As a rule we here at the Empty Fridge would not describe ourselves as 'romantic'. We simply don't do the loved up eye gazing soul connecting that so many couples do on that one day of the year - Valentines day. After driving past La Casa every single day, we thought it'd be nice to warrant an occasion where we could potentially end up in a food coma. Reading delicious reviews of this family owned restaurant (Brother and Sister team Tony and Carmel Rugerri) and following Carm's delightful tweets, it was too difficult to stay away any longer. So came into fruition a new tradition; The "Non-Valentines Day" celebration - no romance, strictly food only.
La Casa's very own wood fired pizza oven
So on this lazy Sunday evening a Concord girl and a Henley boy decided to meet halfway on Lyons Road, Russel Lea. As long time locals of the area, we have been desperate for a great Italian place to open up. A 5 minute drive where we could venture when the fridge is in fact empty. La Casa is the perfect home away from home where the smells and comfort of the food just hit the spot.
As soon as we were seated, we immediately felt at home. We tell our lovely waitress Daniella our plans for a non-romantic dinner, we can't help but notice that even though it was early on a Sunday night, the place was filling up rather quick! "Daniella, do we have a time limit on this table? Because....how do we put this?..we really want to eat." So with a bottle of Lucarelli Negroamaro our amazing meal begins.
Polpette della Mama $14 or Mama's meatballs for those unversed in Italian.
Now we don't know what Mama Rugerri's secret recipe for these soft, perfectly seasoned meatballs is, but we would offer ourselves for temporary adoption and the promise of producing bottles of Passata if we could have this for dinner everyday. If historical architecture can bear any comparison to food, then this would be the colosseum of italian home style dishes.
You know its an authentic Italian restaurant when there is a slice of wood fired bread ready to mop up the fresh sauce left over from the annihilation of the meatballs.
Our next starter was the Crispy fried calamari served with rocket, aoli and balsamic. The fresh calamari rings were ever so lightly battered. In the blink of an eye, or in our case - a squeeze of lemon and a dunk in the aoli - our calamari had vanished. They were crispy and melted in your mouth. We fought over the last few pieces.
Calamari fritti con rucola, aioli e balsamico $16
Half, yes - this is just half a rack of pork ribs cooked in La Casa's sauce served with chunky fries $28
Despite the daunting size of the serving, there was no choice but to man up and carve into this deliciously tempting slap of meat. The meat was just so tender it fell off the bone, and each strip was so succulent and flavoursome - again with the La Casa secret recipes, come on Rugerri's adopt us already! It was a smoky and sweet flavour that lingered on your fingertips. Eating these ribs with cutlery just did not seem like a good strategy because you just wanted as much of that delectable sauce as possible.
Coniglio in Agrodolce $24
The second main was the Rabbit cooked in tomato and balsamic sauce. There hasn't been an instance in any restaurant where rabbit has not been picked to eat when spotted on the menu. La Casa wouldn't buck this tradition. A rather large portion of rabbit and sauce was presented, we were told that this was a special Russell Lea rabbit, larger than your average Five Dock rabbit. Of course they were only kidding but in any case it was delicious! The rabbit meat was perfectly balanced in the sauce as the tanginess of the vinegar, the sweetness of the tomatoes and the notes of sage.... it was just good. This dish was a definite winner. We should let you know that we have nicknamed the sauce "Kinder Surprise" because when we sifted through it with more chunks of bread, we would find hidden clumps of tender rabbit meat. They truly do not skimp on portions and quality here.
We couldn't help but feel like neanderthals with the plates of rabbit and rib bones before us. We had a quick break and a shot of limoncello to help us decide - do we have room for pizza, or are we going for a dessert marathon?
Tiramisu $10.50 Frangipane and Marmalade tart $12
The dessert marathon seemed to be the clear winner, although one of us was terribly upset that she would not be able to try the pizza - but we will get to that shortly. We started with the impeccable tiramisu which gave that much needed sugary respite to break away from the carnivorous undertakings beforehand. The masacarpone cream was smooth and not sickeningly sweet and the coffee soaked savoyardi biscuits complimented each other.
The marmalade and frangipani tart was a dessert Carm suggested we try. Really didn't want any problems of the Sicilian mafia variety, so we happily obliged :) All jokes aside though it was a delicious cake. It was a almost chewy, the biscuit base was so addictive and moorish without being too sickeningly sweet. The bittersweetness of the orange peel really brought the cake to another level and we shovelled mouthfulls with the gelati on the side.
Tre gelati $8You know the saying "two is company, but three is a crowd"? Well we truly wanted a crowd of desserts and who can say no to gelato on a hot summer night. Hazelnut, Vanilla and Chocolate gelato appeared and then shortly disappeared from our table. We truly did our new friends at La Casa proud with the amount of food consumed that evening.
Still disappointed that there was no room for pizza, we were taken to the back of the restaurant where we were shown the wood fired pizza oven where the 'magic happens' so to speak. We were shown first hand how their pizzas are made. The aromas eventually became too overwhelming for a particular person who thought that there was no choice but to order a funghi pizza to "take away". Clearly after 4 dishes and 3 desserts one could say that self control is a bit of an issue. That goes out the window when good pizza is involved.
Our pizza is made right before our eyes - the dough is freshly rolled out to a thin base and topped with tomato sauce and generous serves of mozarella cheese and mushrooms. As we watched the pizza going into the oven, a certain someone forgot about how full she was and giggled in anticipation for the pizza to arrive.
Funghi Pizza $17
The La Casa team were baffled as to how Pizza could be stomached after such a feast - Oh but it was stomached alright. A certain empty fridger's dream (Gianna, and only Gianna) is to be able to eat her body weight in pizza - and if there could be a choice, it would be pizza from here. Crispy and perfectly made, we could not fault this pizza - it was not oily or wet in any part, it was simply delicious. There was a crunch when you bit into a slice, and served fresh out the oven - there is nothing better.
Clearly, the take away pizza box was not necessary at all since after chatting to the wonderful La Casa family by the bar, we had all but eaten two pieces. There was a sense of achievement in all of this, as someone could not simply leave without trying the pizza. After such a warm, friendly and genuine family hospitality, there is no doubt we will be back. Not only was the food excellent but thanks to Carm, Tony and their team, it had to be one of the most fun non-romantic dinners ever. Grazie La Casa!
The Empty Fridge Scorecard
- The Peak: Having a place to call La Casa, ie our Home away from a home cooked meal, literally down the road. The friendly service, family sized servings and affordable hearty dishes makes for a 5 star dining experience in our books!
- The Pit: For Demos and I to get to each others places we have to drive through Lyons Rd, past La Casa - knowing what goodness is inside its getting harder and harder to resist a quick pizza stop over. To you non-locals, make the trip - its well worth it!
- Empty Fridge Dish of the Day: Let this post be a lesson - do not, and I mean it - leave without trying the Pizza. It is up there as one of Sydney's best, and this is coming from a true pizza fein! One crunchy bite and your hooked!
The lovely queen of twitterverse herself Carm - and a romantic pizza shot.
La Casa Ristorante
Licensed and BYO available, family friendly