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Italian L.a.

Numero Uno

If you want to know why Vincenti may be the single best Italian restaurant in Los Angeles, you could do worse than to try a plate of burrata and prosciutto, a dish that sounds so dull on paper that I almost stopped my daughter from ordering it the last time I had dinner in the restaurant. Burrata is a kind of cream-stuffed mozzarella that was basically unavailable outside Puglia until the El Monte cheesemaker Gioia started making it a few years ago, but these days it is almost a­ubiquitous local specialty, available in any Los Angeles Italian restaurant more serious than a sub shop. Prosciutto, while delicious, is one of the most standardized meat products on Earth, cured in enormous buildings that stretch the length of a football field, tens of thousands of hams hanging in strictly regimented rows. Your finest meats and cheeses? Sure. Yawn. Bring me another glass of prosecco.

But Vincenti’s Nicola Mastronardi serves his burrata in a state of freshness that can probably be measured in hours, if not minutes, just cool enough so that the slight acidity of the cheese is refreshing, but warm enough for maximum ooze. The prosciutto, aged 50 percent longer than usual and sliced transparently thin, is arranged in attractive ruffles around the cheese. A few drops of fragrant basil oil are sprinkled over the burrata, not quite enough to assert itself as a separate presence but enough to perfume it, marrying it to the cheesy, gamy sweetness of the meat and the slivers of oven-dried tomato that garnish the plate. Tossed together haphazardly, this dish is business-class airline food. Arranged like this, it is close to art.

Vincenti, of course, isheir to the Art Deco ’80s landmark Rex, which is still probably the most magnificent Italian restaurant ever to exist on American soil. Rex’s maestro was Mauro Vincenti, whose widow Maureen runs this restaurant in his honor, and keeps a photograph of him in a minishrine behind the hostess desk. Mastronardi cooked at Rex in its last months, as second to Gino Angelini, who opened Vincenti and went on to run La Terza and Osteria Angelini, which are both on this list.

Valentino is grander than Vincenti, La Terza flashier, and Giorgio Baldi draws a more famous clientele, but Vincenti feels like the spiritual center of fine Italian cooking in Los Angeles, its hearth. And befitting a hearth, much of the food here comes from the big, hardwood-burning ovens, flavored with the presence of smoke, of forests, stone chimneys and chilly afternoons — a scallop, say, sprinkled with bread crumbs and baked in its shell until it sizzles; a magnificent veal chop; soft curls of cuttlefish tucked into an herb salad; a whole, truffle-laced squab. The adjacent rotisserie turns out the best restaurant version of porchetta I have ever tasted in California — loin and belly are wrapped into a spiral, seasoned with fennel, and spit-roasted to a crackling, licorice-y succulence. It is certainly possible to eat several mediocre Italian meals elsewhere in this neighborhood for the price of a single superb one here. At these times, it is good to remember that on Monday nights, pizza also comes out of these ovens. 11930 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood, (310) 207-0127.

Degustation Non Est Disputandum

My favorite Italian restaurants tend to serve perfected country dishes, rustic vegetables and grilled meats that replicate what a gifted grandmother might prepare for dinner in her Umbrian fireplace. But Angelo Auriano’s food at Valentino is as far from home cooking as any French chef’s: complicated little packets of handkerchief pasta folded around ragouts of braised capon, veal and quail; a delicate risotto, perfectly all’onda, stirred with crunchy minced apple and a pair of tiny veal kidneys; dime-size Mediterranean octopuses in a chile-tinged broth that resonates against the acidity of cold Ligurian wine with a fuzzy bit of sustain Hendrix might have admired. No grandmother is ever going to arrange dense slivers of smoked eel from Lake Garda into a still life with shavings of cerignola olives, garlic cream and a bit of citrus pulp, or scent marinated yellowtail with a few drops of basil oil and seabottom-pungent shavings of dried mullet roe, or stuff agnolotti with wild boar and garnish it with cured pig cheek and fiasco-simmered beans. Valentino has always been one of the most controversial restaurants in Los Angeles, loved by foodies who claim to have eaten the best meals of their lives in the dimly lit dining room and loathed by people who claim that the restaurant is a con job, a stuffy, Amarone-lubricated machine designed to separate fools from their wallets. I have at times fallen into both camps — it can be difficult to coax the best from Valentino, and my two meals there before the last one, eaten at a time when chefs were rotating through the kitchen faster than minimum-wage fry cooks at the local Burger King, were pretty bad. But with the return of Auriano, who presided over the kitchen in its best days, the cooking is once again up to the level of owner Piero Selvaggio’s massive wine list. Suddenly, although Valentino is quite expensive, the $85 tasting menu (and you’re missing the point if you order anything else) seems almost reasonable compared to the $100+ menus at places like Providence, Sona and Ortolan. 3115 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 829-4313.

