Restuarant Review: Lorna’s Italian Kitchen

    Located in a concrete strip mall at University Town Square, a 20-minute bus ride from campus, Lorna’s Italian Kitchen offers a charming view of the VONS parking lot — not exactly reminiscent of a romantic summer in Tuscany.

    The décor doesn’t scream “La Dolce Vita” whimsy, but the food is something to write home about, offering reasonably priced Italian comfort food with a 15-minute wait. Lorna’s is family-owned by restaurateur Steven Stern, a self-taught cook who moved back to San Diego from Los Angeles after opening several restaurants there. Stern has been keeping a hands-on approach in maintaining the restaurant since its inception in the 1980s, and sharing grandma’s prized recipes for just as long.

    It’s a fact the owner is proud of: Lorna’s menu reminds us that it was “established in 1988”— and the restaurant looks it, too. The chessboard-like black-and-white floor is an odd match for the red-checkered tablecloths and wicker metal-trimmed chairs. Candlelight bounces off wooden beams, giving the restaurant a rustic quality, barely illuminating walls laden with archetypal scenes of Italia (girls on Vespas and plump, mustachioed chefs).

    A basket of warm, freshly baked sourdough bread arrives, and all clichés are forgiven. It’s easy to polish off the fluffy white loaf (not that the chipper, casually-dressed wait staff will let your basket stay empty for long), but save room for Lorna’s generous portions, which can easily be split for an extra $2.

    The gnocchi ($12.25) — a soft, doughy Italian potato dumpling, boiled in hot water — is topped with a choice of garlic cream sauce, pesto or Gorgonzola tomato. Opt for the garlic cream — the milky-white, creamy sauce lightly drips over each carefully-crafted ivory oval pillow, making for a remarkably filling combination.

    The manicotti ($12.25) — ricotta cheese, Parmesan, parsley and nutmeg all stuffed inside a soft homemade pasta crepe — is a satisfyingly punchy mixture of sharp, crumbly cheese and pungent herbs, doused in a light tomato marinara sauce.

    The linguini carbonara ($12.75) was muted by comparison — a thick, flat and reheated pasta, originally frozen, diced with a heavy hand of salty pancetta, peas and mushrooms (with more steamed veggies than pork) in a parmesan sauce that sat in lumpy defiance on each oily strand. A saltshaker was an imperative sidekick to the dull dish.

    Despite the limp pasta, Lorna’s reasonable pricing, giant portions, proximity to campus (and the waiters’ voracious distaste for bare plates) is a welcome reminder of our home kitchen — and an excellent reason to dig out those forgotten pants with the elastic waistband.

    Rating: 3/5

    ours:
    Tuesday-Thursday
    11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
    Friday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
    Saturday & Sunday
    4 p.m. – 9 p.m.

    Price Range: $5-$21

    Recommended:
    Gnocchi with garlic cream sauce

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