Getting Sauced

OK, so not every Italian restaurant, including Crown Center’s Milano (see review), is interested in serving the less fancy fare that I like to call classic Italian-American cuisine — pizza, spumoni, spaghetti and meatballs.

But those are exactly the kinds of dishes that Charlie and Sally Sutera serve at the two-month-old Sutera’s Italian Restaurant (4730 Rainbow) in Westwood. The new locale is a satellite location of Sutera’s Old San Francisco restaurant in the West Bottoms, where spaghetti and meatballs have never gone out of fashion. Well, at least not in the 29 years that the family-owned restaurant has survived down in the rusty stockyards neighborhood.

The Westwood location housed Nance’s Deli for nearly three decades before the building came up for sale. The Suteras moved quickly. “This is the neighborhood where my husband grew up,” Sally Sutera explains. “He went to Bishop Miege High School, and we got married at St. Agnes Church. It was like coming home.”

Charlie continues to run the West Bottoms venue while Sally oversees the new Sutera’s, which opened in October. Architect George Lafferty neatly revamped the once dowdy interior. The entrance now opens into a bright, cheerful bar with plenty of pale wood. A ramp leads diners to the less noisy dining room. It’s not a fancy place — the tables sit uncloaked, the napkins are paper and soft drinks come served in red plastic tumblers.

But who cares? Westwood residents, who packed the place on the night I was there, seem delighted to have a casual neighborhood joint that serves inexpensive pasta dishes, excellent pizza and homemade chicken noodle soup. Oh, and an Italian cheeseburger. I had to ask Sally Sutera what, exactly, that was. “An Italian cheeseburger has hamburger meat seasoned with herbs, like a meatball,” she says, “with melted provolone cheese and spaghetti sauce.”

Not something you’d find in Rome, but, hey, they love it in Westwood. Ditto the “spaghetti” and meatballs. The old staple comes blanketed with a savory, herb-flecked red sauce. The same sugo is served alongside all those other beloved Italian-American favorites, such as fried mozzarella sticks and bubbly cheese bread.

The Suteras import their desserts, including cheesecake, tiramisu and something the menu calls “spumoni dessert.” “It’s spumoni covered with chocolate sauce and a crunchy topping,” Sally says. “The customers love it.”

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