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Osteria La Briccola finds the perfect spot for classical Italian

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Mussels and clams in tomato-wine broth are among the appetizers at Osteria La Briccola in Ashland. Photo by Sarah Lemon.
A salad of arugula, Belgian endive, walnuts, grapes and goat cheese is served at Osteria La Briccola in Ashland.
Panna cotta is a light, refreshing dessert at Osteria La Briccola in Ashland. Photo by Sarah Lemon.
Housemade squid ink linguine is prepared with shrimp, salami and cherry tomatoes at Osteria La Briccola in Ashland.
Lamb ragu over pappardelle with pistachios is one of the specialty pasta dishes at Osteria La Briccola in Ashland.
A salad of arugula, Belgian endive, walnuts, grapes and goat cheese is served at Osteria La Briccola in Ashland.

The most exciting restaurant to open in Ashland for more than a year builds on an award-winning chef’s four decades in the industry.

Davide Ghizzoni was executive chef for Ca’ Del Sol near Universal Studios in Southern California’s Studio City before the coronavirus pandemic curtailed the restaurant’s special events, which his wife, Sherri, managed. The couple’s career hardships ultimately provided the push they needed to strike out on their own with Osteria La Briccola.

Relocating to Oregon brought the Ghizzonis closer to their son and Sherri’s parents. And the former Calle Guanajuato location of Loft and Eleven on the Creek afforded the ideal venue for chef Ghizzoni’s classical cuisine from Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, where his family is rooted.

Stating that they never found the right fit for a restaurant before coming to Ashland — and that they finally feel they’ve found a home — the Ghizzonis already are enjoying an enthusiastic reception from customers craving a return to true hospitality. Helmed by such longtime professionals, including former Ca’ Del Sol manager Davide Fortunati, Osteria La Briccola exudes the kind of competence and confidence since its July debut that hopefully confirms staying power.

Setting La Briccola apart from counterparts locally is Davide Ghizzoni’s pasta, freshly made in house. These are prime examples of dishes strictly prepared to the standards of Ghizzoni’s own grandmother, down to imported ingredients as necessary.

“I only cook what I know,” says Ghizzoni. “It is what we do best. It is our life and our passion.”

The chef’s passion for pasta is evident in its sheer variety — gnocchi, spaghetti, pappardelle, penne, tagliatelle and bucatini — going far beyond what I’ve seen at the region’s other Italian eateries. And pastas can be mixed and matched with diners’ choice of sauces, including ragu, pesto and tomato, for dozens of combinations, priced at $16 apiece.

For a few dollars more, diners can choose from such pasta specialties as lasagna with beef ragu ($18), gnocchi with Gorgonzola sauce ($18), pumpkin tortellloni with sage butter ($18) and squid-ink linguine with shrimp, salami and cherry tomatoes ($19).

In traditional Italian style, pastas precede a “second course” of meat or seafood. La Briccola offers chicken, filet mignon, lamb shank, pan-roasted Alaskan salmon and cioppino chock full of salmon and four types of shellfish, from $23 to $34.

Although I love lamb shank, my palate was primed for pasta — the squid ink linguine, in particular. But the menu’s inclusion of lamb ragu on pappardelle meant that I didn’t have to compromise, given my partner’s willingness to share the two dishes.

We first agreed on steamed mussels and clams ($17) for our antipasti and a salad of arugula and Belgian endive with grapes, walnuts and goat cheese ($14). Beef carpaccio ($17), burrata cheese with prosciutto ($18) and a charcuterie plate for two ($23) number among the other antipasti dishes.

The shellfish arrived in short order with fingers of housemade focaccia. Rosy and plump, the mussels reveled in a broth of white wine and tomato, studded with garlic and perfectly seasoned with chile flakes. Arranged in the plate’s center, the smaller clams were a delightfully chewy counterpoint to the succulent mussels, the first I’ve ordered in a restaurant that weren’t overcooked in at least a year, I commented.

When we weren’t soaking bread in the bright, briny broth, we spooned it directly into our mouths, murmuring appreciation with each sip. I’d order this dish again and again and never tire of it.

To complement the seafood, we shared a glass of Italian vermentino ($9) from the well-tuned list of local and Italian labels. We also ordered glasses of Quady North rose ($11) and Poliziano Rosso di Montepulciano ($10), a red blend, to pair with our pastas.

The nicely balanced, straightforward rose let the grapes’ sweetness shine while cutting the richness of walnuts and goat cheese. Carefully arranged and delicately flavored, the salad came split between two plates, although we hadn’t specifically requested that courtesy. Elements in precise proportion elevated the greens beyond palate cleanser between our antipasti and pasta courses.

