“Everything you see I owe to spaghetti,” Italian screen legend Sophia Loren once said in an interview.
Should you also like to enjoy the richness and variety of Italian food, Lo Spago (the short form for spaghetti in Italian) restaurant and pizzeria is a brandnew option.
Inaugurated in August, the trendy place in Santa Ana, southwest of San José, is easily recognized by its logo: a plate with appetizing- looking seafood spaghetti picked up by a fork. This eye-catching motif is seen everywhere, from the business sign to the paper table sets and the extensive food and beverage list of the eatery.
Bamboo and cacti line the entrance,where contemporary-style chairs and tables invite visitors under a sheltering roof. Lemon and wine hues dominate the interior, while comfortable wicker chairs, wooden tables and potted plants provide a relaxed, family-oriented atmosphere.
Pizza production can be observed through a pane, and the walls are decorated with mouthwatering photographs depicting highlights of Italian cuisine.With an emphasis on pasta and pizza, the menu features a palette of cold and hot starters, meat, fish and seafood dishes, as well as one of the largest dessert lists (21 items) around.
“I wanted to put the pizza the customers of my Piedades restaurant had asked for back on the menu,” says restaurateur Marco de Nando, 47.
De Nando, a native of the northern Italian region of Veneto, not only owns and operates Lo Spago, but has also been successfully running the refined and romantic Da Marco restaurant for two-and-a-half years; the restaurant is located at the entrance to the Italian-run Canal Grande Hotel in nearby Piedades de Santa Ana. De Nando’s first culinary enterprise in the Central Valley was Café Mediterraneo in the western San José’s neighborhood of Rohrmoser (TT, Sept. 6, 2002).
The dishes de Nando offers at his restaurants grow out of his creative spirit and dedication to the simplicity and naturalness of the traditional cuisine of his native Italy.
At Lo Spago, the menu lists 20 cold and hot appetizers, of which the salad with pears, almonds and pecorino cheese and the polenta with Gorgonzola (¢2,200/$4.20) are especially worth mentioning, as is the mussel soup (¢3,950/$7.60).
The extensive selection of pasta dishes reads like an introduction to the comforting world of Italian noodles: garganelli, linguine and spaghetti are prepared in a variety of ways, ranging from the classic to the sophisticated.
Homemade pasta includes lasagna with pesto (¢3,000/$5.80) and truffle-stuffed ravioli prepared with butter and sage (¢3,600/$6.90). Savory, ear-shaped orecchiette baresi are made with anchovies and broccoli, a recipe de Nando brought from Bari, a seaport in southeast Italy.
Also available are rich pasta dishes with jumbo shrimp, mushrooms and bacon in a pink sauce (¢8,600/$ 16.50). Those who do not have enough room for a starter and a main course can opt for one of the platters, which come with salad or pasta, plus fish or meat combined.
Pizza is another traditional staple of the boot-shaped country’s cuisine. In 1889, Neapolitan chef Rafaele Esposito prepared the first pizza of modern times for Italian Queen Margherita and her husband, Umberto I. To represent the national colors of Italy, red, white and green, Esposito topped the pizza with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and fresh basil,much to the delight of the queen. Pizza Margherita not only became her favorite, it also became a culinary tradition that has since spread throughout the world.
At Lo Spago, pizza comes in three different sizes: two round and a third rectangular pizza called “medio metro” (half-meter). De Nando especially recommends luna rossa (red moon) topped with tomato, Gorgonzola, Italian sausage and radicchio (from ¢3,100/$6). Also offered are pizza varieties such as calzone (turnover pizza), fagottino (hot pockets) and stuffed pizza bread.
Meat, lobster, shrimp and fish are prepared with the same carefulness and imagination.
My favorite is the juicy salmon fillet with honey and mustard (¢6,100/$11.70), accompanied by a glass of cool, dry house white wine (¢1,200/$2.30). Prices are commensurate with the quality, and service and tax are included.
“We want to provide our clients with authentic products of good quality, available in a nice but informal setting,” explains de Nando, who runs Lo Spago with partner Riccardo Rossi.
Sophia Loren’s famous quote doesn’t reveal whether she loves desserts, but we certainly do. If you still have room, pamper yourself with homemade ice cream, panna cotta (Italian custard) with amaretto, crepes with Nutella or irresistible tiramisu.
Located in the Terraflash mini-mall, 100 meters north of the Red Cross in Santa Ana, Lo Spago is open every day except Tuesday, from noon to 3 p.m. and from 6 to 11 p.m. For information, call 582-2121.