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LoCoco's Cucina Rustica's Sicilian Roots in Santa Rosa

LoCoco's Cucina Rustica chef-owner Joe LoCoco brought the flavors of his Sicilian hometown to Sonoma County.

When LoCoco's Cucina Rustica chef-owner Joe LoCoco brought the flavors of his Sicilian hometown to Sonoma County more than a decade ago, he made a commitment to keep his Italian cooking authentic.

He offers modern restaurant dishes for contemporary tastes, too, but at the heart of his kitchen is traditional Bolognese pasta, linguine di mare with clams, shrimp, scallops, and calamari. The nightly specials often include ingredients like mushrooms that LoCoco personally picked in the Sonoma County countryside.

He must be doing something right – his eatery has been voted “North Bay's Best Italian Restaurant” for the past 12 years straight by Bohemian newspaper readers.

The look: You gotta love the old-school style, complete with red linen tablecloths, copper pots and decorative plates hung from the wood rafter ceiling, white paper placemats, and bread served in red-and-white-check cloth-lined wicker baskets. LoCoco is often in the house, popping Prosecco bottles, and the staff know their regulars (their many, many regulars) by name.

Tip: the downstairs seating is the most popular area, next to the bustling kitchen. For a bit more quiet time, head to the second floor loft.

To eat: Fried calamari is fried calamari, right? Except when it’s this feather light, beautifully crispy, chewy jewel of a dish ($13.95). Curled fillet and tentacles mix and match for lovely texture, and we finish each piece simply with a spritz of lemon followed by dunks in tartar or marinara.  

We always have to get the burrata, as well, craving its creamy mozzarella di bufala goodness that’s spread on crostini and drizzled in extra virgin olive oil and maldon sea salt ($12.95). There are few places, meanwhile, where you can still add classic white anchovies ($3) to your Caesar salad ($9.95), and I always do, savoring the briny punch against the crisp leaves and creamy dressing.

On a recent evening, we focused on pasta for a second course. The tagliatelle Bolognese is rich with ground beef, veal, and pork in chunky tomato sauce ($17.95). The heartier pappardelle con cinghiale ($18.95) is dotted with crimini and porcini mushrooms and housemade wild boar sausage — our server said that LoCoco often hunts the boar himself, to take to a local butcher.

Gnocchi al piacere ($17.95) feature housemade potato dumplings, too, and they’re exquisite — light and fluffy and smothered in a choice of sauce — and the four cheese blend is divine, thick and creamy velvet over the firm pasta.

One of my favorite traditional Italian dishes is chicken Parmigiana. It’s not on the LoCoco dinner menu, but it’s on the lunch list, and my server happily accommodates my order ($17.95). It’s just what I wanted — thick breast smothered in tomato, mozzarella, and Parmigiana with a side of broccoli rabe, garlic, and chili, plus my requested side of spaghetti substituted for the usual roasted potatoes.

Rounding the feast out, we share a bowl of fagioli all’ucceletto ($6.95), a blissful tumble of meaty cannellini beans, tomato, sage, and plenty of garlic.

To note: This is great place for a party, from 20 to 60 guests. Three course, prix fixe menus start at just $25 per person.

Desserts: It’s impossible to dine here without diving into the homemade cannoli, a duo of crackly, light pastry shells stuffed with tangy ricotta, pistachio, and orange zest and sprinkled in more chopped pistachio ($8.95).

To drink: Sonoma County wine is covered, naturally, but this is also a wonderful spot to explore a rich selection of Italian wines.

Details: LoCoco’s Cucina Rustica, 117 4th St., Santa Rosa, 707-523-2227 

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