As the small-plates menu continues its Sherman’s March through the Westside, it was inevitable that at least a restaurant or two would tap into the stuzzichini movement, a wave of cafés specializing in crostini and cured meats and little seafood dishes compatible with cheap wine or expensive vodka. Stuzzichini thrives wherever the post-college crowd hangs out in Italy. Life is short — who has time for a four-course meal?
Although it had an early following, Riva, Jason Travi’s restaurant in Santa Monica, was a bit unfocused in its first months, unsure whether it was a pizzeria that served seafood or a seafood restaurant dominated by a pizza oven, and its advocates tended to include a lot of middle-aged wine geeks who had been to Italy 14 times and enjoyed correcting the waiters on their pronunciation of Tignanello. It’s now reinvented as a well-lubricated stuzzichini joint, and the fig-gorgonzola pizzas and such have been relegated to lunch, the stodgy main courses have been erased, and lounge music dominates the stereo. It is not an accident that the average customer is probably 15 years younger. And the cooking — a bit of this, a bit of that — suddenly begins to come together: a spicy mound of tomatoes and octopus fra diavolo to spoon onto slices of toasted baguette; slabs of fried tripe arranged around an arugula salad, slices of San Daniele prosciutto; slabby petalo pasta with a dense Bolognese sauce flavored with fresh mint; even Travi’s famous tuna tonnato make more sense as stuzzichini than they do as traditional appetizers.
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RIVA: 312 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 451-7482 or rivarestaurantla.com. Open daily 11:30 a.m.-mid. AMEX, D, MC, V. Full bar. Valet parking.