A Taste of Umbria in Glen Ellen
Italians settled many parts of Sonoma County in the late 1800s, and today we can thank them for the many wonderful Italian restaurants and wineries we enjoy here — including the delicious new Umbria Glen Ellen.
Opened in August in the former Wolf House next to The Saloon at the Jack London Lodge on Arnold Drive, it comes from owner Giulio Tempesta, who also owned the very popular Umbria in San Francisco for 21 years.
The look: Simplicity is the rule, with rather bare wood floors, wood tables, and cream painted walls trimmed in wood and brick. But the cozy buzz of the Jack London Saloon off the foyer brings warmth, there’s a fireplace, and the deck is lovely, overlooking a babbling creek. Reservations are a very good idea — the small bistro fills up quickly.
To eat: Prime ingredients and skilled cooking elevate what’s mainly comfort food. Drawing from his family’s longtime recipes, Tempesta impresses with his terrific spaghetti and meatballs, for example, smothered in robustly seasoned tomato sauce ($20.25/$21.50) or — even better — chunky ragu thickened with oxtail (add $2.50). Four big beef-pork meatballs are dense, moist, and herby with fresh basil.
I also like the lasagna al forno, layered with tomato-meat sauce, meat filling, béchamel, mozzarella, and Grana Padano ($17.25 lunch/$18.75 dinner). It’s baked properly chewy on top, just a little bit burned for extra crispiness on the noodles’ edges.
But first, start with the complimentary homemade bread that boasts a fine, chewy crust and fluffy interior. You’ll want more later, too, for sopping up sauces. And plan on sharing appetizers, since portions are large. My table of four sparred over leftovers after sharing ample strips of smoked salmon carpaccio ($14.50), a Caesar salad dressed with tangy anchovies ($10), and burrata on ciabatta with arugula and prosciutto dotted with olive oil and balsamic vinegar ($14.50).
We also took home a few slices of the jumbo size Neapolitan style pizza, since the thin crust carried quite a lot of very good fig, sweet Gorgonzola, mozzarella, and prosciutto ($17).
To note: Umbria does not have a full bar, but no worries. You can get your cocktails delivered from the Saloon next door.
Dessert: The usual suspects include tiramisu ($7.50), cheesecake ($9), and gelato ($7.50). Yet the tiramisu is some of the best I’ve had, not too “rummy” and gentle with the espresso. It’s more like a creamy cake.
To drink: Local wines but also Italian varietals.
Details: 13740 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen, 707-996-4401, umbriaglenellen.com.