Italiano in Midlo
Pizza is best eaten right out of the oven. The cardboard box and the time it takes to drive home can change the crust's texture.
That's a shame, says chef Vito Bellantuono, who sometimes encourages new customers to take a taste before they carry out his pizza. His new business, La Cucina Ristorante Italiano & Pizzeria, in the Shoppes at Bellgrade, is the third venture for the Italian-born owner. He sold his interests in Chianti in Gayton Crossing and the Italian CafAc in Sycamore Square, and is now at home in a space that was recently an Indian restaurant. New red walls, a bar at the front, and a cheerful staff make it a welcoming spot, but it's the food that's capturing the neighborhood's interest.
The pizzas have a tender, flaky crust and a crushed tomato sauce that's slightly sweet. Panini on focaccia or Tuscan bread are spread with pesto butter and lavished with grilled meats and vegetables. Pastas are traditional — the Michelangelo is a top seller with chicken, shrimp, sausage, red peppers and artichoke in a light pink sauce. The chef's favorite entree, principessa, has top round, milk-fed, natured veal medallions and spinach, mozzarella and shrimp in a wine and tomato sauce, for $19.95 including a side vegetable or pasta. Seafood entrees are just less than $20, and appetizers such as seared scallops, grilled shrimp and calamari are about $9.
La Cucina adds its Italian presence to a shopping center bedecked with holiday lights and a number of new and longstanding dining options. There's 12-year old River City Diner, still a family friendly classic; Ruth's Chris Steak House in a circa-1732 plantation house; and relative newcomers Outer Banks Seafood Co., Zen Asian Bistro, with Great Seasons filling out the corner space that once held a failed offshoot of Ellwood Thompson's and is now a restaurant and catering company.
La Cucina serves lunch and dinner 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday. 11400 W. Huguenot Road, Midlothian. 378-8940.
For the animals: Strawberry Street CafAc in the Fan, one of the area's longest-running restaurants, opens for Christmas Eve brunch, 9 a.m. until 2 p.m., with a portion of sales benefitting the Richmond Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. 421 N. Strawberry St. 353-6860. strawberrystreetcafe.com.
Now empty: The Patio, near Innsbrook, has closed after its predecessor, Dd33, switched from Asian fusion to a sports-bar menu. Also closed is Little Saigon, a Vietnamese restaurant on Robious Road. Vito's Pizza near Virginia Commonwealth University is no longer in business. Lucille's Southern Cuisine on Brook Road has closed after a brief run; Lucille's original Laburnum Avenue location remains in business.
Fresca on Addison Meat-free fare, grains to pizzas, in corner cafe with takeout Tuesday- Sunday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m., 22 S. Addison St., 359-8638. frescaonaddison.com.
Carytown CafAc Ole Tacos, burritos, Mexicali, sibling to downtown lunch fave. Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m., 2901 W. Cary St., 377-8226.
Arianna's Italian Grill and Pizza Pastas, entrees, pizza, sandwiches, vegetarian options, family friendly. Lunch and dinner daily, take-out and limited delivery. 5107 Lakeside Ave., 627-0314. ariannasgrill.com.
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