La Spezia

“La Spezia has exceeded my expectations since we opened in October 2013,” says Mia Foley, bartender and daughter of co-owner Elizabeth Foley. “When we opened, we didn’t want to be an establishment where people would go out to dinner once a year on their anniversary. We wanted to be the place where it’s a Wednesday night and you don’t want to cook so you go to La Spezia and see friendly faces.” 

This approachable concept extends beyond a convivial atmosphere in an elegant yet homey environment, to solid Italian food and reasonable prices. A wine cellar holds more than 600 bottles and 1920’s jazz plays over the stereo system. The walls are adorned with black-and-white family photographs that were taken near Via Spezia, or Spice Road, which is in Rome near the home of Elizabeth’s family.

Wine flights make it possible to sample three types of white wine ($13), red wine ($12) or Italian wine ($12). A cheese plate ($15) includes sweet house-pickled mustard seeds, crostini, fresh fruit and three Italian cheeses. There’s also a plate of three Italian cured meats ($15) and antipasti ($18 for two) includes all the cheeses and meats plus olives, eggplant caponata and artichokes.

If you read my column regularly, you know I’m not one for proclamations. But La Spezia has two dishes on my “Best of” list.

The first is French toast, which is available during breakfast and Sunday brunch. I’m also not generally a French toast person, but La Spezia has managed to elevate the humble dish to rich and custardy heights. In the Brie French toast ($12), pillows of Hawaiian sweet bread cloak a whisper of raspberry jam, melted brie cheese and smoky bacon. On Sunday, you can enjoy it with a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice and French press coffee, or a house-made Bloody Mary ($5).

Dressings for the Classic Caesar ($7) and House ($7) salads are easily made from scratch, but the Kale Salad ($12) vinaigrette takes two days to make. La Spezia Chef della Cucina, Megan Handke, starts by braising cubes of pork belly in balsamic vinegar and tossing it with roasted shallots. The plate is piled high with a variety of baby kale from Kailani Farm in Kilauea and topped with a deep-fried poached egg.

Pan-Roasted Chicken ($22) is at the top of my “Best Chicken Dish Ever” list. An 8-ounce free-range chicken breast, with one wing still delicately attached, is pan-seared skin side down and finished in the oven.

The flavorful breast rests on a cushion of mashed potatoes blended with extra virgin olive oil. Basil oil and mushroom jus pool around the potatoes and roasted Brussels sprouts that have been tossed in a sweet herb butter are scattered on top. It’s refined comfort food and after one bite, I slink into contentment.

“All Italian food is comfort food,” says Elizabeth. “In Italy, creating the meal, eating it and sharing it with friends and family is an everyday event.”

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