This month, I chose to focus on one restaurant because there are a few things that I want you to know about La Siciliana in Downtown San Pedro.
If you have read my column long enough, you know that my Italian upbringing has heavily influenced my taste buds. Imagine my delight when I realized that the restaurant’s name represents owner Rita Gintoli, who was born in Scoglitti, a small seaside town in southeast Sicily. Translated, “La Siciliana” means a female Sicilian. Our first connection was speaking in Italian. What keeps me returning is the food — the closest to authentic Italian food in town, in my opinion — and Gintoli’s hospitality.
Gintoli, her husband Mario Marino, and two sons have called San Pedro home since 2004, when they immigrated from Sicily to the United States. Assimilating in their new country was surprisingly easy; however, food was challenging. The inspiration for La Siciliana came from a desire to fill in the gap for the food she learned to cook at a young age from her mother and grew up eating.
Despite opening in March 2020 when COVID-19 restrictions went into full effect, the restaurant has successfully navigated a young business’s many ups and downs and ever-changing pandemic regulations. Today, it has a steady stream of customers. I strongly believe this is not simply luck; if anything, it’s because of Gintoli’s philosophy about the food she serves and customer service.
Gintoli prides herself on being involved in every aspect of the food she serves. Her days are spent shopping and preparing the food that she serves to her customers in the evenings. She is firmly rooted in cooking methods that Italian food is best known for. She believes that good ingredients can speak volumes in creating light dishes that don’t require the addition of heavily processed foods to enhance flavors. “Our culture is about balancing out flavors,” Gintoli says. She equates the art of balancing flavors to a well-rehearsed choir.
Gintoli is very choosy about where she sources her ingredients and wants them to be as authentically Italian as possible. For example, all of her olive oil is imported from Italy. She painstakingly seeks out other Italian immigrants who make fresh products, such as ricotta and burrata, with the same methodology, sensibility, and flavor profile as in Italy.
Gintoli is heavily involved in the dining experience. She is usually the person who greets, seats, and takes customer orders. Her warm and friendly personality puts anyone at ease for a relaxed meal purposely made to feel that it’s not rushed. Her intentions are simple. “I want to spoil my customers the way I spoil my family,” she shares. “I want the experience to not just be going to a restaurant, but how I would welcome you in my own home to enjoy food in ‘la casa della Siciliana’ (the Sicilian’s home).”
My top favorites are ragù or pesto arancini (breaded and fried rice balls filled with ragù or pesto and mozzarella), carpaccio di bresaola served over a bed of arugula and topped with parmesan shavings, and Caprese burrata for starters. For the pasta option, I often order Sicilian pesto (made with the addition of ricotta and tomatoes) and ragù Bolognese with fresh fettucine and gnocchi with porcini mushrooms. I also often order from the monthly specials menu.
I really enjoy the Rita pizza, topped with cherry tomatoes, arugula, mozzarella, prosciutto, parmesan shavings, and balsamic drizzle. It must be noted that the pizzas on the menu are not always readily available because they are made in limited quantities due to space restrictions and require a two-day fermentation. Gintoli usually selects a Sicilian wine for me to have with my meal. To finish off, the house-made tiramisù and cannoli are excellent.
I have introduced many people to this downtown gem, and by the end of the meal, the consensus is always the same: People fall in love with the food and, naturally, with Gintoli because she is the heart of La Siciliana. spt
La Siciliana is located at 347 W. 6th Street. For more info, call (424) 570-0101 or visit eatlasiciliana.com.