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La Giostra in Monterey

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Food Tyrant Dec 25, 2005 02:27 AM

With a final shopping push and our anniversary to celebrate, She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed suggested the new Italian Tuscan restaurant on Munras near Del Monte Shopping Center.

Opened about 3 months ago after the previous owner (a pizzeria) shut down when California Pizza Kitchen opened in the shopping center, La Giostra tries to imitate simple italian food. Massimo Sartorio and his wife run the small restaurant (about 10 tables). The kitchen is open with the only jarring note being the soft drink logos that are visible to the diners from the back of the dispensers.

We were seated at a small table and a bread basket with a small crock of very green EVOO was placed on the table. The bread was not very good and a bit old while the EVOO was very good. There was a bit of confusion as well with the fact that we didn't have menus when the server showed up. So that was fixed, we ordered and we waited. Quite a while before even the bottle of water and bottle of wine showed up (without enough glasses).

This confused yet oh so friendly service continued throughout the evening. It seems that the regular server had not shown so ....

She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed's salad (the Insalata dell'Architetto: a mixture of baby lettuce, sliced yellow raw beets, raw celery root, raw carrots, fresh ginger with a wild berry dressing) arrived at least 10 minutes before my ribollita did. So I stole some of the salad. The combination strangely worked. The ginger flavor was very strong but of course I did happen to eat an entire sliver of ginger. It took a while for my tastebuds to settle, but it wasn't that I didn't lke the stimulation. It was just so ...unItalian? I think the combination was tasty but avoid eating the fresh ginger and I would have sliced the veg much more thinly.

The ribollita when it arrived was smoking hot from the wood fired pizza oven. Very thick and tasty with spinach or chard. bread, and beans but it really needed more salt. I used the EVOO on the table to add a little more dimension. Unfortunately my enjoyment of the soup was cut short by the arrival of all the other dishes the 2 of us had ordered.

I abandoned the ribollita and cut a slice of the margherita pizza. Wow. It has been a while when you can taste the mozzarella. A very deliscious thin crust pizza and it made a good little breakfast snack the next day.

She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed ordered the Taglierini al Prosciutto (pasta, cream, ham, peas, Parm baked in the wood oven) and while it was extremely hot it was extremely good (once we added a bit of salt). We wondered if Italians really liked their food so hot (or cold) that it was impossible to eat. But the pasta was cooked perfectly (al dente) and the combination was fantastic.

My branzini livornese(tomatoes, capers, lemon, black olives) was also perfectly cooked in the wood fired oven. I am used to seeing fish reduced to a tight protein block, but here the fish was on the soft side of tender. Not sushi but not flaky. Really really good. The fish was served with a generous side of carrots and roasted potato wedges.

Of course we had to share a little dessert so we opted for the cannoli, something we teased the server with. What self-respecting Tuscan mother would offer up a Sicilian dish? But it was Christmas time and we thought the reds and greens of the glaced fruit would be in keeping. Too bad, because the menu lied and we were served some crispy cannoli stuffed with ricotta mixed with chocolate. Still very light and tasty.

Wine list was reasonable ( we picked a bottle of on e of the Frescobaldi chiantis for $27).

So while the service was a challenge the food and the attitude will get us back. After all I still have all those pizzas to work through and I hope they keep the pasta with wild boar ragu.

We figure that they will realize that firing all the dishes on a table all at once is not a good thing.

La Giostra is a thumbs up.