Cotogna (quince in Italian) has a stone tiled floor and a large pizza oven and grill at the back of the room. The oven is wood-fired, as can be seen from the trail of log piles dotting the way to the bathroom. The dining room walls are a mix of exposed brick and painted in beige, with brown banquette seating, tightly spaced tables and a casual feel to the place, with no tablecloths and music (initially jazz, later assorted pop) playing in the background. Cotogna opened in November 2010, and is the casual sister to Quince next door, which opened two years ago. Michael Tusk is chef/owner of both restaurants.
Bread is not offered for free but is $10, bought in from Della Fattoria, a local bakery. Foccacia, by contrast, was made from scratch in the kitchen and was superb, soft, with plenty of olive oil and with a pleasing and unfashionably high level of salt (17/20).
The wine list is printed on the back of the menu and has the unusual feature of all bottles being priced at $40. The choices include Colli Piacenti Malvasia Castello di Luzzano 2009, while for red the selections included Alto Adigo Pinot Nero "Mezcan" Hofstatter 2009 and Montefalco Rosso Raina 2008. As a price check, the Sangiovese di Romagna Castellucio Le More 2007 retails at $16, as does the Campole Alois 2007 from Campania, so the mark-up is a little more than twice the retail price.
Pizza margherita ($15) was really excellent, a Neapolitan style thin pizza with good base and the sauce with excellent tomato flavour and fresh basil, carefully cooked (14/20). Gnocchi with morels and asparagus ($15) was also good, the gnocchi smooth and not dry as they can be, morels and asparagus good, just a little heavy on the salt, though I do not mind that (15/20).
Mezzaluna pasta had a filling of borrage, with ricotta cheese, garlic and onion with Parmesan crisps, decorated with edible flowers. The pasta was delicate, with well balanced flavours (16/20). Frittata with padron peppers and new potatoes ($14) was pleasant, with spinach, kale and broccoli inside the omelette, along with some potatoes; the only element that worked less well was a piece of cheese on toast, the cheese being more a sauce rather than just melted cheese, part way to a fondue, and having a slightly odd texture (13/20).
Tagliatelle with braised duck ragu ($16) had very good, freshly made pasta with excellent texture; the pieces of duck were good but the ragu itself could have been richer (15/20). Affogato (espresso coffee poured over vanilla ice cream) had good coffee but suffered from vanilla ice cream that had little discernible vanilla flavour (13/20).
Bomboloni is essentially a doughnut, served with limoncello sauce. These were nicely made and dusted with sugar, though the limoncello sauce could have been a little sharper given the richness of the doughnuts (14/20)
Service was friendly (our waitress Laura was very switched on), and the bill (with just water and no wine) came to $52 (£32) per person for lunch before tip, a bargain. I thoroughly enjoyed my meal here, the kind of casual Italian food that you always hope for but so rarely find. I will definitely try to get to Quince on my next visit.
RT @Richardvines: winner of @RouxScholarship 2015 is Ian Scaramuzza of Hibiscus