NOTHING COULD BE much simpler than crushed tomato, salt, a little oil, on a toasted piece of bread, right? But oh how rarely you find something more welcome, tastier, than this little amuse-bouche (surely there's an Italian word for this), when the tomato is perfect, the bread good, and the cook's hand deft and judicious.
It was a lucky find, this restaurant. We often find ourselves leaving Los Angeles (or Pasadena) Sunday late afternoon, and wanting to sleep an hour or two out of town. It gets us home to Healdsburg sooner next day, and obviates the need to drive through much of the night on Highway 5. And the motels in Lebec and Grapevine are much less expensive than those in LA or its Valley. But where to eat?
So I looked on Google Maps for restaurants in the neighborhood of Valencia, and the reviews attached to this place looked promising, ditto its online menu. It was a little out of our way, but not badly. And what a fine place it proved to be!
Non è piccolo, I said to the host on entering; No, he responded, è un po' grande, and from then on our exchanges were half Italian, half English. The place is authentic. People at the next table spoke fast Italian. The trattoria is a family affair, and the family is from Sicily. What could be better?
We shared a misticanza, a very nice mixed green salad with a good Balsamic vinaigrette, and I went on to fettuccine alla Bolognese. To tell the truth, I'd have set Bolognese in quotes, if it were my place; there was a lot of tomato in this sauce. But there was the meat and the aromatics — carrot and parsley, bay laurel, black pepper, just a hint of garlic. And the pasta was terrific, probably house-made, with well developed flavor, rolled the proper thickness, and cooked to exactly the right degree.
Dessert: a delicate semifreddo covered with dark chocolate. I followed it with a Fernet Branca, straight, served in a generous cordial-glass…
We will certainly be back. Hmmm: wonder if there's a cheap motel closer…
•Piccola Trattoria, 18302 Sierra Hwy, Canyon Country, California; (661) 299-6952