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Mar 22, 2007 12:21 PM

La Trattoria - Santee

Trattoria di IV has moved into a neat new space and morphed into La Trattoria - Although it bills it's self as "Italian fusion" don't go expecting Italian or fusion anything.

Strictly speaking it isn't really either. Yes, there is pizza, very good pizza matter of fact. Is it "authentic"? I don't know and, frankly, that isn't a deal breaker for me. I find it ironic that La Trattoria is located right next door to a Little Ceasars and I can pretty much guarantee you that the pizza at La Trattoria is infinitely better than that ;-). Pat and I ordered the lobster pizza on the appetizer menu. Unfortunately, they had some first night jitters and we ended up with a pizza with carmelized onions and crispy pancetta. Thin crust, spare use of tomato sauce and cheese, but liberal use of the delectably soft onions and toothsome pancetta. These are elegant pizzas that can not be misconstrued as "cheese bread" or a vehicle for a bunch of toppings. If you're from NYC or Italy, yeah, they probably won't stand up to the withering and critical eye. They do, however, taste really, really good, make a great starter for a table and are probably some of the best pizza in the dining desert that is the East County.

The petite osso bucco has been a menu staple at La Trattoria almost from the day it opened 4 years ago. It's still on the menu and still as good as ever. If you've ever resisted ordering osso bucco because you simply don't like wrestling with a big ol' hunk of meat and bone, this version using a smaller size shank is much more civilized not to mention delicious. It comes with a choice of mashers or fettucini.

And speaking of big ol' hunk o' meat, the braised short rib and French cut pork chop both fall into that category. The short rib was perfectly braised, tender and flavorful. When the pork chop showed up on my plate I had reservations that it would still be moist and tender. I was plesaantly surprised to find it was, indeed, fork tender and no dry. I think I would have perferred it cooked just a tad bit less, but it was still quite good. At least half of it is residing in my fridge at home along with half the pizza, both for future meals. The short rib came with mashed potatoes and the pork chop with a respectable mushoorm risotto laden with large quarters of meaty 'shrooms.

Pat had the vanilla bean panna cotta and I the caramel pot de creme. Both were really decent. I also managed to snag a taste of the chocolate cake from a friend at another table. It was good, but I think the panna cotta and pot de creme were better.

Last night (3/21/07) was their first night of business after the move into the new space and there are a few kinks that need to be worked out. The cooking and food were pretty solid, but service was still pretty rough around the edges and the timing between the kitchen and the front of the house staff a little off. Some things came out quickly, others didn't. The waitress didn't remember until reminded that my pork chop actually came with a dinner salad, or that the Strains should have been served their soup and salad prior to their entree. But, both the chef/owners said they were somewhat surprised by the number of people that actually showed up for the first day. Most of the service issues are small and I would expect them to be resolved within a short period of time. Chef Lily runs a pretty tight ship and isn't going to put up with too much ineptitude once they're safely past opening night jitters. My guess is that it should take them about a month to get the majority of the kinks worked out.

La Trattoria is located at 9720 Mission Gorge Rd. in the same shopping center as Best Buy and will be open Tuesday - Sunday. The East County is not know for great dining, La Trattoiria is a great addition to dining options. Prices are reasonable, the food is very good and a good value for the price. Service will get better and the wine list is interesting and very, very reasonably priced.

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  1. Hooray for the official re-opening! Will have to get over there soon. And I can second all of your comments about the East County dining desert. Have you seen the parking lot at the Brigantine at 6 PM on a weekday? Packed!! Same with all the chains in Grossmont Center. Certainly there is a market out there, I guess it's just a question of whether people would try something new if it were available.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Alice Q

      Boy, isn't THAT the truth! Same at Town Center in Santee - the lines for Olive Garden never seem to die down. Now, if those people would just head across the way to La Trattoria, they'd be able to experience what GOOD food tastes like!

    2. We had lunch there yesterday and boy oh boy, YUM! Everything was fabulous. We arrived shortly after they opened and were the only diners at first. We started with the small cripsy pancetta, carmelized onion and brie pizza. My dining companion has never been a fan of brie and kind of balked at the idea, until he tasted it. He ate three pieces, I had one! He had the tomato basil linguini with pink sauce, ground beef & sausage and devoured it. He did insist I try it, and it really was fantastic. I am not usually fond of such dishes, but I think I may order that myself the next time around. I was stuck between wanting a salad or a sandwich, and our server suggested the sandwich since it comes with a side salad (or your choice of french fries or onion rings). I settled on the roasted turkey & smoked bacon on cibatta with lemon pepper aioli. Let me say that I've had many sandwiches that have aspired to be this good, but missed the mark. It was perfect, the bread was crispy but not hard, the turkey was moist, the bacon cripsy, the tomatoes were juicy and flavorful and the aioli was great. Then we both splurged on dessert. I had the peach creme brulee, he had the apple strudel with vanilla bean gelato. Both were great, with plenty of fresh berries as garnish. I've never tasted a strudel so decadent, but I surely did enjoy my creme brulee. Neither of us can wait to return for dinner! Our server, Billie Jo was top notch. Chef Lili came by our table to see if everything was to our liking, which was also a very nice touch. By the time were leaving, they had quite a few tables full and seemed to be in full swing. I only hope the people of East County realize what a gem we have in La Trattoria and quit lining up to patronize the corporate places down the road.

      2 Replies
      1. re: soulshine

        Four of us made a reservation for the first Friday. Liked the room a lot and the food was excellent. Pizza, pork chop, osso bucco all as good as before and better than nearly anywhere in town (meaning SD, not just Santee). I would echo the comments about the service but agree that while there were problems, I have little doubt they will be worked out with experience. Welcome back!

