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Spunky Spuntino

A cafe-deli specializes in Mediterranean food, wine and flair

By Christina Waters

HAVING PEEKED IN now and then over the past six months to check the progress of Viansa Winery's colorful new outpost for foods and wines, I got a kick out of my first visit to Lo Spuntino last week. Yes, indeed, the place--part Italian deli, part winetasting room--has got its act together. Sensory bombardment of the casually classy sort is the name of the game here, though the well-heeled visitor was definitely a target of Sam and Vicki Sebastiani's hospitable agenda.

Spacious, gleaming with lots of white tile and acres of sleek blonde woodwork, the cafe offers expert espressos, sensuous gelati, and gorgeous fresh focaccia sandwiches at the paninoteca, and cheeses, meats, and lusty picnic foods at the deli--including the aromatic rotisserie specials.

In the back of the store an array of condiments, wine paraphernalia, and kitchenware--all tasteful, most bearing the Viansa house label--await the shopper, next to a wall of rustically labeled Viansa vintages, available for tasting--which, of course, I had to do--and purchase (yes, I did that too). Sort of a one-stop Italian gourmet theme park, Lo Spuntino had clearly found its clientele on the afternoon I started with dolcetto and ended with gelato. That's an afternoon I could repeat weekly until the end of time.

A quickie winetasting at the far side of the central serving island helped calm my nerves at the sight of all those choices: the pasta salads, the mascarpone torta, the stuffed grape leaves, the hams, the cheeses. For one dollar I sampled four of the house reds, including a lovely, cranberry-filled Dolcetto "Athena" 1995 and a serious 1988 Cabernet Sauvignon, with tones of leather, earth, and black currants.

Thus fortified, I invoked the help of a charming and motivated staffer, Josh, who approved my choices of half a spit-roasted chicken ($5.95, including pasta or green salad of the day) and the grilled torta ($4.50). With opera swirling through the background and the café fast filling up, I took a window seat at a long marble counter that overlooks one of the prettiest missions in California. My order soon arrived, the chicken accompanied by a plush salad of tiny greens in a vinaigrette bursting with mustard, honey, balsamic vinegar, and sun-dried tomatoes, and a wedge of torta whose multiple layers bore zesty Italian flavors of tomato, grilled eggplant, zucchini, portobello mushrooms, and various cheeses in a pastry crust straight from the hand of the holy mother herself--if she had time to bake.

Sitting in the cool whiteness of this room on a blazing afternoon, from my perch I could inhale a big hit of old California history. Opposite the mission, just behind Vallejo's barracks, is the beginning of the vineyard slope first planted by pioneer vintner Harathzy. History and flavors better than Italian picnic food has any right to be. Lo Spuntino is onto something.

Not just about feisty finger food and deli specialties. Lo Spuntino offers full-service temptation. So I ordered a cappuccino and a "small" (two-scoop) cup of hazelnut gelato ($1.95). Ultra-smooth and completely refreshing, the semi-sweetened coolness was so densely textured that the spoon could barely penetrate. It tasted like the shaded canyons of Tuscany. As I daydreamed out the window, I realized I could be in Tuscany. I think they planned that.

Lo Spuntino

400 First St. E., Sonoma; 935-5656
Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Food: High-quality Italian
Ambiance: Italian gourmet theme park
Wine list: Viansa vintages exclusively<
Price: Very affordable
Overall: A taste of Tuscany

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From the July 25-31, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent

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