 

Cal-Ital

You will never find cooking exactly like Gino Angelini’s in Italy, where the greens tend to be tougher, the rabbits plumper, the basil more pungent and the best beef leaner than it is in California. Pigeon in Italy tends to have the stink of the forest about it, even when it is raised instead of hunted, and ducks are pretty low in fat. A good chef in Italy probably wouldn’t use balsamic vinegar unless he happened to be cooking in the Modena area, and it would be rare for a reputable menu to include both Genovese pesto and osso buco alla Milanese. When the late Mauro Vincenti installed Angelini behind the stoves at Rex nearly a decade ago, he was already an accomplished chef in coastal Tuscany, and he brought with him an individual Italian cuisine unlike anything else that had been served in Los Angeles. What Angelini is attempting at La Terza may be no less than re-imagining California food through the prism of his advanced Italian technique, re-imaginingCalifornia as an Italian province that happens to have a few agricultural virtues of its own, produce that translates into supple pastas, complex salads and the subtle vegetable purées with which Angelini enriches his sauces. And look at those meats: glistening, wood-smoke-infused slabs of pork belly; drippingly rich duck with figs; mahogany-skinned squab enveloping a rich stuffing of shiitake mushrooms and its own liver. Sometimes there is even trifolati, a traditional Italian stew of kidneys, melted down in warm olive oil and simmered in red wine. In Viareggio, trifolati may just be lunch. In Los Angeles, it is a revelation. 8384 W. Third St., L.A., (323) 782-8384.

Luxe, Calme et Mackerel

Like a Rolex, a Fendi baguette or a fitted Prada shift, Capo is an advertisement for itself, a raw-beamed icon of tasteful luxury so understated that a typical Giorgio Baldi regular might not see it as luxurious at all. The silver is French, the steak knives from an old Scarperia firm, the gaily painted bread plates from a Deruta workshop that has been making them for more than 500 years. The light is nuanced in the soaring, intimate dining room, falling in the glowing sheets that characterize Holbein paintings. The wine list, as rich in Burgundies and old California Cabernets as it is in Italian wines, is stunningly rich, including ancient vintages of Barolo that are basically unavailable anywhere else in town, although you can turn through pages and pages of it without finding much under $100 a bottle.

As at his old West Beach Café, which brought food, art and Westside trustifarians together in the ’80s, Bruce Marder may have created a restaurant more about curationthan about cuisine, but Capo is one of the most serious Italian kitchens in the United States, assembling peppery chicken alla diavolo, cooked in the fireplace, that is as thin and as crisp as a Chinese scallion pancake; lozenges of toasted polenta laminated with cellophane-thin slices of lardo; delicate ravioli stuffed with porcini; house-cured duck prosciutto; risottos made from scratch and a warm grilled-mackerel salad that could be the specialty of any two-star restaurant on the Mediterranean coast. You will pay for the privilege — course for course, this may be the most expensive restaurant in Santa Monica — but if you are comfortable shelling out $44 for a plate of simple grilled fish, Capo feels like the most delicious club you could join. 1810 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 394-5550.

Here There Be Dragos

Celestino Drago has been the king of pasta in Los Angeles since the day we all stopped eating SpaghettiOs, the duke of carpaccio, the baron of squid-ink risotto. His casual, pan-Italian yet rigorous cooking at his various dining rooms helped define the way Angelenos think about Italian food, and the late all-Sicilian restaurant l’Arancino, which some critics viewed as his mature statement of purpose, is still one of the most ambitious experiments in regional Italian cooking the city has ever seen. A lot of his early successes — beet risotto with goat cheese, spaghetti al cartoccio (cooked in parchment or foil), the supple tortelloni stuffed with sweet pumpkin — live on at the restaurants Celestino, Il Pastaio, Panzanella, all run by his brothers, and at his own elegant wine bar Enoteca Drago. He even supports a bakery.

