Restaurant review: La Tavola sets the table for terrific Italian dinners

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

In Italy, “La Tavola” means the table. In Columbus, La Tavola means great Italian restaurant.

A casual Grandview Heights eatery that serves fine-dining cuisine, La Tavola recently celebrated its one-year anniversary. If it seems like it’s been around longer, there are good reasons for that.

Chef/owner Rick Lopez, formerly of Tapatio and Knead, has opened and closed previous iterations of La Tavola in Powell and Dublin with his wife/partner/baker Krista. Based on my terrific experiences in Grandview — and on patrons enthusiastically waving to the chef — I’m betting this newest La Tavola has staying power.

The bright and peppy restaurant has an idiosyncratic look predicated on loopy green and yellow floral wallpaper and equally unusual homemade wooden booths. That Lopez participated in the reclaimed woodworking is no surprise if you know about his doggedly scratch-made aesthetic.

You can watch the talented Lopez fussing over each dish in La Tavola’s open kitchen. It’s good entertainment, and makes eating his vivid, carefully sourced and affordable food (this includes an amazing Sunday deal) even better.

A few beers are on tap (e.g. selections from Moretti and Four String), but the all-Italian wine list is more interesting. From the latter, you can fashion a flight ($18) that should incorporate an unoaked Friulian white blend with tropical fruit notes (Castellargo Albus), a tart cherry-nudging Piedmontese red (Rivetti Massimo) and crisp Fantinel prosecco.

Sip one with an appetizer special, such as explosively flavorful bruschetta (grilled homemade bread, buffalo mozzarella, aggressive cherry peppers, cooling mint and basil plus sweet Pachino tomatoes; $10).

Among other marvelous starters, the cheese-crowned Spring Onion Zuppa ($6) starred a rich, “ribollita”-style broth made velvety by boiled bread. I also sampled two dynamic $8 salads: Insalata La Tavola (good greens, smoked blue cheese, fresh fennel, pretty roasted beets plus pistachios) and arugula tricked-out with ricotta salata, pine nuts, concentrated tomatoes and more.

Come on a Sunday, and such a first course or a side (like excellent Brussels sprouts or sautéed spinach lively with garlic and lemon) can be on the house if combined with a nightly special or parlayed into an unbeatable $15 “Sunday Supper” two-course meal.

This brings us to La Tavola’s main courses, where the aforementioned chalkboard specials and handmade pastas shine brightest. For instance, a recent featured Scampi dish ($25) was the best shrimp dinner I’ve had in a long time.

Impressively plump and sweet, butterflied Gulf shrimp were tossed in smoky and not-fooling-around spicy Calabrian chili oil. Their partners were beautiful homemade tagliatelle emboldened by garlic, herbs, tomatoes, chili oil and wine. Characteristically for La Tavola, potent flavors unraveled with nuance and harmony.

The Prosciutto Wrapped Fettuccine ($21) is strikingly plated (mine resembled a squid) and addictively salty. Homemade pasta ribbons “alla chitarra” squiggle out of a big band of high-grade Parma ham. Garlic, onions, black pepper, Parmigiano-Reggiano and cream sauce complete the charming and delicious picture.

Another handmade pasta entree — the Chicken Cannelloni ($17) casserole — could teach a master class in Italian comfort food. Beneath alluringly browned Italian cheeses and a red sauce with uncommon balance are crepe-like pasta tubes wrapped around diced local organic poultry, artichokes and pancetta.

Even spaghetti (homemade, perfectly al dente) and meatballs (herbs, lemon zest, onions) far exceed cliché in Lopez’s kitchen. As with other offerings, this $15 dish benefits from La Tavola’s deceptively simple-tasting red sauce.

Risotto ($21 with wild mushrooms, organic chicken stock, cheeses and asparagus) is another go-to. Unlike copious, too-stiff local specimens, it’s loose in the authentic Italian manner.

Crowd-pleasing housemade desserts ($6) — like smooth, caramel-y and sublime “Belgian Bliss” gelato — supply more delectable evidence that this third La Tavola could, and should, be around for a long time.

Photos by Meghan Ralston

La Tavola

1664 W. First Ave., Grandview Heights