An Italian restaurant in the Crescent with high-end seafood and affordable wood-fired pizzas. By Chris Mueller. Photos by Linh Phanroy.
First impressions can be misleading. That’s why I had to make a return trip to this Italian restaurant in Phu My Hung to make sure the food really was as good as I thought on my first visit — and it was. La Cucina bills itself as an Italian seafood restaurant, importing salmon, snow fish, crabs, and even Canadian lobster, but I returned for the pizza.
The American head chef who had worked in New York crafted the pizza menu, while La Cucina’s Italian owner designed the rest of the dishes. Italy may have invented pizza, but New York perfected it. These pies are a good mix of the two locales, and at 36cm are some of the biggest in town. The al prosciutto pizza (VND 180,000) is a classic, and though the crust is thinner than the typical New York pizza, the sauce and cheese give it a taste that even the proudest of New Yorkers could appreciate.
Pizza clearly matters at this eatery; the interior was built around two white-dome pizza ovens that act as a centrepiece for the restaurant. The ovens are surrounded by a brick bar with a wood-top counter, where a tray and live tank on one end display the day’s seafood offerings. The front of the restaurant has floor-to-ceiling windows that look onto the outdoor seating on the Crescent, and the alternating brick and red walls mixed with the black floors add an elegant touch.
But it’s not just the pizza that makes La Cucina a worthy stop. The salmon carpaccio with pesto (VND 175,000) showed just how fresh the seafood here is. The spaghetti diavolo e granchio (VND 235,000), a spicy tomato sauce with pasta under a lightly-fried soft-shell crab, is an excellent mix of classic Italian and seafood. Its sauce may be too spicy for some, but it didn’t overpower the dish and was a great dip for the freshly-baked bread. The soft-shell crab was fried just enough to give it a crunch to mask the odd sensation of eating a whole crab.
There is also an extensive and reasonably-priced Italian wine list and Tiger draughts are only VND 35,000, probably the cheapest in the area. If it’s been a while since you’ve visited the Crescent, which has transformed steadily from an eerie ghost town to a popular family promenade, La Cucina alone warrants a trip.