 

But you will most often spot his mournful, bearded countenance at the seat of his empire, Drago, working the door, barking at a sous-chef, following a bit of roast venison or stewed boar out into the dining room as if he had shot it himself. Drago is a passionate hunter who can go on for hours about wild pigs in Northern California and birds in North Dakota, the many uses of hare blood and the sweetness of doves who fatten themselves on autumn fruits. Shot game is illegal in U.S. restaurants (except for imported Scottish game for some reason), so he isn’t likely to have killed what is on your plate, but the careful braising and sweet-and-sour flavors that are characteristic of Drago’s style really come into focus when he is stuffing boned-out quail with dense sausage, cooking pheasant with mushrooms for a pasta sauce or simmering boar until it all but collapses under its own molecular weight. 2628 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 828-1585. Also Enoteca Drago, 410 N. Cañon Dr., Beverly Hills, (310) 786-8240; Celestino, 141 S. Lake Ave., (626) 795-4006, Pasadena; Il Pastaio, 400 N. Cañon Dr., Beverly Hills, (310) 205-5444; Panzanella, 14928 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818) 784-4400.

Alp Is on Its Way

In a restaurant scene obsessed with the finer points of raw-artichoke salad and balsamic-drenched tagliata, Tre Venezie is one place that is clearly something different, a narrow Pasadena restaurant where the filled pasta is called casunzei instead of ravioli and filled with beets and poppy seeds instead of spinach and cheese; where the tripe is stewed with grappa-soaked raisins instead of tomato sauce; where the grilled fish comes soaked in vinegar, and where big meat means a smoking plateful of bollito misto — wonderful bollito misto — rather than a giant slab of T-bone steak. There are only a few restaurants in the United States specializing in the Slavic-tinged food of the mountainous northeastern regions of Italy — the wonderful Frasca in Boulder comes to mind — and Gianfranco Minuz’s Pasadena dining room could easily pass for one of the better trattorias in Udine. The cooking, mostly in the Slavic-influenced style of Friuli, northeast of Venice, is superb. True, the careful authenticity must be balanced against the fact that a nice dinner here can cost not much less than a roundtrip ticket to Venice itself, and that you won’t find much to drink here under $50 or so. But where else in Los Angeles are you going to find homemade rosolio, an intensely sweet liqueur made from milk? 119 W. Green St., Pasadena, (626) 795-4455.

Crusty Old-timers

At Pizzeria Mozza, which strictly speaking may not be Italian, although it could scarcely be interpreted as anything else, Nancy Silverton has half the city arguing over the paradigm of what real pizza might look like, and the other half trying to land a table at the restaurant. Her pizza is airy and burnt and risen around the rim, thin and crisp in the center, neither bready in the traditional Neapolitan manner nor wispy the way you find pizza in the best places in Tuscany, neither Rome-crisp nor Puglia chewy. The crust is sweet and bitter, saltyand circled by crunchy charred bubbles that may or may not be snipped off by Silverton or her chef, Matt Molina, as they top the smoking pies with sausage and wild fennel, or squash blossoms and burrata, or fried eggs and puréed anchovies. Every pizza at Mozza is a unique marriage of flour, salt and smoky, hot-burning almond wood, irregular discs that are as individually lovable as children.

Mario Batali is a part owner of Mozza, and the buzziness and heat may remind you of the menus at Otto, Batali’s pizza parlor in Greenwich Village, although Mozza’s pizza is better than Otto’s. The antipasti, which are mostly vegetables, include crackling, deep-fried squash blossoms stuffed with oozing ricotta cheese. There are rotating daily specials, the only traditional main courses served in the pizzeria, and Tuesday’s crisped duck leg already has a cult of its own. David Rosoff’s all-Italian wine list is short and obscure but loaded with delicious things to drink, and nothing is over $50.

Pizzeria Mozza, like La Brea Bakery, which Silverton started a few months before Campanile opened its doors in 1989, is a statement of intent. What comes across most here is Silverton’s obsession with details — even the humble garbage salad, made with slivered organic lettuce, shreds of artisanal salami and buttery aged provolone, is somehow reborn. 641 N. Highland Ave., L.A., (323) 297-0101.

