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The Gossiping Gourmet: Go from the top to the toe of Italy's boot

April 25, 2011|By Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz
(Scott Smeltzer )

It seems like the vast majority of restaurants in Huntington Beach are in strip malls with generally unprepossessing exteriors. Such is the case with La Fontana, but once you step through the door, you find yourself in a warm, welcoming atmosphere created by the amusingly kitschy but somehow charming décor.

Tiny Christmas lights embedded in fake pine boughs are strung along the ceiling. The walls are decorated with trompe l'oeil murals of large, stone-framed windows, one looking out onto a fountain in a garden and several others with vistas of the sea. Cloth-covered tables, golden lighting and an open kitchen combine to make the space quite endearing. Drapery over the storefront windows separates you from the reality of Beach Boulevard. Of course, the fact that our waiter was a large, genial fellow with a fabulous Italian accent didn't hurt either.

Chef/owner Corrado Gianotti was born in Piedmont, Italy, but his cuisine ranges all over the boot from top to toe. On the last Tuesday of every month, he presents a $59, four-course prix fixe dinner, highlighting a different region each time.

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Our meal began with the carciofi farciti alla Monfferina, or stuffed artichoke. We were puzzled about the "Monfferina" and discovered that it is a lively folk dance from Piedmont. The large, canned artichoke was stuffed with goat cheese, then lightly battered and deep-fried. It was presented on a bed of sliced and chopped tomatoes bathed in balsamic vinegar with sprigs of fresh rosemary as a garnish. The vinegar enlivened the winter tomatoes and provided a nice foil for the creamy stuffing. The rosemary left a lingering aftertaste of herb. The dish was quite good, but we would have preferred all that attention be given to a fresh artichoke.

We had wanted to try the millefoglie, a vegetarian appetizer described as a tower of eggplant, mushrooms, bell peppers, spinach and goat cheese, which sounded quite delicious and can be ordered as an entrée as well, but was not available because the chef said there was no good eggplant at the market that day.

Meat lovers might like the carpaccio alla Cipriani (Cipriani is often cited as the best restaurant in Venice). The preparation features paper-thin slices of raw beef tenderloin sprinkled with capers, olive oil and arugula and finished with shaved Parmesan.

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