Scopa Restaurant Healdsburg

The name of Ari Rosen’s casual Italian eatery, Scopa, refers to an ancient Italian card game that, like poker,  requires plenty of bluffing, banter, booze and snacks to be properly played. Deal me in.

Inside Scopa, the vibe is extremely casual, with smiling, t-shirted waitrons,  stemware only by request (in Healdsburg? shocking!), a reasonably-priced wine lists that hovers mostly in the 30-40 range and relaxed dishes that beg for bread-sopping and cross-table sharing. Shoebox-sized, there are only a handful of tables, smushed together bistro-style along the right wall; several tall bar tables for two are along the left.

Start with Larry Pacini’s house-made Ciabatta ($2), which you’ll gladly use in place of a fork, napkin or spoon throughout the meal. This is serious soaking bread. The Tonno Del Chianti ($8) (is cold, shredded pork that’s been preserved in oil, “tuna style”. Served up with a tangy balsamic fig jam and greens, it’s a refreshing appetizer for two. The real thriller, however, is the burrata ($9) that nearly brought me to tears. Some of you may know of my absolutely ridiculous passion for mozzarella. I’ve spent years tracking the perfect ball. I’ve still never found it. This burrata, made by a couple in San Diego, is an insane little orb of tender mozzarella with a soft, creamy middle that would make an Oreo blush in shame and about as close (to perfection as I’ve found stateside.

Also on the Antipasti menu are chile-braised tripe ($7.50), grilled fontina cheese and spicy meatballs with smoked mozzarella.The one major stinker of the night was finding out the house-made gnocchi with Napolitano meat ragu ($16) was sold out. The Orecchiette ((literally “little ears”, $16) was a pale consolation, studded with (turnip greens, chili flakes and ricotta. Not that it was bad. It just wasn’t as good as the rest of the meal. I still licked the bowl clean (while thinking about how much I wished

I had a plate of fresh ravioli (stuffed with ricotta, nettles and covered in brown butter sage sauce (($16). The stuffed calamari ($16) are four(ish) torpedos of squid stuffed with caper berries and olives and grilled with Yukon Gold potatoes.The entrees are small, so there’s no shame in ordering a couple if you’re really hungry. Among the choices: pizza topped with green garlic, sausage and cheese ($15), tomato-braised chicken with polenta ($17) and grilled rack of lamb with fava beens, spring leeks and backed ricotta ($22). Desserts thus far are simple affairs, the best being a board of cheese, pear and (honey to go with your French press coffee. And, despite the beckoning of summer, outdoor seating at Scopa is so-far just a single table squeezed against the building. With so little space inside, you’ll feel a little squeezed regardless.

The sheer press of humanity, clinking glasses and wafts of garlic and olive oil can make for a heady experience. Embrace it. And feel yourself embraced back by the warmth, honest cooking and impromptu camaraderie of Scopa. It’s in the cards.

Scopa: 109A Plaza St, (Healdsburg, 707.433.5282. Reservations recommended. Open for dinner (Tuesday through Sunday from 5:30 to 10 pm.