Friday, Apr 12th

Upscale Northern Italian Dishes at La Fontanella

La Fontanella LobsterI recently decided to revisit an old favorite, La Fontanella in Pelham. It has been in business for over 20 years and seems to improve with every visit. The management has changed through the years, but the Executive Chef Joe Palaguachi still heads the kitchen. For the last few years, Alfredo Salazar has led the management team. He worked in restaurants while pursuing a college degree and loved the business. He worked in many restaurants including Harry's of Hartsdale for many years and went on to earn a degree in management. He describes La Fontanella as," an upscale Northern Italian and Adriatic restaurant with a bit of old school flair. Hygiene and keeping the restaurant neat and clean from kitchen to dining areas is of great importance. La Fontanella is welcoming where we serve nothing but the best. Our goal for the future are to be the talk of the county and the place to go."

From the dining room to the kitchen, La Fontanella is a detail oriented dining spot. A pleasant bar area greets you at the front of this charming spot. The formal yet comfortable dining room is divided into separate areas by draperies. We chose to dine at the intimate area towards the back, where the white linen clad tables, fresh flowers and mellow music set a relaxed but formal tone. Special sound proof panels along the walls muted any excess noise .This is a fine addition, which allows you to dine in a fine restaurant and actually enjoy a conversation with your guests without being interrupted by conversations surrounding you. The cream La Fontella colored walls were decorated with the original ornate moldings, lending an elegance to the area. The restaurant seats about 90 guests. In the warmer months a few tables are set at the entrance to La Fontanella. The area is filled with colorful flowers and plantings and give the spot a European flavor. They call it "the café".

Chef Joe Palaguachi has been lighting up the kitchens of New York since his arrival almost 30 years ago from his native Ecuador. He worked in many renowned Manhattan kitchens from Giambelli's to Il Nido, where he honed his natural skill and talent. He combines traditional and creative ideas in his dishes and has been at La Fontanella since it opened. "The ingredients I must have in my kitchen are garlic, onions, olive oil, basil and parsley. We offer many daily specials in addition to our menu selections and we have seasonal changes. Osso Bucco, beef short ribs, whole roasted branzino with garlic, olives and lemon are some favorite dishes."

At a recent tasting, I sampled many of the specials of the day as well as some menu items. I came to the conclusion that I probably could have closed my eyes and picked any item and been totally delighted. Our professional and knowledgeable waiter, Carmine helped to guide us through our multi course meal with expertise.

La Fontanella dishWe started with a special of vegetable quinoa with grilled shrimp and roasted pepper coulis. The creative combination of grains and seafood was quite good. Fresh lemon added zest to this dish. Another daily special was a picture perfect roasted vegetable napoleon. This may appear on many menus, but here it is special. The beets, Portobello mushrooms, eggplant and roasted pepper are layered and topped with the crowning glory of house made burrata- very impressive. Shrimp cocktail, octopus salad, seafood salad, eggplant rollatini, and clams oreganata are additional menu appetizers. Several salads are offered ranging from insalata di rucola with arugula, wild mushrooms, shaved parmesan and a citrus vinaigrette to insalata di iceberg with red onion, beefsteak tomatoes, crisp bacon and a creamy gorgonzola dressing. We enjoyed our special salad of microgreens, walnuts, apple slices, fresh supremes of orange with a balsamic vinaigrette. It refreshed our palate in preparation for our pasta course. Among the homemade pastas we enjoyed fusilli calabrese with lamb ragu. The pasta dough is rolled into thin strips and twisted. They are steps above the dry commercial variety of this pasta. Enrobed in a wonderful ragu of cubed lamb and topped with shaved parmesan, this was a dish to remember. Lobster ravioli was yet another winner among the pasta selections. The lobster filled pockets were surrounded by a delightful light creamy tomato sauce enhanced with grappa, garlic and olive oil for a tantalizing result. Chunks of crabmeat added a finishing touch. Gnocchi della Nonna with Bolognese sauce, linguine carbonara and cavatelli e rapa are yet to be tried. pasta la fontanella

Fish dishes sparkle at La Fontanella. Chef Palaguachi personally chooses the freshest of fish at the market each morning. We had the pleasure of enjoying one of his specials of black sea bass served over saffron risotto studded with rounds of fresh zucchini. Slivers of garlic, shrimp and scallops added style to the presentation and a light scampi sauce completed this superb creation. A touch of lime juice brought out the flavors. Outstanding was the Tagliarini Fontanella house made with clams, mussels, calamari, octopus, tiger shrimp and Maine lobster. A light tomato sauce completed this elaborate dish where each seafood component was cooked to perfection. Other fish choices include wild salmon Provençale, bronzino filet, shrimp scampi and filet of sole almondine. Several chicken dishes are offered as well as pork, veal and New York Strip steak. We were presented with a special. Arriving on a large platter was a huge tomahawk steak for 2. On the bone, this thick rib eye was encrusted with crushed peppercorns and surrounded by roasted potatoes and sautéed onions, mushrooms and peppers. It was a dish fit for royalty.

If you have room for dessert, tiramisu, crème brulee are some of the house made possibilities. At lunch on Monday through Friday, choose from a la carte offerings or a price fixed 3 course meal. If you are craving upscale beautifully prepared Northern Italian dished where everything, even the pasta is prepared in house in formal but friendly surroundings, by a capable staff, then La Fontanella is a fine destination to savor the pleasure of dining. Try it soon.Lamb Chops at La Fontanella

La Fontanella
115 Wolfs Lane
914 738 3008

Recipe for the Salmon Alla Vinagreta {serves 2}:
1 pound salmon fillet [ in 2 pieces]
Pinch salt and pepper
2 tsps. olive oil
3 plum tomatoes
1 ounce scallions
1 tsp. chopped parsley
1 pinch pepper flakes
3 spoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tsps. balsamic vinegar

Preheat skillet. Add a couple of teaspoons of oil. Season salmon with salt and pepper and pan sear for a couple of minutes for a good medium rare. Keep longer if you wish it to be cooked more. For the sauce, chop the tomatoes, scallions, and parsley. Add pepper flakes. Toss with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Serve with cooked fish.

JudieJudie Dweck has been writing about restaurants and food for many publications. She teaches creative cooking to children at Scarsdale elementary schools. Through the years, her articles have appeared in Jack and Jill Magazine, Spotlight, The Pleasure of Cooking and The Scarsdale Inquirer. She balances her restaurant tastings with daily ballet classes.

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