Dining Out: Strada opens doors to delights of Italian street

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Why: Strada opened its doors for business Sept. 17. The whole family will enjoy the restaurant's fast-casual Italian food experience, "Street Food of Italy."

The straightforward menu pays homage to Subway's method of diner participation: Ingredients range from basic to distinctive, the atmosphere is comfortable and classy, and service is professionally centered on the diner. All things considered, Strada can become a good healthful habit.

Atmosphere: Outside, the strip mall location is hard to miss with its eye-catching signs and logo -- bold lettering and a lion image express confidence and exclusivity.

Inside, clean lines and a simple palette of white and orange is complemented by dark, handsomely colored wood and stainless steel accents. Wood used throughout the restaurant is reclaimed from trans-Pacific shipping crates. Though it is a brand new restaurant, it has a traditional appeal that has been successfully paired with modern sophistication.

What I Tried: I decided on a piadina, and my dining companion had a pasta bowl. To drink, I chose peach iced tea and he had a berry Italian soda, both of which were dispensed from a help-yourself dispenser suited to the restaurant's theme.

A piadina could be described as an Italian burrito. It begins with a wrap similar to a flour tortilla but made with olive oil, which gives it a slightly nutty (not the crazy variety of "nutty") flavor. It is thinner and more flexible than a flour tortilla and holds together much better. Before the wrap is filled with ingredients, it is placed on an oiled griddle where it unevenly bubbles and browns. Pasta lays the foundation for the rest of ingredients. Diners choose a meat or seasoned fresh vegetables and then top off the piadina from a selection of add-ins that include vegetables, sauce, cheese and pesto. The possibilities are numerous.

For my piadina, I decided on the house-made Italian sausage, roasted zucchini and mushrooms, shaved Parmesan cheese, and diavolo sauce, which is a house-made tomato and cheese sauce. Unlike typical Italian sausage, which is usually defined by whole fennel seeds bursting with anise-like flavor, Strada's sausage is made with ground, roasted fennel that imparts an entirely different taste. I found it to have a remarkable, robust flavor with a pleasant texture without any unpleasantly unchewable globules. It was, frankly, the best sausage I've ever had. All my add-in choices were flattering to the sausage, making my piadina experience a delicious and memorable one. Given the selection of sauces and other ingredients, I don't think one could go wrong with any combination.

In addition to pasta, my dining companion had sausage, roasted onions and bell peppers, house-made pomodoro sauce, and leafy greens included in his pasta bowl and was likewise satisfied with his choices, the made-to-order quality and the freshness of the ingredients.

Strada exceeded our expectations on every level, and I am looking forward to many return visits and trying more menu options.

Menu Highlights Beyond What I Tried: In addition to Strada's yummy sausage, diners may choose from crispy or grilled chicken, steak, calamari, or salmon. Another menu staple is a salad bowl and side items include soup, a calamari fritto, Strada stick, Tuscan white bean and artichoke dip, and a side salad. For dessert, there are cannoli chips. Beverages include Italian soda, iced tea, soft drinks, coffee, beer, wine, and a peach bellini.

Other Observations: The waitstaff was professional and friendly, a notch above many other fast-casual restaurants, where I often feel as though the person waiting on me is just simply putting in their time.

Portions are generous but reasonable and the prices are fair for the quality of Strada's product.

Cost: All menu items are under $10.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday. 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.

Telephone: 360-326-4364

Online:http://goStrada.com.

Where: 2100 SE 164th Avenue, Suite 109-A, Vancouver

Health Score: Strada has received a pre-opening inspection and is scheduled for a routine inspection sometime soon. Zero is a perfect score, and Clark County Public Health closes restaurants that score 100 or higher. For information, call 360-397-8428