MAMARONECK, N.Y. - Tables decorated with vases of freshly picked herbs, rustic terracotta tiles, twinkling strings of lights and classic Tuscan decor make entering Rosa's La Scarbitta feel like stepping out of Mamaroneck and into your mother's kitchen.
The cozy family-style Italian restaurant, owned by chef Rosa Merenda and her husband, Angelo, opened in September 2010 and is reminiscent of a home dining room.
The space features two dining spaces -- the front with a full bar and the back with scenic murals and a fireplace.
Rosa adds to the feeling of warmth and welcome by personally greeting her guests calling them "bello" or "bella."
Rosa previously was a partner at Spadaro Ristorante in New Rochelle.
She interacts with tables personally, making somewhat persistent but endearing maternal suggestions on what to order.
Painted on the wall next to the front door is the maxim of the restaurant, "Come in as a stranger, leave as a member of the family."
"I have always loved cooking, but the most important thing to me is seeing people leave with a smile on their face," Rosa said.
The food is bought fresh every two days, is prepared as ordered and made with local, organic ingredients when possible.
"A lot of places don't do this because it is too expensive. (...) We buy enough to last us two days. Sometimes we run out of things and we'll have to apologize to customers but, I would rather do that than compromise the freshness of the food," Angelo said.
Rosa's menu changes with the seasons, but it always features classic Italian comfort food, like her signature dish of tender ricotta gnocchi with veal bolognese.
Mixed in, however, are artisanal creations of her own, like wild mushroom ravioli in a sauce that can only be described as decadent - a delicate mix of mascarpone, pureed chestnuts and fig wine.
As a tribute to her late mother, who made fig wine by hand for many years, Rosa uses the wine to add sweet accents to the sauce.
The specials, which change with the seasons along with the menu, include seafood, such as shrimp and swordfish, as well as meats, such as lamb and venison.
What makes La Scarbitta a truly unique experience in the sea of Westchester's family-style Italian restaurants is full-bodied flavors without added inches to your waistline.
As a little girl, Rosa fell in love with cooking. However, after developing a heart condition at age 12, she was forced to become very health conscious. Rosa prides herself on making dishes that are free from butter, saturated fat, sodium and processed foods.
Angelo said, "We'll have a group of guys that come, and they'll have a couple of dishes of pasta each. They'll come back and say half an hour after we left, we felt great. We couldn't believe it. We ate so much."
The Merendas pride themselves on accommodating people with special dietary needs. Their dishes are generally sodium-, saturated fat- and sugar-free. Additionally, they make several kinds of gluten-free pasta, vegetarian, and kosher dishes.
"Parents who have kids with food allergies tell us that this is the only place they'll take them," Angelo said.
The restaurant has a beautiful dark wood full bar in the front dining room. There you will find their wine menu, which is comprised mostly of Italian wines with a few from California. The most popular choice is the Ornellaia Le Volte from Tuscany at $65 a bottle.
Rosa said she loves when parents and their children come back time and time again to enjoy her food.
"A little girl once told her mom that she loved the food and was so excited to be part of the family," she said.
Once you feel the friendly atmosphere and taste the food, you'll be want to be part of Rosa's family, too.
Reservations are recommended for large parties. The back room is available for rent for private parties and conferences. Off-site catering is available.
The restaurant is open from 5-10 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 2-9:30 p.m. Sundays. It will start opening for lunch in September.
All major credit cards are accepted and the restaurant is handicapped accessible.
The restaurant is at 215 Halstead Ave., Mamaroneck. For more information, call (914) 777-1667 or visit its website here.
Rosa's Ricotta Gnocchi Bolognese (serves two)
2 cups ricotta cheese
1/2 cup flour
2 cups San Marzano Plum Tomato puree
1 lb meat of your choice (veal recommended)
1 cup chopped celery, onions and carrots.
Salt and parmesan to taste
Mix ricotta, flour and parmesan and roll into long ropes. Cut into 3/4 inch gnocchi.
Cook gnocchi in batches in a pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally until cooked through - 3 to 4 minutes per batch. Lift out with a slotted spoon and drain in colander.
Combine tomato puree, celery, onions and carrots in pot and boil. Add meat and let the bolognese slowly simmer for at least 30 minutes.
Combine pasta with bolognese and serve hot.
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