This cozy neighborhood restaurant has mustard yellow walls that contrast with rich mahogany wood, blue lattice backed chairs, and ruby red tablecloths and napkins. The walls are decorated with local artwork, which changes every month. The soft glow from the cream colored glass globes and the overhead chandeliers gives the place an old-fashioned feel.
It is a neighborhood place, apparent from the people walking by and dining who are on a first-name basis with head chef and co-owner, Paula Frazier. Frazier at one time cooked for Bruce Springsteen, so you know she's top-notch. In addition to serving up delicious dinners, Frazier makes a point to greet each table and ask about the food. The servers are friendly, and ample time is given between each course to enjoy the meal. You are never made to feel that you should hurry; diners are allowed to luxuriate in each taste and sensation.
All the tables receive a fresh loaf of crispy Italian bread that is served warm with a side of olives in olive oil. The olives add texture to the delicate flavor of the oil and complement the semi-sweet bread. For starters, we tried the calamari fritti that comes with marinara sauce and fresh lemon. The deep fried rings of calamari were crunchy on the outside and gave way to juicy fish. The marinara sauce is spicy and included chunks of fresh tomato. We were told that the secret to the delicious flavor was the fresh crushed red pepper. The portion was large, definitely an item to share.
Other appetizers include: antipasto; the house salad with tomato, red onion, and shaved parmesan; and grilled eggplant with ricotta and pecorino filling. The appetizers are reasonably priced between $8.50 and $13.50.
For dinner, we tried one meat and one pasta dish. The bucatini alla matricianna or spaghetti with pancetta, onion, hot red pepper, and pecorino is a house favorite. For every pasta dish ordered, you are asked how you want the pasta cooked. The pasta may be ordered in half portions for those with a lighter appetite. The large portion of pasta had chunks of ham, tomato, and diced onion. It has a nice kick from the red pepper and was served piping hot. Fresh ground pepper and grated cheese were added to the dish by the server, who left the cheese on the table when we requested it. The dish was excellent. The sauce alone with the complex flavors will make you feel like you've gone to Italy.
My companion had the saltimbocca alla romana, which is veal medallions topped with prosciutto and fresh sage for $19.50. The slices of veal were sautéed in white wine and were tender and infused with flavor. The rich sauce accented with sage complimented the juicy meat that melted in the mouth. A heaping portion of roasted potatoes were served with the dish. The skins of the potato were crispy and seasoned perfectly.
There are a variety of different meat dishes including: a breaded veal cutlet; grilled sirloin steak marinated in olive oil; sautéed chicken breast flavored with herbs, wine and lemon; and a chicken breast stuffed with four kinds of cheese. The meat dishes are priced from $17.50 to $19.50. Other pasta dishes include: cheese tortellini; penne with vodka sauce; cavatelli and broccoli; spaghetti with red sauce; and wide ribbon pasta with veal sauce. All pasta dishes are priced from $12.50 to $13.50 with half orders at $7. There is a daily special menu with appetizers, salads, and entrees.
For dessert we had the tiramisu, which was rich, creamy, and delicious. All of the desserts are homemade. Other choices are Italian custard, warm chocolate cake, and sorbets. The desserts are $6 to $7.50. Espresso, cappuccino, coffee and tea are available to complement the rich desserts.
Other beverages include soda, juice, and sparkling water. There isn't a bar, but they have a BYOB license and a liquor store conveniently located next door. The restaurant is open Tuesday through Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m., and on weekends the kitchen is open until 11 p.m. All major credit cards are accepted, and gift certificates are available. The food can be catered for private parties. For more information or reservations please call: (201) 422-9500 or visit: www.lavacity.com .