Unless you live in the eclectic neighborhood around the main drag of Commercial Drive, you might never really notice La Rocca, a family-owned trattoria style Italian eatery, a few blocks from East 1st and Commercial. It's intimate, inviting and romantic, without being pretentious or artificial. There are touches of personal art works and a wall mural replicating a town near Florence. Ask the owner about a quirky detail of the mural, should you ever get the chance to sample this wonderful Napoli-style restaurant.
The cosy bar consists of two small areas, the front of which is grotto-like-- great for people watching. The second section is where the actual bar counter is, complete with leather bar chairs. From here, you can see into the kitchen and watch the chefs scrambling about to fulfill orders.
The menu offers a varied selection in each category, from antipasti to dolce (starters/desserts). You'll certainly be spoiled for choice, which means you might have a hard time deciding what to order, like I did.
I started the meal off with a glass of Sangiovese red wine and a Pear and Gorgonzola Salad with Candied Walnuts with spring greens and orange vinaigrette. On that evening, I requested bocconcini instead of the gorgonzola, which was my mistake. The sharpness of the gorgozola definitely would have been a better pairing with the crisp ripe sweetness of the anjou pear. I suppose I was feeling more in the mood for a lighter and creamier cheese, which ended up being fine, just not as spectacular as the gorgonloza would have been. The candied walnuts was a nice accent and there's nothing better than a honey roasted nut to add some sweet crunchiness to a salad like this one. The orange vinaigrette was light without being overly tangy--an excellent match with the salad.
On the evening I visited, they had sold out of veal, a very popular choice. Upon the owner/manager's suggestion, which I'm glad I followed, I ordered the Prosciutto Wrapped Halibut. The tender and moist, yet firm, white fillet came encrusted in moderately salty and and crispy prosciutto. It was simply the best fish I'd had in a long while. Not overdone, it was truly moist and lightly savory, with the prosciutto imparting a delicate seasoning note to the freshness of the halibut. The entrees came with roasted potato nuggets and fresh steamed, tender crisp vegetables of the day--which happened to be broccoli and sweet baby carrots. My only complaint here is that I wish they'd added an extra nugget or two of potato and an extra two flowerets of the broccoli. Nonetheless, it's not a deal breaker.
To round off my meal, I'd ordered espresso and a slice of Italian Orange Ricotta Cheesecake. I originally wanted to try the house-made tiramisu, but instead was suggested to try the cheesecake that evening, instead. I'm glad I did. I guess the tiramisu would have to wait for a return visit. The cheesecake, being made with ricotta instead of cream cheese, was truly a taste of italian dolce. The zestiness of the orange was very pronounced and the cheesecake was very light and almost creamy souffle and cake-like. It's now one of my favorite desserts.
The Sangiovese red I'd ordered to accompany the meal was a suitable match (inspite of having fish) as it was sweet, with notes of cherry, cinnamon and black pepper. I'm normally not a fan of italian wines but this one was my favorite, by far, and I've since consistently ordered it whenever I dine at La Rocca.
The service was hospitable and friendly, though at times, it was hard to get the attention sitting at the bar. My subsequent visits would prove much better in this department.
All in all, it was a real splurge and treat, salad, entree, dessert, coffee, glass of wine and tip came to about $65. Definitly not cheap but worth every single hard-earned dining dollar and far cheaper than a trip to the old country. You can have a little or a lot, and I certainly did have more than my fair share! I was more than satisfied and I'll be back.