After two-and-a-half years, La Cucina Ristorante proves that it’s here to stay. “Initially, it was hard to get the message out that we were here and that we were a new restaurant,” says Elis Haxhistasa, co-owner and manager. La Cucina replaced a short line of restaurants that didn’t work at the Center Point Plaza in Northfield. “It was a difficult transition, but we’ve become one of the top-rated restaurants,” says Ron Poulin, co-owner and chef. With an overwhelming amount of five-star Google reviews, La Cucina’s the place to eat in Northfield.
Prior to opening La Cucina, Haxhistasa and Poulin worked together at Penne Restaurant and Wine Bar in Philadelphia for eight years. “Going from the safety of working at a corporate restaurant to opening our own restaurant was very scary. It was a big move,” Poulin says.
However, they knew what each was capable of and made their move. They packed up their joint restaurant experience and headed to the shore. “We work great together,” Poulin says. Haxhistasa oversees the front-of-house operations, while Poulin manages the kitchen.
“I love the heat and the speed. You just have to go, go, go. I love being on the line, cooking,” Poulin says. Growing up, Poulin always knew that he wanted to be a chef. “I spent a lot of time in the kitchen with my mom and we watched cooking shows together, I loved Julia Childs, Jacques Pepin and Emeril Lagasse,” Poulin says. He went on to attend the Restaurant School in Philadelphia, then worked his way through the kitchen.
La Cucina is known for their seasonal specials, handmade pastas, fresh salads, homemade soups and satiating meat dishes. “One of our signature dishes is our polpo alla griglia appetizer,” ($14) Poulin says. The tender octopus is braised and served with diced potatoes, shallots, Mama Lil’s peppers and an arugula pesto.
“This fall, I’m looking forward to incorporating some more braised meats, like lamb shanks. And pastas with ragus, maybe a wild boar ragu, working with what’s in season,” Poulin says. “We won’t say no to fresh,” Haxhistasa adds. Another seasonal special is La Cucina’s blackened tuna ($36) with honey-roasted baby heirloom carrots and wasabi mashed potatoes.
The regular menu items that customers have come to love include the fresh salads, brunch-style entrees and sandwiches and burgers from the lunch menu. Selections such as superfood salad ($12) with baby spinach, mixed berries, mixed nuts, fontina cheese, crispy quinoa and a lemon vinaigrette; pollo Milanese ($12) with herb-crusted chicken, arugula, shaved Pecorino and a lemon oil dressing; the frittata greca ($10), a fluffy egg omelet with feta, tomatoes, onions, peppers and spinach, served with a side salad and crostini bread; or the burger di tartufo e funghi ($12), an 8-ounce burger topped with Portobello, fontina cheese and truffle mayo, served on a brioche bun with truffle fries.
La Cucina’s dinner menu features several homemade pastas such as gnocchi with tomato basil sauce ($21); ravioli con funghi ($18), a house-made wild mushroom ravioli in a brown butter, sage, cream sauce; and fettuccine La Cucina ($23), house-made fettuccine with mushrooms and a short rib ragu. “A personal favorite from the dinner menu is the stuffed pork chop,” Poulin says. The maiale ripieno ($28) is a 10-ounce, center-cut pork chop, stuffed with prosciutto and mozzarella, and served with a mushroom demi.
La Cucina’s pearly interior is an homage to the sea. Sophisticated art, white table linens and elegant table settings set the tone for a fine-dining experience crafted under Haxhistasa’s watchful eye. Prior to working at Penne, Haxhistasa spent 10 years in Venice, Italy, working in a multitude of roles in the hospitality industry including front desk, concierge and accounting. He has rolled that experience into crafting an elegant, yet approachable, dining experience at La Cucina.
“We’re fine dining, but we’re so much more,” Haxhistasa says. La Cucina also offers catering, takeout and delivery. “I think because we’re known as a fine dining restaurant, people don’t think of us for takeout or delivery, which we do very well,” Haxhistasa says. La Cucina offers delivery through their restaurants as well as Grubhub and Uber Eats up to about six miles.
From their food to their service and delivery, La Cucina’s goal is to be obliging to their customers’ requests. “In every way, we try to be as accommodating as possible,” Haxhistasa says.