A folk song that was a favorite of Dave Mancini’s aunts, who sang it while they cooked — “La Rondinella” (the swallow) — is the poetic name he chose for his second restaurant, right next door to Supino Pizza, his first. That was named for the small town in Italy where his father was born, and it has been a hit since it opened in 2009.
The new spot, opened in January, is destined to be equally popular. Mancini has the touch, whether it’s with the pristine thin-crusted pizzas or the more elaborate dishes on the menu at La Rondinella.
The 60-seat quarters, done up with a handsome walnut bar on one side of the single room, and authentic old church pews providing seating along the opposite wall at uncovered tables topped variously with metal or wood, is as unpretentious as the baseball-capped Mancini and his ensemble staff. All of them, front of the house as well, are involved in the food preparation and service.
Feel free to ask the server for a recommendation from the small, one-page menus and it’s a safe bet the answer won’t be that “everything’s good” cop-out. They know what they are serving. Antipasti include a couple of crostini that seem to be on every table, sturdy slices of ciabatta bread with an olive spread or a blend of anchovy and hazelnut, a sharable dish.
Others on the short list include a trio of lovely little salt cod fritters with a creamy garlic dip, and meatballs with marinara sauce, a sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano and more of the ciabatta. “I knew we had to have meatballs,” comments Mancini.
Many other dishes, however, are not that familiar. It’s a very distinctive list, inspired by Northern Italy, with just one pasta currently, manicotti di crespelle (thin crepe) in a variety of seasonal treatments. More pastas, including lasagne, will turn up when the heavy-duty pasta machine arrives shortly, but this is not a red sauce type of Italian restaurant.
Main dishes include a terrific skin-on chicken dish, chicken thighs paired with a swirl of cannellini beans, and another, braised lamb shoulder made from pasture-raised Michigan lamb atop a silky polenta. A classically simple salad of arugula and watercress in a light lemon citronette dressing is just right with both of these dishes, in fact, with virtually anything on the rustic Italian menu. The proximity to the Eastern Market makes shopping trips easy for Mancini and crew and the fresh ingredients attest to it.
The wine list, comprised of almost all Italian wines, includes a carafe of house pour at $15, which underscores the gentle price structure across the board.
By the way, don’t ask for pizza at La Rondinella. Pizza is served only to children as a gesture to those who bring the little ones to dinner.
2463 Russell, Detroit
Call: (313) 567-2051
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Tues.-Sat. (lunch to be added to the schedule soon)
Prices: Appetizers $3-$9, main dishes $12-$17, sides and salads $3-$9, desserts $3-$6
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar
Noise level: Moderately high
What the ratings mean
★ — routine ★★ — good
★★1/2 — very good
★★★ — excellent
★★★★ — outstanding