Bologna the Fat

In Bologna, one tends to eat very well on the prosciutto, Parmesan cheese and mortadella of the region, on creamy emulsions and chickens stuffed with butter, on long-cooked ragus that incorporate the entire barnyard into a few tablespoonsful of sauce. It is not for nothing the city is often called Bologna the Fat. Il Moro, which recently transformed itself from a better-than-average office-building restaurant to a center of Bolognese cuisine, may be the only place in Los Angeles where you can taste the cooking of the region — the tiny, meat-stuffed cappelletti floating in a deep-yellow capon broth, the baked lasagna enriched with a wheelbarrowful of bechamel, the house-made pasta, alive under the teeth, buried under an ultradense sauce fashioned from tomatoes and minced pigeon. Prosciutto and salami are served in the traditional Modenese way, with gnocco, oblong, unsweetened beignets that would be equally appreciated by New Orleanians and by Homer Simpson. Tucked into the corner of the Westside where you might least expect a restaurant, busier at lunch than at dinner, it backs up onto a rather romantic patio, has an attached wine bar with occasional live music — and is usually pretty easy to slip into without a reservation even on a Saturday night. A useful restaurant. 11400 W. Olympic Blvd., W.L.A., (310) 575-3530.

 

A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

For years, I was almost alone in my lack of affection for Angelini Osteria, a popular, reasonably priced café with respectable versions of Roman trattoria classics like saltimbocca, spaghetti carbonara and pollo alla diavola. I went to the osteria when I was in the mood for a decent scottadito, a plate of carbonara or wood-cooked pizza, like everyone else, but I’d always thought of it as a restaurant without passion. The owners of the best osterie in Italy find purpose in repetition of classic dishes, preparing the same few dishes for decades, maintaining the living fabric of civilization. Gino Angelini is basically a creative chef, a guy who likes to put his stamp on dishes rather than preserving traditions. But as his nearby restaurant La Terza came into its own, it has become obvious that the osteria is a release for the chef, a place where he can serve less elaborately garnished versions of his dishes to people who love them, fuel a happy lunch crowd with pasta al limone and tripe, serve oxtails on Thursday nights. Angelini Osteria is not an especially serious restaurant, and a respectable home cook can probably replicate most of its dishes, but sometimes you are in the mood for artistry, and sometimes you just want to have supper. 7313 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (323) 297-0070.

The Fresca Generation

Evan Kleiman’s Angeli Caffè crystallized the affinity of Angelenos for casual Italian cooking — the spaghetti alla checca, roast chicken and minimally garnished pizza that a Sienese teenager might eat for dinner at the trattoria down the block on the nights his mother didn’t feel like turning on the stove, but which was essentially unobtainable to those of us on this side of the sea. The books Kleiman co-authored with Viana LaPlace — Cucina Fresca, Pasta Fresca, Cucina Rustica— were immediately absorbed into the database of every caterer and deli-case manager in America, and her aesthetic of simple, accessible freshness became our aesthetic. Suddenly, one out of three restaurants on the Westside turned into a neo-Tuscan caffè, and the city, then the nation, became awash in warm panini, salads dressed with balsamic vinegar, spaghetti aglio e olio, tiramisu, biscotti — almost none of which were even remotely up to the standard set by Angeli’s rustic simplicity. The restaurant’s heat may be decades behind it, and Kleiman’s repertory of artisanal olive oils, summertime bread salads and goat cheese pizzas may no longer be novel, but sometimes there is no place you would rather be than behind a table at Angeli, contemplating a glass of Sangiovese and starting in on a plateful of ravioli with melted butter and sage. And they deliver! 7274 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 936-9086.

Radicchio Bunker

When Madeo first opened two decades ago, it was noted for a dish of wilted local dandelion greens — I always imagined the Vietina brothers, who own the place, picking them from a neglected corner of their lawn each morning. Madeo, an understated industry hangout a few blocks from Cedars-Sinai, resembles a businessmen’s restaurant in one of the northern suburbs of Rome, from its shiny, vaguely disco-era décor to its bunker-like location a few steps below the street, from the food-laden display tables to the effortless grooming of its lunchtime customers. It’s not a culinary destination, exactly — the famous specialty is simple roast veal, and they sell a lot of linguine with clams — but there is an air of satisfied calm about the place that comes with everybody knowing they are going to eat well: spaghetti with shavings of bottarga, dried mullet roe; the tomatoey fish stew caccuccio, which is the Tuscan ancestor of California-style cioppino; and grilled langoustine fragrant enough to perfume the room with garlic. The blistery pizza is fine. And you can’t miss with the gnocchi — luscious, featherweight clouds of pure potato flavor, dressed with pesto, tomato sauce with basil, or a slightly gooey Gorgonzola cream. The dandelion greens, alas, are no longer on the menu. 8897 Beverly Blvd., W. Hlywd., (310) 859-4903.

