Another week, another Italian eatery. Sometimes I feel there must be a special program for chefs immigrating from Italy to land in Reno and bless us all with their decadent food. I can’t seem to run out of Italian places to try in this city—and that’s certainly not a complaint.
As a long-time fan of Fourth Street’s Johnny’s, when I heard the masterminds behind that glorious restaurant had a second venture, I knew I needed to give it a try.
La Cucina Italian Eatery by Johnny’s, on the corner of Moana and Lakeside, is what you’d expect. The establishment offers a more casual air than Johnny’s, but it features the dim lighting, dark wood and impressive wine list many quality Italian restaurants have adopted. Coming in here is a stark contrast to some of the competition, unexpected in its expectedness.
The menu offers soups, salads, small bites, pastas, pizzas and entrees. For dinner, it’s easy to get your fix of Angus beef ribeye, Tuscan grilled salmon and chicken parmigiana. Or, have a salad with a glass of wine.
When it comes to Italian fare, pasta is my weakness. Looking for something other than a hearty meat sauce or heavy cream sauce, I strayed from the more traditional meals and instead ordered the fresh pasta primavera perugia made with homemade spinach-lemon pasta (yes, the noodles are green) and loaded with roasted mushrooms, artichokes, sun dried tomatoes, asparagus, arugula, garlic, olive oil and shallots in a white wine sauce.
That’s a lot of ingredients for one dish, but the produce works together well. Instead of small bits of everything mixed together, there are big pieces of asparagus spears (perhaps quartered) and mushrooms. Everything is identifiable and therefore no taste gets lost in the bunch. Instead, it feels like part pasta, part salad, working harmoniously together.
Another item Reno seems to be famous for—or perhaps I’m just aware of it since living here—is mushroom ravioli. It seems almost every Italian restaurant has its own rendition of the favorite, all pillow-y noodles stuffed with rich mushrooms and smothered in cream sauce. This specialty is a porcini and truffle ravioli covered in a mushroom demi-glace cream sauce, giving off bold umami flavors with a touch of creamy elegance.
Dinner plates come with a soup or salad starter, which you won’t need but will ultimately devour anyway, and a basket of bread. The bread here is worth a trip all on its own; served warm with a side of butter, it’s ideal for lapping up the remains of the sauce left behind from your dinner.
There is a full bar so patrons have many options for dinner drinks, before, during and after the meal, but it’s the wine list that deserves our attention. In addition to the pinot noirs and zinfandels you may find on any menu, La Cucina offers a lot of Italian varietals, too.
When unfamiliar, I like to ask staff which wine pairs best with my meal or give a breakdown of my favorite wines and see what they might suggest that’s new to me. The Primaterra Primitivo is good for a deeper red, while the Bocelli Sangiovese or one of the chiantis works for a lighter pairing. That isn’t even diving into the list of whites, which include a Ferrari Carano Fume Blanc and Marchetti Verdicchio.
In person: 3600 Lakeside Drive, Reno, NV 89509
Hours: Daily 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.