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La Valle Ristorante, Pizzeria, Bar
Sparkassenstrasse 5, Munich

Situated just around the corner from the Marienplatz, La Valle is a little bit of Italy in the heart of the Bavarian capital. The restaurant's two floors are comfortable but generally bustling, and the atmosphere is decidedly casual. The menu -- which is printed in German, Italian, and English -- is dominated by pizzas & pastas and supplemented by a select number of daily specials.

But your first stop will undoubtedly be the intimate bar where a young Milan native -- who freely confesses his love for Munich -- holds forth with snappy service and pleasant conversation. The house wines by the glass are rather generic Chianti and pinot grigio (both 5,80€) but pleasant nonetheless. On the other hand, the wine we enjoyed with dinner was an utterly superb 2005 Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano d'Abruzzo (25,90€). Smooth and elegant, it almost seemed a bit out of place with the homey, rustic cuisine.

A starter salad of arugula (8,90€) was, without doubt, absolutely the best representative of the genre that I have sampled anywhere. Generous shavings of Parmesan crowned pristinely fresh leaves of baby arugula; and lush, juicy tomato wedges at the four corners of a deep dish square plate provided a colorful textural contrast to the peppery greenery. Where these beauties had been obtained at the end of November is beyond me, but their meaty countenance stood in sharp contrast to the anemic versions that often adorn salads at the same time of year in the U.S. The consummate catalyst, however, was a beguiling dressing comprised of olive oil, splash of light balsamic vinegar, and sprinkling of black pepper.

The minestrone soup (6,80€) -- replete with tomatoes, green beans, potatoes, and carrots -- was hearty and nourishing and exhibited an unusual flavor because of the addition of pine nuts. I thoroughly enjoyed the soup... my wife was somewhat less enthusiastic.

The two pasta dishes sampled were something of a mixed bag. My penne al diavolo (9,50€) incorporated bits of onion & bacon and promised a spicy tomato sauce. The dish was quite good... but not nearly zippy enough. My wife's spaghetti with mixed seafood (10,50€) featured shrimp and calamari, which were virtually tasteless, swimming in a light marinara sauce. Certainly not the kitchen's finest hour.

For dessert, my wife thought the house-made tiramisu with macerated strawberries and whipped cream (5,10€) was first-rate; I wasn't terribly impressed. The espresso (2,40€), on the other hand, was excellent.

Our waiter seemed to move along like a herd of turtles and tended to drop out of sight more and more as the evening wore on. From what I could gather, other servers had a great deal more on the ball. Just the luck of the draw.

We had planned to stop back again for lunch but just never got around to it. Actually, my impression is that the restaurant would be infinitely better at lunch than at dinner. The pizzas -- which ranged from cheese to spinach to mushroom to seafood -- all looked like top-notch possibilities.

La Valle's cuisine isn't about to set any new culinary standards... but it's a friendly, unpretentious establishment, and the perfect stopover for a casual gastronomic change of pace.

The Artful Diner
November 2007

The Artful Diner is an independent, freelance food writer.  His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.

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