 

Over a Barrel

La Botte is named after a wine barrel, paneled with former wine casks, and is as thick with actual wine bottles as your niece’s room may be with Bratz paraphernalia. The wine list is a serious one, the kind where you feel a little like a kid whose ball has been taken away if you lack the bank balance to play around with $156 bottles of Serpico or verticals of Amarone. Antonio Mure’s cooking — hearty, wintery north Italian stuff like stuffed pheasant, taglioline with crumbles of quail sausage, fried sweetbreads with polenta, or spaghetti tossed with lentils — seems almost engineered to bring the best out of a young Brunello or a bottle of San Leonardo, a Friuli red with the muscular presence of Sassicaia. Coda alla vaccinara, the famous Roman oxtail dish, is superb, large, pillowy hunks of tail nestling into soft, yellow puddles of polenta, gooey on gooey and rich on rich — exactly what you want with a glass of Barolo if somebody else is paying. Is Mure’s cooking, which you also may have tasted at Piccolo in Venice or Wilson in Culver City, a bit severe for the sybaritic climate of Santa Monica? Perhaps. But it also may be just what we need. 620 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 576-3072.

Glub

Fish, man — raw fish — from Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market and jetted right to you, careful slabs of yellowtail, tuna, fluke, sprinkled with salt and drizzled with olive oil, Italian sashimi on a pretty glass plate. Il Grano’s crudo, Italian sashimi, hasn’t the pleasure in it that you’ll find at, say, David Pasternack’s Esca in midtown Manhattan — there isn’t the pinpoint marination, the balance of flavors, the grind of salt matched exactly to the texture of each fish — but the sourcing is careful and the presentation is true, and when you try Sal Marino’s squid ink pasta with sea urchin (also an Esca dish), the particular brininess of the uni rings clear. 11359 Santa Monica Blvd., W.L.A., (310) 477-7886.

Black Sheep

Brentwood, it has been noted, is as thick with neo-Tuscan restaurants as the Casbah is with spice merchants, streets built on arugula salad and paved with tagliata, awash with herbed roast chickens, pizza margherita and bean soup. Sor Tino, Osteria Latini, Pizzicotto, Toscana, Palmeri, Divino, La Scala Presto — they may not, as has been rumored, all feed into a secret communal kitchen, but I would defy most people to tell the cooking apart blindfolded. Pecorino, at the eastern end of the strip, shares more than a few characteristics with these pleasant, nondescript dining rooms. You will not be deprived of your burrata, your giant steak or your tiramisu. But the cuisine is at least nominally that of the Abruzzi, southeast of Rome, and the bean soup is made with puréed chickpeas — delicious. There is an abundance of cherry tomatoes in everything from the marjoram-scented sauce on the eggplant-stuffed tortelloni to the salt cod with rosemary, and both artichokes and the namesake sheep cheese are ubiquitous — in the stewed tripe, over the carpaccio and in the egg-enriched casserole of lamb. 11604 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood, (310) 571-3800.

Crust Never Sleeps

Can there be a substance on the planet more delicious than a pizza pie from Casa Bianca straight out of the oven, a crisp, pliable crust speckled with burnt bits of cornmeal, slightly acid tomato sauce, a gooey mantle of cheese, optimally with nubs of house-made sausage and a handful of deep-fried eggplant sticks scattered over the surface? Does anything go better with a glass of sour red wine or a bottle of Moretti beer? Is it worth waiting an hour in line for a crack at the wedge-of-iceberg-lettuce salad encrusted with chopped olives and tomatoes, the salad whose DNA is borrowed by every steak house in town? Casa Bianca, run since the early 1950s by former oil painter Sam Martorana (who obviously transferred his artistry to the crust) and his wife, Jennie, is the premier checked-tablecloth restaurant in Los Angeles, a monument founded on dough. The pasta is authentically of the 1950s and the mushrooms on the pizza are canned, if that sort of thing bothers you, but no matter: Casa Bianca is a city treasure. When Barack Obama attended nearby Occidental College, people say, his favorite Casa Bianca pie was the one with pineapple and ham.1650 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock, (323) 256-9617.

