I was so busy last week that I can’t even think of a metaphor to describe it. The weekend prior, I had invited four of my COVID-quarantined neighbors (meaning they’re being as cautious as I am) to my roomy patio table for a Thursday night dinner.

As I tore through recipes on Wednesday night, I wondered how I was going to get it all done for Thursday’s dinner. And on Thursday at noon … having not even visited the grocery store yet … I figured out exactly how I’d do it: I’d order take out!

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about several restaurants adding even more family-style menus to their take-out options. So, I called Chef Craig, now at Ristorante Rumari.

Craig has introduced six family-style menus, so after collecting dietary restrictions from my guests (one of whom doesn’t eat carbs or anything tomato-based), I chose the Slow Cooked Beef Brasato with creamy polenta, farmer’s market vegetables, and the garden salad. I asked Chef to put the tomato-based red wine sauce on the side.

This is the bag that was waiting for me at Rumari:

Family meal to go at Ristorante Rumari!

“Family meal” to go at Ristorante Rumari


I’ve mentioned before in my social posts that getting take-out feels a bit like Christmas morning, and this was no exception.

Two 10×13 foil containers housed the giant salad and the Beef Brasato with the roasted vegetables. Plastic tubs housed polenta, the red sauce and the salad dressing. A lunch sack paper bag revealed big chunks of freshly made focaccia bread. And a final tub housed thin wheels of toasted bread for the salad’s croutons. This was a match made in heaven.


Well, I DID turn on the oven

I quickly plated the food, feeling something like Robin Williams in his role as Mrs. Doubtfire after burning his family’s first “home cooked” dinner. When my guests arrived moments later, I had appetizers of my own (imagine that) ready, the giant salad in the refrigerator, and the other items covered and warming gently in the oven.

The “garden salad” was a veritable community of greens with thin red onion strips, pitted olives, heirloom cherry tomatoes and cucumber slices. We had more than enough for the five of us. I served the focaccia squares with some of the warmed red sauce for dipping, which proved a fan favorite.

Family-styled green salad from Ristorante Rumari


Melt-in-your-mouth brisket

The main course was perfectly prepared, even after enduring a driving commute and a warm oven until the dinner bell clanged.

Simply put, Beef Brasato is braised beef done Italian style. Chef Craig uses chuck roast. In Italian families, this is often a stovetop simmerin’ recipe that brews fine chop onions, carrots, celery, tomatoes and red wine with the cut of meat.

Chef Craig chooses, instead, to use a slow oven.

“You want to have melt-in-your-mouth beef, so you’ve got to commit your oven to several hours of slow cooking,” he told me. “It’s the only way to go.”
After simmering several hours, the fork-tender beef is carved into chunks or slices.

Two of my neighbors who claimed significant practiced finesse with braised beef shook their heads sheepishly, both saying this was the best they had ever tasted.


Sides steal the show

While the beef on its own was perfectly tasteful and tender, the real magic was in the red sauce we spooned over each of our servings. While I could call it an “Italian red sauce,” this sauce was a beauty, both robust in nature but perfectly willing to partner with the beef; it did not overtake it.

More than two cups of the red sauce came along with the meal, and it was more than enough for all of us.

The roasted vegetables consisted of long slices of carrot, broccoli and zucchini as well as Yukon Gold fingerling potatoes. They were perfect with just the right smattering of sea salt.

And, then, there was the polenta. I don’t know how anyone makes polenta like this. Chef Craig told me a couple months back that he has his own “family secrets” with the way he makes polenta. That family has never talked to my family. I bet they’ve never talked to your family, either. The lowly polenta came very close to stealing the entire show.

The full family meal, Beef Brasato, for 2-4 people

The above serving easily fed all five people at my table, with leftovers to spare. The only item I might have asked more for with a party of four or five – the roasted vegetables. While everyone at the table got a decent serving, we all wanted more of that goodness, too.

Six family dinners, all $37.50

As I mentioned, Chef Craig is offering six family style dinners, all priced at just $37.50 (tax and tip additional). His best-seller, no surprise, is the Spaghetti & Meatballs.

Rumari’s best-selling family meal? Spaghetti & Meatballs, of course.

Others aside from the wonderful Beef Brasato are Short Rib Ragu with Rigatoni (with marsala cream sauce), Rigatoni Bolognese with Italian Sausage, and a vegetarian treat, Caponata Con Spaghetti with eggplant, zucchini, peppers and onion.

Go to their website and click “EAT” on the main photo to see the Ristorante Rumari menu.

With August purportedly leading to a school year … of sorts, I’m figuring more readers are interested in what our Laguna chefs have come up with for family-style, value-priced meals. I’m happy to write about more, so feel free to send me your favorites by direct messaging me at either my Instagram or Facebook page (see below). Chefs, this includes you!

Have a great weekend out there and thank you for supporting our local restaurants!

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