I’ve been known to get cravings for all sorts of domestic and ethnic cuisines, but Italian American cuisine is one that never really captured my imagination in that way. It’s not that I don’t like red sauce establishments but I tend to look for things that seem new and exciting instead of the classic and the traditional when it comes to eating out. My fiancée on the other hand has a certain affinity for it and had been asking to go out for this style of food for a while now.
Roncone’s is located on Lyell Ave and is dripping in old school from the valet outside to the dark, wood paneled interior and especially the menu. Simple and strongly focused on red sauce over a variety of pastas and meats along with other classics. Nothing modern and certainly no fusion. Straight up Italian American all the way. We got Italian bread, butter, sauce and hot oil right away and went to town on it. The bread was unfortunately not fresh but dipped in the sauce it was at least edible.
The sicilian calamari got rave reviews online so we started with that and I have to say that they were spot on. Calamari were perfectly fried with light, crisp coating and tender rings of meat swimming in a hot vinaigrette along with olives and some pickled peppers. Surprisingly, the calamari stayed reasonably crisp in the tangy liquid and we devoured the entire dish quickly leaving us very satisfied. I can’t really complain about salty, spicy deep fried goodness and this was a rock sold squid dish.
Our main dish was the gnocchi with red sauce with a meatball and a side of the tripe. The gnocchi came out swimming in the marinara like sauce that brought plenty of acidity and brightness to the dish while not shying away from tomato flavor. I’d say it is pretty similar to a marinara and I liked it a great deal. The sauce was not overly sweet which was a nice change from most and the well seasoned meatball was generously sized for the additional price. Not the most moist but it was a fine version with plenty of herbs that worked well with the sauce. The tripe carried the trademark barnyard taste (as coined by Andrew Zimmern) so, if you are looking to expand into the world of offal, this is more than an introductory step. On the positive, it was very well cooked and tender as I’ve ever had it and seemed to be a very popular offering according to our helpful and friendly waitress. The gnocchi were a bit on the dense and bland side and the whole dish was a bit under salted even with the meatball distributed around.
Despite some of the faults, I enjoyed the dish and our overall experience and it helped to reopen my eyes to what Italian American food can offer when it is done well. I’m not saying it’s going to become a common occurrence, but the next time it gets brought up as an option I’ll be more open to it than I was prior to our trip to Roncone’s.
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