 

Not the Olive Garden

The Slow Food guys would be horrified. I’m sort of surprised myself. But I am begrudgingly fond of the C&O Trattoria by the Venice Pier, a vast, beachy warren of tented patios teeming with families, beach dwellers, college kids and everybody else trying to squeeze the maximum amount of fun from a minimum amount of money. The house Chianti, which you draw yourself from coolers set around the perimeter of each dining room, is served on the honor system, and is drinkable. Most of your calories will be consumed in the form of so-called “killer garlic rolls,” which arrive hot at your table at approximately 30-second intervals. Appetizers and pastas are big enough to share; if you chip in a couple bucks extra for the “gargantuan” portion, they’re big enough to share with a lot of people. And although sauces tend to be on the creamy side, the quality of the cooking is higher than you would imagine it would be at a place that is obviously more about mass feeding than fine dining — linguine with lobster that doesn’t taste like something out of a drum; Sicilian chicken salad that is at least as much chicken as salad; and vast platters of overfried calamari that disappear as quickly as pistachio nuts. 31 Washington Blvd., Marina del Rey, (310) 823-9491.

My Own Private Tuscany

Tuscany, the mammoth Italian province most famous for Gucci, the Renaissance and Da Vinci Code tours, has a cuisine that stretches from steak to beans and back again. You will occasionally find vegetables in a Tuscan restaurant, a roasted bird or two, and pasta sauced with the remnants of a wild boar. But mostly there is meat. It is not accidental that Solociccia, where celebrity butcher Dario Cecchini serves up to a dozen courses of meat in a single meal, is located in the heart of Tuscany. Located in the heart of Little Tuscany, a Brentwood neighborhood where you are never farther than a block or two from a $400 sweater or a bowl of spaghetti pomodoro, Toscana pumps out plate after plate of steak and beans, as well as the tricolor salads, flattened chickens and four-cheese pizza that have come to define “Tuscan” cooking in Los Angeles. Toscana’s imitators are legion. But the alpha wolf of Los Angeles Tuscan is probably Ago, co-owned by Toscana czar Agostino Sciandri and a host of Hollywood dudes including the Weinstein brothers and Robert De Niro, where it all comes down to steak and beans: big, juicy, profoundly blackened ribeyes and fiorentini grilled in the smoky wood oven. Night after night, Ago is as packed as the Donatello room at the Uffizi on a summer afternoon. 8478 Melrose Ave., W. Hlywd., (323) 655-6333.

It’s a Man’s World

Matteo’s is the most beautiful living restaurant from Hollywood’s golden age, lipstick-red booths, clown paintings, leopard-print carpet and all. The flattering pink light makes the aging Sammy Glicks who frequent the joint look almost dewy, which is why they’ve been coming here since 1963, to listen to Sinatra, eat steak Sinatra and stare lovingly at the oil portrait of Sinatra hung over what may or may not be his usual table. Don Dickman, the former chef of the innard-intensive Santa Monica trattoria Rocca, was brought in to sweep the cobwebs from the menu, so in addition to the familiar roll call of New Jersey Italian cooking, there are Dickman’s masculine takes on regional Italian cuisine: sunny-side-up eggs rolled in coarse bread crumbs and fried crisp around pencil-thin asparagus; a Little Italy–style pasta Norcina with gooey pockets of sausage, roasted peppers and molten mozzarella; and spaghetti carbonara made with the real, authentically stinky bits of cured hog jowl that are essential to any true conception of the dish. As at Rocca, Dickman’s ideas are too often sabotaged by sloppiness in execution — short ribs were undercooked and chewy rather than melting and luscious, and a dish of scallops was way overcooked — but it is all done so cheerfully that you wish the restaurant well. The wine list has been colonized by the Italophile mysterians over at Wine Expo, which means that it is rich in Bonardas and short on Merlot. This is a good thing. 2321 Westwood Blvd., Wstwd., (310) 475-4521.

Neologistic Cuisine

For most of its existence, Dominick’s was famous as the Hollywood restaurant that never looked open, a weathered, low building, neon permanently unlit, across from the small amusement park that later became the site of the Beverly Center. It was, or at least had a reputation as, the original Rat Pack hangout. And when it finally changed hands, it was made over into a neo–Rat Pack steakhouse, then a neo-neo–Rat Pack fusion place, then a couple of other things I don’t remember until it finally ended up as a pleasant, much-enlarged, neo-neo-neo–Rat Pack restaurant with late hours, a killer recipe for spaghetti and meatballs, a menu equally divided between tough-guy American-Italian cooking and girly, salady stuff, not to mention $15 Sunday dinners that come with the option of a $10 bottle of a house wine with the unfortunate name of Dago Red. Oddly, it is a very pleasant place to be, even when you are not watching young television stars grope one another, which you usually are. 8715 Beverly Blvd., W. Hlywd., (310) 652-2335.

 

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Valentino

3115 Pico Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90405

310-829-4313

www.welovewine.com

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