by Barbara Eller (April 2015)
A Taste of Italy
Patrick and I have been living in Cozumel for six months. Every day it feels more and more like home. We don't have a vehicle so all our exploring has been on foot. Actually, we are meeting some wonderful and charming people by just wandering in and out of shops in the neighborhood. The stories they share with us are fascinating and full of Cozumel's interesting history.
Walk with us as we show you our neighborhood. We'll begin by going to lunch at a favorite restaurant—La Cucina Italiana. Leaving our home on Avenida 5, we'll walk north. It’s after noon and 83 degrees. The sun is directly overhead but we have a nice breeze that cools us as we walk. On the street corner you can hear loud rock music coming from the local gym. On the next block a few people are sitting under dark green umbrellas outside at the corner café. They smile and nod as we walk by. As we continue our walk, we pass an assortment of shops: pastry shops, car/motorcycle rentals, souvenir shops with little eateries, and private homes nestled in between. I love the bright red, orange, blue, green and yellow colors each of the shops and homes are painted. It’s like walking through a Mexican rainbow!
We turn right at Calle 6 and go up two streets to Avenida 15. There, at the corner on the left, sits La Cucina Italiana. Let me tell you why this has become a favorite of not only ours but of so many of the people living here. After vacationing here 28 years ago, Paolo Tarroni moved his family here from Pesaro, Italy where they had a restaurant. Once settled, Paolo and his wife, Oriella, (better known as Layla by everyone in Cozumel ), with their three children Giovanna, Michele, and Serena, opened their restaurant—La Cucina Italiana. In 1986 Cozumel did not have all of the conveniences you find here today. Layla said that many times it was difficult to get fresh vegetables and other items, so their menus had to be planned around what was available to them. In their own gardens, they grew the herbs needed for seasonings. As the business grew, Paolo and Layla relocated to larger locations until Hurricane Wilma hit in 2005. After Wilma, they moved to their present location which is part of their home.
Entering by a side door, we find a small garden with trees, plants and three tables, two of which already have guests enjoying their meals. Mario opens the door to greet us with a big smile and we decide to eat inside today. As we enter, the kitchen is to the left; it looks just like any other kitchen with a counter separating the eating area to the right. Layla and Giovanna, mother and daughter chefs, greet everyone who walks in the door. The first thing you notice is a counter filled with the day’s delectable feast. There are usually six to eight different entrees, that change daily, from which to select. Today there is lasagna, spinach-stuffed chicken wrapped in prosciutto, four-cheese ravioli, chicken breast filled with zucchini and cheese, fresh lobster tail, tuna salad with ripe tomato and mozzarella cheese, and breaded fish with a delicious sauce. Just listening to them describe each of their dishes and homemade pasta tells you that everything is made with love.
After finally deciding what I wanted, we are seated and our waiter brings us a bowl of soup with a basket of garlic bread. This is followed by a simple salad with olive oil and balsamic glaze. Both soup and salad are included with your meal, as well as a pitcher of Jamaica. (And for all of you reading this who know me—yes, I also had my glass of house wine.) For my entreé I choose the four-cheese ravioli and Patrick selects the chicken breast with cheese and zucchini. The ravioli is unbelievable! The pasta is so light and the sauce melts in your mouth. Patrick’s chicken is succulent and there is just the right amount of cheese and zucchini that no one flavor overpowers the others. Both are delicious; my mouth waters just thinking of them.
If you have ever eaten in Italy, you know your meal is not complete until you have dessert. Layla and Giovanna make a tiramisu that is out of this world. They offer three desserts—Tiramisu, Tarta di Limone and Bombina. I have yet to leave without eating the Tiramisu, so I order that and Patrick decides to try the Tarta Di Limone. Being the nice person he is, Patrick lets me sample his lemon delight. It has a smooth lemon flavor without being acidic and as Patrick said, "It left a refreshingly satisfied feeling to a lovely meal.”
As the diners leave Layla, Giovanna and the waiters—Mario and Sheila—thank everyone for coming and invite them to return soon. We bring all our friends here because we always are assured of a warm welcome, friendly service and delicious food. We hope to see you there sometime.
La Cucina Italiana is located on the corner of Avenida 15 and Calle 6 and is open every Monday through Friday from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m.
Now it is time for Patrick and me to head back to our casa by a different way. I am sure we will meet some new friends along the way that I can tell you about later.
Until next time,