While I often bring along a friend or family member to my regular dining excursions for the Pasadena Weekly, there is something blissful, even luxurious about dining alone. Enjoying a meal without engaging in conversation, paying more attention than usual to all the behind-the-scenes action and how the staff interacts with one another and diners, and having some down time alone after a long work week is a joy for me. Just throw some pasta and gelato into that scenario and call it a spa day for one.
Recently I visited the well-known and much-loved Domenico’s Italian Restaurant and had one of the best experiences I’ve had at the PW thus far, and that is not just because pasta is my favorite food, as I may have previously mentioned once or twice.
Domenico’s is located on East Washington Boulevard in Pasadena, and has been in the same location since 1960, which was evident on my solo night out. Although it was pretty full when I arrived, everything about Domenico’s felt homey and comfortable. There were no cheesy props or decor that screams “Italian,” like bright red checkered tablecloths or stereotypical Italian chef figurines, mainly because everything about Domenico’s screams authentic. I was seated at a small table in the corner and enjoyed having a view of everyone else. Families and couples dined together, and it was clear that the waiters were either familiar with their patrons, or they were just friendly and welcoming. My waiter joked with the large party in front of me for some time before taking their orders.
To start, I had the fried ravioli ($8.95), which came out within 10 minutes of ordering and was nothing short of amazing. Fried ravioli stuffed with cheese and served with marinara to dip into — could it get any better? I knew immediately I would take home half of the generous portion. The servers were happy to answer my questions, so when it came down to deciding what sauce for my gnocchi a la carte ($10.49), it was suggested that I try the creamy marinara for $1 extra. Creamy marinara is simply regular marinara sauce mixed with alfredo to give a creamier consistency, and just so happens to work best with the gnocchi, as my waiter suggested. No surprise there. My initial choice of pesto would have been good, but not nearly as perfect. Even a la carte my meal was served with a side of garlic bread.
I should preface my remarks by saying that gnocchi is on my short list of favorite pastas, so perhaps I’m biased to say that their gnocchi is one of the best I’ve ever had. While it tastes good because of the nature of the pasta, this gnocchi was special. Each bite was plump, pillowy, chewy, and made me want to take a nap on the heaping plate of it in front of me. As I was eating, a server came to the pair next to me and said, “We ready for boxes?” knowing full well that they, like me, would not be able to finish the entirety of their meal. Sometime later I wasn’t even halfway through and my server came to me and with a smile asked if I wanted a box. While I could have continued eating, I reluctantly agreed and he whisked away the plate. Many of their entrees are served with a choice of soup or salad and garlic bread, so it felt like staff had an acquired radar that could detect when diners were close to their limit, and they rushed to save the day — or in the case of some diners and me, helped us avoid that feeling of a food coma coming on.
In my case, they couldn’t quell my desire to at least try their gelato. I went with the cookies and cream ($4.95), made with cookie bits and coated in hard shell chocolate, then served in a portion size for one person, or to share if you’ve already fallen into a semi-comatose state. Although it isn’t made in-house, the gelato is tasty. My waiter shared with me his favorite is the brownie cake, but that will have to wait for next time.
Since I’d never been to Domenico’s, it dawned on me later that perhaps going in a group would have been ideal in order to try their pizza — for which they are best known. Their menu boasts both traditional pizza toppings and options to make it unique, like salami, chorizo, broccoli, and artichoke hearts, all dependent on the number of toppings preferred. Gluten-free crust is available, with the rest of the menu featuring cold and hot sandwiches, such as eggplant, sausage, even a pizza sandwich ($9.40-$10.40). Beyond the amazing and diverse Italian fare offered, the most appealing aspect of Domenico’s is its no-fuss experience and cozy feel. Despite the place being busy the night I was there, it feels like a restaurant you’d only know about as a local resident. While the restaurant has earned great reviews online, most of those people seem to agree with that sentiment. Whether with a group or alone, like me, Domenico’s is sure to win you over.