The Gossiping Gourmet: Cooking up Italian cuisine runs in family

Ristorante Rumari is a family restaurant featuring Southern-style Italian cuisine. We haven't been back to this Laguna Beach eatery in six years, and were looking forward to revisiting it to see if the food was as good as we remembered — and to try some new dishes we hadn't had before.

The owners, Bina and Antonio Crivello, came to California in 1972 with their four sons, leaving behind their restaurant in Porticello, Italy. Mama Bina taught son Vincent and his brothers how to cook so she could stay at home and watch soap operas.

The brothers followed in their parents' footsteps and eventually opened restaurants of their own, including Vincent's Rumari in Laguna Beach. Their father, Poppa Antonio, is a baker who is responsible for making the wonderful foccacia bread each day. It's the kind you find in Italy, with a thin and crispy crust.

This restaurant is a favorite with the locals as well as tourists. Its location on Pacific Coast Highway, away from the center of town, means you can find parking and avoid the crowds. There is a small parking lot behind the restaurant as well.

Rumari's has a patio in front, hidden partially from the highway by plants. It is a pleasant spot to dine in the warmer months. The interior has two rooms for dining, one with a large bar. The main dining area has two chandeliers hanging from the beamed ceiling and tables with white linens, but the atmosphere is pleasant and warm.

We perused the menu while munching on that good focaccia, which is served with a little plate of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

We found the staff to be very efficient, and our waitress was particularly friendly and helpful. She described the daily specials in detail, and we chose the eggplant rollatini: thin slices of eggplant wrapped around a creamy ricotta cheese filling flecked with tiny bits of spinach.

The rolls had a coat of warm melted mozzarella cheese and were served with a wonderful chunky house-made tomato sauce with just a hint of sweetness. The portion, two rolls on a plate, was quite big and easily shared.

I had a large bowlful of whole, lightly sautéed mushrooms served with a wonderful mushroomy broth dotted with big cloves of roasted garlic. The broth was the highlight because the mushrooms themselves had no discernable flavor. I was glad to have the focaccia to soak up the excellent juices.

Of course, we had to order a pasta dish. The linguini alla pescatore featured small, tender, sweet mussels, little clams in the shell, very fresh and tender shrimp, and some really awful calamari. They were so chewy that they were almost inedible. The pasta was al dente, and the thin tomato sauce was good but didn't adhere to the pasta.

The piece de resistance of the evening was the lombata di vitello alla aglio, rosmarino e salvia. This was a huge, thick veal chop on the bone. It had been grilled to perfection and had a lingering smoky taste. Beneath it was a meaty-flavored Chianti demiglace sauce and alongside were pan-fried potatoes that were overcooked and a very nice, lightly seasoned al dente julienne of carrots and zucchini.

The restaurant offers four risottos, including fungi e pomodoro e secco, a selection of veal dishes such as scalloppine alla pizzaiola and several entrees with filet mignon. Pollo and seafood choices complete the menu.

For dessert, don't pass up Mamma Bina's house-made, Sicilian-style cannoli. The thin crust was very crunchy, almost too hard to cut, but it was excellent, and the riccota was creamy smooth and without dried fruit, making it Sicilian. In fact, Sicily is where cannoli originated. Cannoli means "little tube."

The contrast between the very smooth filling and the crisp shell was delightful. Strawberries decorated each end of the two delicious tubes.

Ristorante Rumari also has tiramisu and several desserts featuring gelato.

TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at m_markowitz@cox.net.

Ristorante Rumari

Where: 1826 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach

When: 5 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Prices:

Appetizers: $7.50 to $17.75

Entrées: $15 to $46.50

Desserts: $7 to $20

Wine:

Bottles: $28 to $950

By the glass: $7.50 to $20

Corkage fee: $25

Information: (949) 494-0400 or http://www.rumari.net

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