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<i> La Dolce Vita </i> at A’Roma Trattoria

A friend recently recommended that I dine at A’Roma Trattoria, a restaurant two miles from the Cerritos Performing Arts Center. The word trattoria appealed to me, conjuring up images of a rustic inn with a cook insisting that I try the special soup and maybe some gnocchi she just made. So I was a little disappointed when I pulled up to A’Roma to see that it was a major part of a large modern building.

Fortunately, after a few meals here, I have to approve. If you’re craving Italian food in the La Palma-Cerritos area, A’Roma is the place.

The boss here is Pietro Boccanfuso, a native of the island of Ischia, 11 miles off the coast of Naples. After arriving in America in 1960, Boccanfuso landed a job at the now-defunct Luigi’s in San Pedro. Over the years, he has worked at various restaurants in the South Bay and Orange County as cook, bartender and waiter. He opened this big, simply decorated place four years ago.

A meal here gets off to an interesting start with a basket of hot focaccia bread and a small crock of butter whipped with mascarpone cheese and set in a pool of tomato sauce. A good appetizer for two is the antipasto della casa ($8.95), a platter of fried calamari, two large shrimp sauteed in butter, lemon and garlic, and two baked clams mixed with bread crumbs, oregano and garlic. A more humble beginning is the comforting bowl of stracciatella ($2.95), chicken broth with spinach, eggs and Parmesan cheese.

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The 22 pastas offered range from the simple spaghettini with basil in a light tomato sauce ($7.95) to the agnolotti di aragosta ($12.95), half-moon shaped pasta pillows stuffed with lobster in a sherry cream sauce.

A highlight is the eggplant rustica ($10.95), thin slices of baked eggplant layered with creamy goat cheese and draped with a tomato sauce enlivened with cognac and shallots.

At lunch, in addition to the pastas and veal and chicken dishes, the restaurant serves pizzas, including one laden with mushrooms, Maui onions, roasted red bell peppers and mozzarella ($7.50).

A’Roma is at 30 Center Pointe Drive, La Palma. (714) 523-3729. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday .

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