Restaurant review: Charming new La Tavola in Grandview is off to an impressive start

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From the April 17, 2014 edition

Hopefully, the third time’s a charm for La Tavola. I know I’ve been charmed by it. And so were swarms of other Grandview-alighting diners last week, digging the new La Tavola’s soulful, carefully sourced and “ain’t fakin’ it” scratch-made Italian food whipped up by talented chef/owner Rick Lopez.

That name might ring a dinner bell, because Lopez (with baker, partner and wife Krista) recently closed Knead Urban Diner. But Lopez has been local-focused, hardworking and earning loyal followers like me through previous gigs at Tapatio, Crescendo and two earlier iterations of La Tavola. Yeah, the guy gets around.

And you should get around to La Tavola, where beautiful pastas are made by hand, and so is the furniture. Occupying a bright and cheerful, mid-sized space with handsome custom-built booths and chair rails (crafted from nearby reclaimed wood), La Tavola sports distinct floral wallpaper that practically smiles at you, its green and yellow tones rhyming with the place’s paint. Professional-comporting servers might wear ties, but La Tavola’s vibe is disarmingly casual, even raucous and seriously loud when crowded.

Currently there are draft beers from Four String, Revolution, Bell’s and Peroni (best deal: $13 pitchers), but plans and (attention Grandview voters!) ballots are being arranged for wine and spirits. Anyway, the focus here is on a dramatic stage-like open kitchen, “Now Playing” chalkboard specials, an easy-to-navigate menu and lotsa nice prices.

But first, homemade bread and an amuse-bouche, which will probably be a farro salad, whose chew and balsamic thrust definitely awaken palates. Now, try some thick, delightfully crisp and bold Garlic Crostini ($3), salty and enriched with fresh mozzarella.

A huge and Napoleon-like-assembled pan-fried pork meatball and polenta appetizer special ($6) worth fighting over was cheesy-comforting, herby and dissolves-on-contact tender. Providing contrast was an acidic, stewed tomato sauce.

Also uncommonly tender was an excellent Kale Salad ($6). Its organic baby greens, ricotta salata cheese and sharp vinaigrette were offset by sweet grapes and toasted almond slivers.

La Tavola’s magnificent Tortelloni en Brodo transported me back to elegant dinners in Italy ($14; “family” sizes are available for this and most other dishes). A classic and a must, it’s lovely and large tortellini dumplings (“-oni” is a plural Italian augmentative) stuffed with ground organic Ohio-raised chicken, prosciutto, mortadella, Parmigianno Reggiano, herbs and more. The beauties arrive dunked in a vivid broth that dances on the tongue.

Homemade Chitarra Pasta ($16; spaghetti-like, and — cognate alert — fashioned with a “guitar”-like apparatus) with Bolognese Sauce coated killer al dente noodles in a dynamic and tomatoe-y meat sauce with the requisite wine and dairy, plus a pleasant whiff of gaminess. A hulking-yet-supple slab of cheese-enriched, housemade Veggie Lasagna (a $14 special) would plaster smiles on any carnivore.

So would non-pasta preparations like a take-notice-fresh and expertly cooked Grouper special ($22 with sunchoke puree and a loose quinoa “crust”) and the marsala wine-sauced and deservedly famous (in earlier incarnations) La Tavola Saltimbocca ($16). Now made with pounded-thin local pork loin, the saltimbocca’s served with addictive polenta.

In a similar key is the Parmigiano Reggiano/pecorino Romano-and-breadcrumb-crusted local and organic paillards of Chicken Limone ($14, squirt them with more lemon), served with a brisk arugula salad. These “secondi” come with a generous “contorno” such as spicy and ridiculously delicious Braised Greens.

Desserts — like a creamy-yet-tangy Lemon Tart ($6) bursting with fresh citrus and settled into a buttery shortbread crust — are worth the splurge.

Frankly, I can’t wait to splurge here again.

Photos by Meghan Ralston