La Parolaccia: Claremont’s Newest Italian Trattoria

For a small city like Claremont, the number of Italian restaurants—none of them named the Olive Garden!—we have to choose from is fairly astounding. We could be in San Gimignano for the sheer quantity of Italian food, except the freeways and Indian Hill don’t look much like medieval walls and cobblestone streets. Two such trattorias even begin with “La” and continue with “P…a,” creating further confusion. In the end both are reliable, if very unmemorable experiences.

The more visible of the two, La Parolaccia, anchors a corner along Indian Hill, just north of the movie theater and frozen yogurt zone. Hardwood floors and tables, as well as ceiling windows, give the spacious restaurant a sense of slight grandeur. The sleek bar is perfect for a glass of pinot grigio and a small bite to eat. Nothing in the room screams Italy except the numerous Italian destination pictures on the walls—which only serve to remind you how far away you are from Portofino—and nobody shouts with their hands or forces cup after cup of grappa into your hands. La Parolaccia, after all, stands for “The Bad Language,” but I guarantee there won’t be any fists flying over the latest Berlusconi controversy in this osteria. The only truly Italian aspect of La Parolaccia was our ebullient waiter, who paced the meal perfectly with a sly smile and a steady hand, always insisting which dishes our party must order. This felt like dining by the Via Veneto (as did almost getting drilled by a car upon my exit).

The menu itself is a classic representation of the conundrum that Italian restaurants in this country face today: forced to cover an overly lengthy list of what American diners consider standard Italian cuisine, they are left with no room for authentic dishes. It’s sad to see how the non-chain Italian restaurants avoid the stale atmosphere of the Olive Garden, but their menus follow the same formula. Italian cooking is about the soul of the chef and the passion put forth into the pesto or handmade gnocchi. Though some dishes rise above the rest, you won’t find that extra love in any of the plates here. Start with some bruschetta and (even though it is by no means tomato season), a tidy caprese salad of tomatoes and mozzarella. The razor-thin beef carpaccio stands out, topped with mushrooms, shaved parmesan cheese, bitter arugula, and the pleasant salty notes of capers. Keep in mind that portions are very generous and the plates are fairly homogenous, so ordering an entire salad, pasta, or pizza for yourself will leave you not only stuffed, but bored.

The massive list of pasta covers all the usual suspects, often adding a few flourishes. Scallops and mussels join the usual clams in a spaghetti with white wine garlic sauce. The bite-size pork and beef meatballs are soft yet toothsome, adding some interest to the rigatoni and tomato sauce. Most of the sauces are either tomato, cream based, or—the bane of my existence—a combination of the two known as “pink.” A garlic cream sauce tastes no different than the alfredo at Collins. The seafood risotto could use more seafood; the scallops proved chewy, and the dish as a whole lacked flavor.

Claremont is a black hole for noteworthy pizzas. While the thin crust versions here are a little too bready and could use more time in the oven, they are still the best pies in town, especially when topped with black olives and anchovies for a real salt rush. If you’re feeling adventurous, sample the (almost) elegant focaccia topped with goat cheese and a drizzle of truffle oil.

Most Italian meals fill you up by the second dish, and La Parolaccia’s are no different. Most of the meat and fish options are nothing worth noting, aside from an excellent veal saltimbocca (the sage actually enhances the veal and proscuitto combination). The chicken with mozzarella cooked in a marsala sauce is as heavy as it sounds, overpowering the accompanying asparagus.

The restaurant does boast a compact but impressive wine list, heavy on the Italian wines at extremely reasonable prices. Do make sure to note the house red wines, a very European custom, at a bargain price of $6 per glass and $22 for a bottle. There is no dessert list apart from the waiter’s memory, but you can count seeing non-adventurous options such as tiramisu, bread pudding, and underwhelming chocolate mousse.

With far too many Italian options in the Village, La Parolaccia’s cuisine doesn’t stand out from the rest of the pack. For a glass of chianti and some pizza, however, one could do worse.

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