Cafe Carolina

An Authentic Italian Cafe Delights Valley Diners

by Abigail Lewis

Nestled into a quiet stretch along Ventura Boulevard in Encino is a fragrant gift from Italy, Cafe Carolina. From the name, a casual passerby might expect grits and hominy, but this Carolina is pronounced Caroleena, after the daughter of Italian-born owners Isabella Errico-Dossi and Giuseppe Dossi. The dishes they serve are not only a credit to their motherland; they are 80 percent organic.

Giuseppe’s cooking training, which included stints at Il Fornaio and Prego, began under the tutelage of his momma back in Verona, creator of lasagna for their entire neighborhood. Some of his earliest memories are of being roped into the pasta-making process, but while his youthful interests leaned more towards soccer, the kitchen is now his playing field of choice. One bite assures that his decision to follow in the family tradition was a wise one.

Our meal began with mild and almost creamy gazpacho, the perfect end to a hot day in the Valley. Cafe Carolina offers only one soup — always vegan — which changes daily, and on this particular evening we were fortunate to get the last remaining bowl.

Generally I skip the bread, but who could resist Giuseppe’s fresh focaccia made with organic flour and served with a perfectly seasoned tomato dip? Light and flavorful with a slightly crisped crust, it took major restraint not to order a second portion.

Knowing their strong emphasis on fresh and organic, salad was a must. Spinach, red onions, walnuts (high in Omega 3s!) and mushrooms sprinkled with salted ricotta were delightfully enhanced with a warm shallot-mustard vinaigrette.

For our pasta course, lobster-stuffed ravioli was bursting with succulent meat. Ravioli Cremaschi, a family recipe with a sweet filling, seemed more like a dessert than an entree. But it was Giuseppe’s gnocchi that ruined me for life — little puffy pillows that virtually melted in my mouth, robed in a piquant pesto sauce. I can hardly wait to go back and try them with gorgonzola.

For our entree, we shared a weekly dinner special of moist and tender, decidedly un-stringy duck in a balsamic reduction. Other dinner specials include organic chicken, fish and occasionally, grassfed, free-range beef, as well as vegetarian options. Lunchtime offers a variety of sandwiches in addition to pastas and salads.

Prices are moderate and the restaurant is intimate with only 29 seats. The decor is warm and inviting, with furnishings of marble and wood. Work by local artists adorns the walls.

Cafe Carolina has no liquor license, but also no corkage fee, a boon for wine lovers. Natural sodas and other libations are available.

You don’t really need to save room for dessert. Giuseppe’s tiramisu is justifiably legendary, but the Vesuvio al Cioccolato — chocolate mousse with layers of rum, orange zest and espresso beans erupting in raspberry sauce — was so light that it took up barely any space in our sated bellies.

Cafe Carolina is a certified green restaurant and member of the “green restaurant association,” having fulfilled 12 of 12 requirements including no styrofoam use, biodegradeable and non-toxic cleaning products, recycled and recyclable paper products.

Lunch: 11-3, Tues-Fri. Dinner: 5-9 Sun.-Thurs., 5-10 Fri.-Sat.
17934 Ventura Blvd., Encino 91316, 818.881.8600.

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