        1. re: soulshine

          Amen about the corporate places. Hopefully when East County-ites get more options, they will actually appreciate them! I intend to go soon, I haven't been to the new location yet.

        2. I went back again for lunch, this time with my sister who loved it as much as I did. We shared a caprese salad, a bowl of the creamy tomato basil soup (which was garnished with a quarter of a grilled cheese sandwich - a nice touch), a small pancetta onion pizza and a lemon bar with berries for dessert. Again everything was excellent and I still can't wait to try dinner.

          1. We had dinner at La Trattoria this week. We'd been once before, on a Sunday, and were given a "limited menu". Denise came over to explain they were feeding their construction crew as a "thank you", and, thus, the limited menu. I thought that was very nice, and we decided to stay. It was good, particularly because one of my favourite items is the brie, carmelized onions, and pancetta pizza, and that was available!

            However, this week, we were treated to not only the full menu, but some amazing specials. My daughter and I ordered the "airline chicken" (fancy method of serving a chicken breast) on a bed of herbed polenta, with steamed asparagus. My husband got the flat iron steak (here we go with that 'trend' again, but a good trend it is!) with sauteed mushrooms and french fries (and here I was expecting "pomme frites"!). I wish I could tell you all that one entree was noticeably better than the other, but both were amazing! My daughter hadn't had polenta before, and isn't a huge fan of asparagus, but she managed to finish most of both. The chicken was devoured, and her exclamation: "I've never had chicken this tender before". My sentiments exactly. The flat iron steak was melt-in-your-mouth good, and cooked perfectly (medium rare). Their fries are some of the best I've ever had - well-seasoned and just the right crispness on the outside. We were stuffed, but shared a vanilla bean panna cotta for dessert. It was a nice way to end the meal - not too sweet, and not too much. I'm also happy to report they're doing a very brisk business. Thank you La Trattoria - East County NEEDS you!

            4 Replies
            1. re: phee

              Just thought I'd pass along this little tidbit: La Trattoria is doing a lovely ala carte menu for Mother's Day.

              1. re: phee

                You're the 2nd person that's said they're doing a very nice Mother's Day menu, but I just tried to access their web site and it's temporarily off line. Care to share what they'll be serving, or at least what you remember of it?

                1. re: DiningDiva

                  I'll post the menu tonight when I get home. I've also noticed their website was offline, and meant to mention that last night when we made reservations for Mother's Day. Thanks for the reminder!

                  1. re: DiningDiva

                    Okay, here we go. Four courses. First course: choice of coconut shrimp with an orange citrus sauce, scallops on the half shell with soy and champagne mignonette, or roasted vegetable napoleon with balsamic glaze. Second course: choice of lobster bisque with truffle oil, caprese "mille-feuille" with fresh basil, or spring mix with golden raisins, hearts of palm, and maytag blue cheese. Third course: choice of roast beef with a double baked potato and "au jus", roasted filet of salmon "en papillote" with risotto and lemon-dill beurre blanc, or veal marsala with caramelized onion mashed potato. Fourth course: choice of cheese cake with wild berries, key lime pie, or peach creme brulee. Complimentary glass of champagne or wine for all the moms. $39.99 per adult, 14.99 for kids up to 12 years old. In my book, for their creations, this is a steal.

              2. We tried to go to the new one to use a $100 gift certificate friends had given us from the former place, who raved about it, but they refused to honor the gift certificate from the former Trattoria Di IV. Pretty snotty about it, too. Gave us no incentive to try it out, I must say. Maybe they have more business than they need and don't mind alienating both a couple of new potential customers and a couple of old ones who liked the place well enough to give friends a nice gift card.

                3 Replies
                1. re: chasjacq

                  You may want to try to work that out with Liliana or Denise, the owners. None of the other folks that work there worked at the old location, so they may have refused it due to ignorance. The current owners were in partnership with another couple in the old location, and it might have something to do with why they weren't honoring them.

                  1. re: chasjacq

                    I have to echo Phee's suggestion regarding break-up of the former partnership being a possible issue.

                    Also...I have to ask...just how old was that gift certificate. La Trattoria is past it's 1-year anniversary and Trattoria di IV was closed several months before the new place opened. That would make the gift certificate at least 12-16 months old and possibly even older. That's a long time to wait to redeem a gift certificate.

                    Did you happen to read the article about the steep run up in the cost of food that was on the front page of the U/T today? If not, give it a read. ALL restaurants are facing huge operational issues due to the obscene escalation in the prices they pay for raw materials. What does that have to do with your gift certificate? 18 months ago it would have been easy to honor a $100 gift certificate because margins were higher then. Competition (and location in this case) keep restaurant menu prices low - artificially low in some cases - and every restaurant has seen their margins decrease pretty dramatically in the last 4-6 months. Redeeming an old, possibly even very old, gift certificate for $100 is probably a heck of a lot more challenging for a small, independent restaurant in today's market than it was when the gift certificate was purchased. That's a whole bunch of food and labor that the restaurant is going to put out without getting any payment for.

                    I think we'd all like to think that every business would employee great customer service, but that isn't always the case. And it does sound like the way the gift certificate was declined could have been handled better. And, since $100 was laid out to purchase the gift certificate, if there was no "use by" or "not valid after (date)" on it, it would seem that there does need to be some adjustment due to whoever purchased it originally.

                    1. re: DiningDiva

                      It's illegal in CA for gift certificates to expire unless they are expressly for the purchase of perishable foods (i.e. Venissimo's gift certificates expire in one year) Of course this is slightly different since the restaurant closed and reopened. They could honor it out of courtesy, but I don't think they are obligated to do so.