I could hardly contain my excitement when the pastas came to our table. Indeed, the first bite was sublime, captivating my taste sensations with intense savor. By the third or fourth bite, however, my partner mentioned that the squid ink linguine verged on salty.

Exchanging my lamb pappardelle for his plate, I relished the assertive punch of salami against the shrimp and toothsome noodles. But after a few bites, I concluded the cherry tomatoes were essential to alleviating the dish’s saltiness, which kept building. With no such sweet contrast in the ragu, the lamb pasta also came on too strong, once I reclaimed the plate.

I wanted to believe the fault lay with pasta cooking water whose salinity had concentrated near the end of the evening. Yet a single morsel of impeccably tender lamb revealed it as oversalted, too. Because we had eaten a good amount of each, there wasn’t much point in mentioning the lapse to our server.

The dishes did put us, more than usual, in the mood for dessert, provided it was light and fruity. That left out tiramisu, although it’s one of my favorites, and confirmed the panna cotta ($9) with berries as our choice. The custard was cool, creamy and satisfying, judiciously garnished with coulis and a few fresh berries.

With expansive second-story decks overhanging Ashland Creek, Osteria La Briccola will beckon us back in fine weather. Located at 18 Calle Guanajuato Way, the restaurant is open from 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Monday. Reserve on OpenTable, or call 541-708-0775.

Tempo Tidbits

An expansive and inviting outdoor setting on Jacksonville’s Bigham Knoll Campus is the venue for Harry & David’s next Hosted Dinner.

The Rogue Grape wine bar is Harry & David’s partner for a Sept. 14 dinner prepared by chef Brandon Highstone. A 2008 graduate of Medford Culinary Academy, Highstone has worked for many of the region’s notable restaurants and won third place in 2008 at both the Southern Oregon Top Chef and Battle of the Bones competitions. Highstone’s menu will be finalized soon, according to event organizers.

Priced at $65 per person, dinner service begins at 6:30 p.m. at 515 Bigham Knoll Drive. Purchase at harryanddavid.com/hosted-dinners/rogue-grape

Available to the public for about three years, Hosted Dinners were reimagined as virtual and outdoor events since 2020. The multicourse menus typically incorporate Harry & David prepared foods, including spreads, mustards, preserves, relishes and Moose Munch.

November’s dinner at EdenVale Winery, featuring chef James Daw, also is available for reservation at harryanddavid.com/hosted-dinners/edenvale

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Everything’s coming up rosés for a special Sunday brunch at Medford’s Fences Winery.

The three-course meal, beginning at 10:30 a.m. Aug. 29, is on the Fences patio, 3922 Bellinger Lane. The menu features a basket of fresh, housemade pastries; summer fruits and berries with yogurt dressing, honey and fresh mint; eggs Benedict with crisp Canadian bacon, housemade Hollandaise and country potatoes, plus a glass of rosé for each diner. The ambiance includes live guitar music by Phoenix Sigalove.

The cost is $35 per person, or $30 for Fences wine club members. Tables can be reserved for two to eight guests. Email jody@fenceswinery.com or call 541-690-8303.

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The following restaurants in July received perfect scores of 100 on their semiannual inspections by Jackson County Environmental Public Health:

Abby’s Legendary Pizza, White City; Court House Cafe, Medford; Griffin Creek Cafe, Ashland; Human Bean Central Point II, 536 E. Pine St., Central Point; Mai Thai, Central Point; McDonald’s, Central Point; McDonald’s, Crater Lake Highway, Medford; Mellelo Coffee Roasters, Lear Way, Medford; Mellelo Coffee Roasters. West Main Street, Medford; Mug-N-Deli, Shady Cove; Oberon’s Restaurant & Bar, Ashland.

The county’s searchable database of restaurant and food service inspections is at healthspace.com/Clients/Oregon/jackson/Web.nsf/home.xsp

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Have a Tempo tidbit to share? Email news about the local dining, food and beverage scene to: thewholedish@gmail.com

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Sarah Lemon has relished the Rogue Valley’s dining scene for nearly two decades as one of the original contributors to Tempo’s dining column. Her palate has helped to judge some of the region’s culinary competitions and festivals. The former editor of A la Carte, the Mail Tribune’s weekly food section, she writes a biweekly column, The Whole Dish, and blogs and podcasts under the same name. Listen at mailtribune.com/podcasts and read more at mailtribune.com/lifestyle/the-whole-dish. Follow @the.whole.dish on Instagram, @thewholedish on Twitter or see facebook.com/thewholedish.