We stumbled across Cucina Italiana while researching things to see and do in the Lake Berryessa area. The rave reviews this restaurant got piqued our curiosity, so we allowed enough time on a recent trip to the Napa Valley to make a side-trip to the lake. And are we glad we did!
Cucina Italiana is located at a wide spot in the road known as Spanish Flat, on the southwest side of Lake Berryessa (alas, no lake frontage or view) about an hour from downtown Napa. You reach it by way of a narrow, twisty road that snakes through the scenic canyons surrounding the lake. We went there for a weekday lunch--I'm not sure we would want to travel that road after dark or in bad weather, but understand that many people do. What you find when you get there is a tiny café with a charming, no-frills ambiance. A small arbored patio and bocce court adjoins the building, which we heard was once a gas station garage--that explains the concrete floor. Vintage music from the 40s and 50s plays in the background while you enjoy a true Italian feast.
Cioppino, one of the restaurant's signature dishes, was luckily on the menu the day we went there. It was superb, and so was the eggplant and small pizza made with puff pastry rather than heavy pizza dough. The house dipping sauce for bread was the best we've ever had, prepared with premium olive oil, very old balsamic vinegar, and roasted garlic. Portions are generous, and prices are very reasonable. Bar service is limited to beer and wine, and the wine list provides a nice selection whether by bottle or glass. The menu includes so many creative variations on traditional Italian food that we can't wait to go back and try them. Chef Stefano Gusberti, a veteran of gourmet restaurants in Los Angeles and San Francisco, personally visits every table and delights in describing the ingredients and method of cooking whatever you order.
We've eaten at many fine restaurants in the Napa area over the years, and the food at this little bistro can hold its own against the best of them. And that's saying something.
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