The sign above the door at Matthew John’s newest addition to Mesquite’s culinary choices should read “Benvenuto!” instead of 471, Cucina Italiana’s address on West Mesquite Boulevard.
If my Google translator has worked correctly, “Benvenuto!” is “Welcome”” in Italian.
And as soon as I entered those wooden, double doors I felt very welcome.
An attractive young hostess, offered to seat me in the huge dining room immediately.
She set me at a table just inside the dining room, near the newly expanded, shady patio on the north side of the building.
The table was set with a linen cloth and napkin-wrapped flatware. No paper in site – a real treat in Mesquite. The décor is all in rich brown and mahogany colors, with marble pillars leading to the expanded part of the dinner house.
The restaurant had just opened its doors on Friday and I wanted to check it out.
Everything in the interior of Cucina Italiana is new. There’s no vestige of the old Los Cazadores Mexican restaurant remaining, including the west wall, which cramped the old dining room. It’s now stretches farther back giving room for at least a dozen more tables.
The bar along the western wall is full service and offers before dinner drinks, after dinner aperitifs or wines during the meal, by the glass or bottle. And I’ve quite drinking so I ordered their finest diet cola from the young waitress.
“Pepsi?” she asked. I din’t really expect Royal Crown, so I agreed.
As for the meal, don’t expect pizza. But don’t worry, Mesquite has several good pizza parlors and a couple not so good, so you won’t miss it from Cucina Italiana’s menu.
You can start your dining experience with antipasti (hors d’oeuvres), or insalate (salads) or zuppa del giorno (the chef’s select soup of the day).
You might have a hard time making up your mind. The antipasti range in price from $7 for the bruschetta -- crispy toasted Italian bread topped with tomatoes and basil tossed with olive oil and spices -- to the Italiano sampler at $14 -- a platter featuring deep-fried, golden brown calamari served with marinara sauce; shrimp scampi sautéed in butter and white wine with fresh garlic and some bruschetti.
You also can order the scampi or calamari as separate antipasti.
There’s more antipasti from the sea, as well. There’s manila clams with white wine, lemon juice and fresh garlic sprinkled with parsley or the spicy pomodoro mussels. There’s portabella mushrooms, stuffed with seafood and drizzled with cream sauce or the pomodori al tonno -- linguini tossed with olive oil, garlic, tomatoes and chunks of tuna.
The antipasti menu also includes the “elegant antipasto for two,” ample servings of pepperoni, salami, prosciutto, cappicola, artichokes and ripe, black olives.
That’s what I ordered. I’m cutting back on carbs, so most of the pasta is off my diet. But the variety in the “elegant” antipasto looks like a meal to me. It was.
Matthew John’s idea of antipasto for two is closer to my idea for antipasto for a family. But I did my duty and ate half, taking the rest home.
The insalate also is varied. There’s the Salad Italiano, with a mixture of romaine and ice berg lettuces, with onions, tomatoes, pepperocinis, black olives and parmesan cheese, drizzled with Italian dressing. Or replace the onions, pepperocinis, tomatoes and dressing and substitute grilled chicken, avocado, gorgonzola cheese crumbles, chopped bacon and eggs and a balsamic vinaigrette and you have the Italian cob salad. There’s also a chicken Caesar salad or the simpler Cucina house salad with a fresh spring mix, tomatoes, parmesan cheese and balsamic vinaigrette. Place the elegant antipasto ingredients over spring mix and you have the antipasto salad.
Not all of the salads are green. The fresh mozzarella salad includes the cheese, tomatoes and basil topped with extra virgin olive oil and spices. I considered that carb-free meal, but stuck with the antipasto.
You could spend a couple of hours perusing Cucina Italiano’s lengthy menu. But you’ll want to order and get down to eating, judging from the aroma drifting out from the kitchen.
I’ve always believed you can tell a lot about a dinner house from the bread its serves. And before my antipasto arrived, my waitress’ assistant brought out an order of fresh-baked, crusty and yeasty Italian bread. It was accompanied by a shallow dish of extra virgin oil infused with Italian herbs. I ate one small slice, although I wanted the entire enticing loaf.
There’s also the Classico selection on the menu, which ranges in price from $10 for spaghetti -- Bolognese or with meatballs -- to the $17 lobster raviolis in creamy seafood sauce. There’s other ravioli favorites – cheese in a creamy sauce and a spinach-stuffed variety in a creamy parmesan sauce, lasagna, a couple of varieties of linguini with the usual suspects -- clams or a mixed seafood version with a tomato aioli sauce.
And there’s eggplant or chicken parmigiana. I’ve been eating a lot of eggplant since my doctor said limit the carbs, but I’ll order that on a later visit.
The Classico menu also features pasta tossed with shrimp and red peppers or broccoli in creamy parmesan sauce.
But you’re not limited to the pasta the chef has selected. You can substitute your own tastes with cavatappi (that’s those hollow, spiral-shaped noodles), linguini, fettucine, spaghetti, angel hair, penne or whole-wheat pasta. Whole grains supposedly are “good” carbs, so if I can’t stand eating in an Italian restaurant without some pasta, I’ll opt for the whole wheat instead of the delicious semolina kind the rest of you can eat.
The top of the line at Cucina Italiana is the “Main” menu, with dinner ranging from $18 for the broiled salmon in dill sauce to $34 for the seasoned, grilled lamb chops.
And again, Italy’s love affair with the sea is evident. There’s grilled tuna, baked halibut, grilled sword fish with a balsamic vinaigrette and shrimp scampi accompanied by a 16-ounce New York Steak -- my idea of a condiment.
That’s not the only beef to be had. There’s an 8-ounces bistecca steak. I’ve had Tuscan-style bistecca before. It was a thick T-bone caramelized with a balsamic glaze on the blackened outside and rare on the inside; sliced thin for two people to share. I don’t know much about Cucina Italiano’s version, but it’s been encrusted with gorgonzola cheese (an Italian blue cheese) so it may be far superior to the version I’ve had before.
Steak pizzaiola are tinder strips of steak simmered in a wine, onion and tomato sauce.
Cucina Italiano wouldn’t be much of an Italian dinner house without a selection of veal dishes. There’s a 10- to 14-ounce broiled veal chop with a caper sauce
There’s also a veal piccata and a veal marsala. And you can order a chicken version of either, as well, if you’re not as tired of eating chicken, chicken, chicken as I am.
Or you can order the balsamic honey chicken, an entire half hen slow cooked in a balsamic honey sauce. I’ll have to skip that one, as delicious as it sounds – too many carbs in that honey balsamic sauce, although the portion is about right.
If the dinner menu doesn’t satisfy your appetite, there’s “dolce” – dessert.
Pick you favorite from chocolate mouse, tiramisu, spumoni, Italian ice, poached pears or crème brulee. When they say some dessert is to die for, in my case it may be true – especially as my doctor walked in while I was sticking some tiramisu in my mouth.
It’s going to take a few trips to Cucina Italiana to sample the entire menu, or at least those parts I dare. But that won’t be too difficult to accomplish. Cucina Italiana is open seven days a week, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch, and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. for dinner.
And hey, just because I’m cutting back on sugar and carbs and calories and fat and about anything else appealing, doesn’t mean you have to. So if you can indulge yourself, I suggest Cucina Italiana as the place to do it.