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Deluca's a little shy on flavor

August 28, 2010|By Lisa Dupuy
(Cheryl A. Guerrero/News-Press )

Everything about the new Deluca's Deli in the Americana says "Italia." Strains of its lyrical language are bandied about over glass deli cases, products from Tuscany and Umbria scale its industrial metal shelving, and food offerings, like porchetta and capponata, are authentically Italian. Chef Piero Topputo is Italian as is owner Tancredi Deluca. Together with uber-developer Rick Caruso, Deluca also owns the neighboring Trattoria Amici, whose kitchen the deli shares.

Not to be confused with Dean & Deluca, the famous Manhattan eatery, Deluca's Deli set out to make a light and breezy eatery that serves hot and cold sandwiches, salads, artisan cheeses and pastas to go. They succeeded. The dishes use fresh produce, as well as locally made and ethically produced meats and cheeses. They seem healthfully low in fat and salt, but more often than not, also low in flavor.

But let me start with what is wonderful at Deluca's. The space, created by Caruso favorite Poon Design, is airy with high ceilings and a pleasing acoustic quality. There's an entire chalkboard wall for specials of the day. And the long wooden communal table creates a leisurely, European feel. It's a great place to enjoy their Insalata Caprese ($3.95/$7.25/$12.95 for small/medium/large) with its San Marzano tomatoes and fresh, creamy imported mozzarella. Or perhaps enjoy an afternoon "pick-me-up," the literal meaning of tiramisu. Deluca's tiramisu layers ladyfingers drenched in good espresso, gorgeous mascarpone cheese and whipped cream custard (no liquor in this one), and a sprinkling of fine cocoa with a texture like cashmere on the gullet ($4.95).

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If you're in a rush and need some items to go, choose a favorite dried pasta with either their pomodoro sauce ($3.50 for a half-pint) or white clam sauce ($14.95 for a pint). The simple pomodoro tomato sauce is dish-licking good with a perfect blend of sweetness and acidity. The clam sauce is chock full of fresh clams in a nicely seasoned white wine and olive oil base, though it is very runny and doesn't stick to the pasta. Finally, get a few slices of the Serrano ham ($11.25 per half-pound). It's Spanish, not Italian, so the chef must be into it, too. It is deep and dusty-tasting with a fabulous texture and a mysterious flavor way down in its basement (Black pepper? Aged balsamic?).

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