Everything about the new Deluca's Deli in the Americana says "Italia." Strains of its lyrical language are bandied about over glass deli cases, products from Tuscany and Umbria scale its industrial metal shelving, and food offerings, like porchetta and capponata, are authentically Italian. Chef Piero Topputo is Italian as is owner Tancredi Deluca. Together with uber-developer Rick Caruso, Deluca also owns the neighboring Trattoria Amici, whose kitchen the deli shares.
Not to be confused with Dean & Deluca, the famous Manhattan eatery, Deluca's Deli set out to make a light and breezy eatery that serves hot and cold sandwiches, salads, artisan cheeses and pastas to go. They succeeded. The dishes use fresh produce, as well as locally made and ethically produced meats and cheeses. They seem healthfully low in fat and salt, but more often than not, also low in flavor.
But let me start with what is wonderful at Deluca's. The space, created by Caruso favorite Poon Design, is airy with high ceilings and a pleasing acoustic quality. There's an entire chalkboard wall for specials of the day. And the long wooden communal table creates a leisurely, European feel. It's a great place to enjoy their Insalata Caprese ($3.95/$7.25/$12.95 for small/medium/large) with its San Marzano tomatoes and fresh, creamy imported mozzarella. Or perhaps enjoy an afternoon "pick-me-up," the literal meaning of tiramisu. Deluca's tiramisu layers ladyfingers drenched in good espresso, gorgeous mascarpone cheese and whipped cream custard (no liquor in this one), and a sprinkling of fine cocoa with a texture like cashmere on the gullet ($4.95).
If you're in a rush and need some items to go, choose a favorite dried pasta with either their pomodoro sauce ($3.50 for a half-pint) or white clam sauce ($14.95 for a pint). The simple pomodoro tomato sauce is dish-licking good with a perfect blend of sweetness and acidity. The clam sauce is chock full of fresh clams in a nicely seasoned white wine and olive oil base, though it is very runny and doesn't stick to the pasta. Finally, get a few slices of the Serrano ham ($11.25 per half-pound). It's Spanish, not Italian, so the chef must be into it, too. It is deep and dusty-tasting with a fabulous texture and a mysterious flavor way down in its basement (Black pepper? Aged balsamic?).
The other sliced meats, which I paid an arm and a leg for, were not nearly as good, though they were sliced impossibly thin on their shiny Berkel meat slicer. I'd heard great things about speck, duck prosciutto and bresaola ($9.95, $13.75 and $9.48 per half-pound, respectively) but they didn't romance my tongue the way the Serrano Jamon did. Equally disappointing were the short rib tortellacci (large tortellini) I brought home from the freezer case ($13.95 for 10).
The pasta was good, but the filling was bland with only the slightest whisper of short rib flavor. In fact, there were quite a few instances of blandness. While the salads are, in general, fresh and healthy, the Tonno e Fagioli with Italian tuna and white beans and the Insalata di Farro with its Umbrian spelt, arugula and cranberries ($3.95 to $14.95) both need olive oil and sea salt, which they graciously put out on a self-serve table. The minestrone ($4.95), however, was beyond repair. I know there must be regional versions of this soup but one with no beans or pasta? Mine was a thin, weak broth with chunks of onion, cabbage and carrot in it. I would only give this to someone overcoming the stomach flu.
Their grilled panini are probably what bring people through the door. I tried only two, so I can't speak with certainty, but I'd say they were beautifully grilled on delicious, freshly made bread. Once again, though, they were a little timid on the inside.
If I were telling a friend, I'd say go to Deluca's for a post-shopping tiramisu and cappucino or to pick up some pasta sauce and antipasti for tonight's dinner. Otherwise it's fancy packaging for not much substance.
LISA DUPUY visited Tuscany and Umbria a few years ago and found every edible thing to be thrilling. She currently lives in La Crescenta and can be reached at LDupuy@aol.com.
What: Deluca's Deli
Where: The Americana at Brand, 889 Americana Way, Glendale
When: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
Prices: Cold and hot panini, $7.50 to $10.50; salads, $3.95 to $12.95; hot items, $9.25 to $10.25; coffee and drinks, $1.20 to $5.50
Contact: (877) 701-DELI