Carbonara and Ceasar

During these times of so much apprehension and uncertainty, it’s uplifting to experience a restaurant that is navigating the pandemic with thoughtfulness, grace and generosity.

It’s Italia has been doing it right since the beginning. They opened for takeout the very next day after the shelter-in-place began. Not only did they immediately activate

strict precautions to ensure the safety of the community, but they also offered their full menu, discounts on wine and a side of toilet paper to boot. Yes, when people were frantically searching the shelves of every local and online resource, It’s Italia made it available. Takeout, with TP on the side!

But let’s get down to the food. Full disclosure, I didn’t really need to dine twice to have enough to write about, I just wanted to. I ordered once online and once on the phone; both quick and easy. Pickup is designed with clear signage for flow and social distancing, plexiglass at the doorway and sanitized pens for signing card receipts, if you don’t opt for contact-free.

The first meal was with my daughter. She pronounced her Caesar salad to be the best she’d ever had (and she has ordered them for years in every restaurant that has it on the menu). She also loved her spaghetti carbonara. The serving was so generous she dined on it for three nights. The artichoke ravioli melted in my mouth and the sweetness of the brown sage butter perfectly complemented the spicy arugula and tangy artichoke hearts. The crescenza-stuffed focaccia balls were a bit bland and doughy for my taste, but the house-made focaccia that came with the meal was warm and crisp and seasoned to perfection.

My favorite dish at It’s Italia has always been the beet salad. Every ingredient is wonderful and together they are bliss: citrus-marinated beets, peas, pickled shallots, watercress, mint, toasted pistachios, garden herbs and raspberry-lemon dressing on a bed of toasted cashew crema. I pretty much licked the plate clean. (Hey, I was at home so nobody was looking.) If you’ve been reading these reviews, you know I’m a bit of a salad snob, so I wondered if the crispness and quality would hold up in a takeout container. It did.

We split opinions on the Key lime pie. I wanted more lime and less whipped cream and marscapone; my daughter loved it.

For the next meal we enjoyed a socially distant dinner at home with my fellow reviewer. We shared the cranberry, walnut and goat cheese salad, elevated beyond standard

fare with its unique lemon- raspberry vinaigrette. My cohort loved her basil pesto pasta. Ditto for me on the salmon, although I found myself devouring the garlic mashed potatoes and bitter greens even more than the tender and flavorful fish.

The two dishes that wowed all three of us were my

daughter’s house-rolled gnocchi, made divine and unforgettable with its black truffle sauce, and Maile’s morning baked pie — that day’s was strawberry-blueberry. We heated it, added the ice cream and heaved a unanimous sigh of pleasure.

Then we realized we hadn’t even opened two cartons. Lucky for me! I had them the next day and I recommend both. The Brussels sprouts are oven roasted with pears and Parmesan (I ordered sans pancetta). The minestrone I ate cold since it was during the heat wave, and it was yummy — kind of like a chunky gazpacho with a bit of a kick.

As for It’s Italia’s generosity, owner Betsy Benham Del Fiero wanted to do something to help the community during this health crisis, and she started bringing meals once a month to Senior Coastsiders for delivery to homebound seniors. It was so successful — and satisfying — that she decided to set a goal of delivering meals once a week, and she invited customers to make donations to support the program. So far, so good. They are delivering every Friday.

Keeping the quality up to par when you’re cooking the same dish for almost 200 people isn’t easy, but you wouldn’t know it from the taste (I got to sample the lasagna) or from the smile on the seniors’ faces when they get their weekly It’s Italia meal. If you’re interested in supporting this program, visit itsitaliarestaurant.com for details.

As for next steps, It’s Italia remains smart and cautious. Targeting an opening of the courtyard in mid-July, they are doing some interior renovations and plan to reopen with a refreshed look.

“We are approaching the opening with ultra-strict procedures and training,” says Benham Del Fiero. “Including requirements of our guests, as far as safety is concerned, as it is a big concern of ours. I think we will be able to find some very creative ways to accomplish the task of keeping everyone optimally safe in a warm and very welcoming environment.”

I’ll be there.

Restaurant reviews are done by two local residents who enjoy sampling Coastside cuisine — from taquerias and sandwich shops to upscale places with Michelin stars. They choose to remain anonymous so that they get the same treatment as you would get in these places. Use their insights to help guide you, but by all means check out these eateries yourself.

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