When people are looking for a local Italian restaurant to try, multiple times I've heard Cucina Rosa in McHenry recommended.
On Tuesday night, three of us decided to try it out ourselves. It's right off Route 31, not far from Gary Lang and Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital
We entered into a reception area, and we were greeted and seated quickly. Water arrived at the table, and my fellow diners – who both usually order off a kids menu – were excited to have a fine-dining experience.
The water glasses arrived with a carafe on the table for refills, and a basket of warm bread arrived soon after.
Cucina Rosa has a wide variety of Italian options, from pastas to chicken, fish or meat dishes. The appetizers range from fried calamari or baked and steamed clams or mussels to sausage and peppers.
For the kids, they offer half-dishes of the "pasta your way" for half-price. That's the direction we went, and that was the main reason we had chosen Cucina Rosa.
One ordered the farfalle with marinara sauce ($6 for the half-order), while the other had the penne with marinara.
The pasta options included everything from gluten-free or whole wheat ($13 apiece) penne, fettuccine, linguine, capellini, spaghetti and rigatoni ($12 each) with 10 different sauce options and add-ons from eggplant to shrimp, chicken or Sal's famous meatballs ($4 extra).
In fact, looking back, I wish I had read closer and we had tried one of those meatballs.
Sal is the owner and chef, while Mary Jo was our server. She also is a co-owner and listed on the restaurant's Facebook page as general manager.
She was great and helpful with explaining the options to our younger diners.
After looking through the menu a few times, I decided on the gnocchi ($15) over the lasagna ($15), both favorites of mine, regardless of the Italian spot. I selected the soup of the day, roasted red pepper with sausage, and we enjoyed the warm bread.
The pasta was excellent, with both younger diners finishing a little over half of their dishes and bringing the rest home, in order to save room for dessert.
My gnocchi was a large helping of the soft potato dumplings in homemade meat sauce that made for a great combination. I've had it with a white sauce or vodka sauce before, but the meat/cheese/potato combination was one I was certainly impressed by.
We finished up with two orders of the vanilla bean gelato ($4), a sweet way to finish our meal, served with a pair of ladyfingers in each. Cucina Rosa lived up to its billing for sure.
• The Mystery Diner is an employee at the Northwest Herald. The diner’s identity is not revealed to restaurant staff before or during the meal. The Mystery Diner visits a restaurant and then reports on the experience. If the Mystery Diner cannot recommend the establishment, we will not publish a story.
WHAT: Cucina Rosa
WHERE: 4113 W Shamrock Lane, McHenry
WHEN: Summer hours are 4 to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 4 to 10 p.m Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, closed Monday-Tuesday.
INFORMATION: Call 815-322-2153 or cucinarosaitalianrestaurant.com/