina is located at 95 S. Main St. BYOB.

(The reviewer is unaffiliated with and receives no compensation from any restaurant reviewed. His views are his own, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Free Press.)

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