Food: A Tiny Trattoria… With an Even Tinier Menu

I first heard about La Piccoletta from a good friend who always takes his girlfriend there for Valentine’s Day dinner. For a city of somewhat small size, Claremont has a surprisingly large number of Italian restaurants, yet I had never heard of this place after more than a semester of living here. How could that be? And it’s in the village, so how could I possibly have not walked by? But after receiving detailed directions, I still did not find it until about the fifth try.La Piccoletta is literally in the parking lot behind Some Crust Bakery. The hidden location is one part of La Piccoletta’s charm. But the most significant part of its truly charming character is how tiny it is: no bigger than a double dorm room. The Web site says the capacity is 40 people, but from what I can tell, the only way that would work would be for everybody to have someone else in their lap. The room is beautiful with a balcony-like mezzanine along the top for a Tuscan-feeling architectural touch. With strings of Christmas lights and lush curtains in the corners of this tiny trattoria, this is easily the most romantic restaurant in Claremont. (Though don’t ask me for help with getting a date. There’s a reason I write dining reviews and not the Claremont Climax column.)If the restaurant is small, the menu is even tinier. You want an appetizer? You’ll have the antipasto platter consisting of 85 percent white beans, 15 percent artichoke hearts, tomato, and mozzarella. That’s the only option. Supposedly there is prosciutto in it, but it was nowhere to be found. You’ll also get either a very lemony Caesar salad or plain, mixed green salad with olive oil with every meal. Neither is special, but honey, you must eat your greens!Entrée choices are basic and limited to a small handful of main items, including filet mignon, cioppino, or a single type of pasta served with a choice of four different sauces. Do not expect any sort of startling new combinations or pyrotechnics from an innovative kitchen. The cioppino is a decent rendition of the San Francisco seafood stew. La Piccoletta’s version is a little more vivid than most cioppinos, with a satisfying helping of shrimp, scallops, clams, and flaky fish to absorb the broth. The shrimp scampi was very safe and had no distinguishing garlic flavor—perhaps the chefs were looking out for the breaths of the dating clientele. The kalamata olive and goat cheese meatball is essentially one enormous meatball in tomato sauce; the goat cheese and olive were hardly noticeable. I wish it were not served in the tomato sauce so diners could choose any of the pasta sauces.

Ratings:

La Piccoletta:114 North Indian Hill Boulevard, Claremont(909) 624-1373

Serving dinner, Tuesday through Saturday, starting at 5 p.m.Prices: Pasta dinners $17.00 for 3 courses, entrees $23-$26Special dinners on Tuesday: $22 for pasta and salad for 2 peopleThursday: $10 per person with Claremont Colleges I.D. for pasta and salad

Overall: **Food: **Atmosphere: **1/2Service: **1/2

Restaurants with table service are rated with a grade from 0 to 4 stars on food, service, and atmosphere, along with an overall star rating. Restaurants without table service receive only one overall rating and are assessed with more of an emphasis on their overall value. All overall ratings take into account a restaurant’s prices.

4 stars: Extraordinary3 stars: Outstanding, very reliable, perhaps 1 area to improve slightly2 stars: Good but several flaws1 star: Avoidable, I probably did not get food poisoning at least0 stars: Should be closed/dangerous to a diner’s sanity and health

The pasta of the week changes often: penne sometimes, other times linguine. La Piccoletta has a staple of about 12 different sauces, ranging from the classic red sauce with ground beef, pancetta, or sausage, to “vongole” clam sauce, to the “arrabbiata,” which is described as a “spicy” and “angry” sauce made with tomatoes, garlic, and cayenne pepper. Don’t mess with the arrabbiata! The “aromi,” or pink sauce, is the most popular. Though it is tomato based, it seems just like a pinker alfredo. You can order all four sauces atop your pasta if you desire to eat like a critic, but here’s the problem: guess what happens when four sauces are sitting next to each other on one pile of pasta? It all mixes together. Red sauce plus white sauce plus pink sauce equals one collective pink sauce. If you want to sample all the available sauces, please separate the pasta and sauces into different bowls so the marinara does not taste like pesto. Curiously, though I asked for all four sauces, I only received three. The missing sauce must have thought the other sauces had cooties.The best part of a meal is easily the dessert. The fruit tart in puff pastry is satisfying and nutritional, if you think of the cream base as a source of calcium. The torta della nonna is an acceptable tart with a very lemony custard. However, coming to La Piccoletta without trying the magnificent rich, moist tiramisu would be like going to Pisa without seeing the leaning tower. Really, it’s that good. The best I’ve ever had—no contest.Service is very friendly and efficient, though our waiter seemed a tad nervous at first. Sometimes water glasses would go empty, and there were a couple glitches in orders, but the servers’ warmth and knowledge of Italian cuisine easily made up for any shortcomings. The restaurant is trying to draw more college kids with special ten-dollar pasta deals on Thursday nights—a perfect stop to fuel up before TNC. Though the pasta dinners are a great deal, the prices of $26 for cioppino and shrimp scampi are far too high. Shrimp scampi should never be the same price as filet mignon.For a pleasant, romantic night of gazing into your sweetheart’s eyes while sampling reliable Italian standards, La Piccoletta is your place in Claremont. It’s a tiny place, so even if you’re not on a date, there is a good chance you’ll meet somebody at the next table when you try to steal their tiramisu.

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