It’s hard to believe that the Mina Group’s Cal Mare is located in one of L.A.’s biggest shopping malls on one of the city’s busiest boulevards, because after one of its classic Aperol spritzes at the bar you’d swear you were either on Capri or at a spot near Portuguese Bend on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Have an Umbrella by the Road Cocktail (Nolet's Gin, Cocchi Rosa, orgeat syrup, lime and grapefruit soda) and the rush of the La Cienega Boulevard traffic almost transforms into sounds of the tide rolling in and out.
Blue seashell tiles and turquoise leather chairs and booths surround the square bar at the center of restaurant, which is festooned with a bright pink bougainvillea canopy. The comfortably rustic, 8,000-square-foot space was designed by Bishop Pass, the local firm also responsible for nearby Maude, Little Sister, the Parish and Gjelina.
Together with chefs Michael Mina and Adam Sobel, executive chef Joe Sasto has created a perfect marriage of the two regions, focusing on coastal Italian and California seafood and his handmade pasta. The handsome mustachioed Top Chef star with the perpetual smile combines a traditional zeppole with Santa Barbara uni, white sturgeon caviar, lardo and prosciutto so blissful you can just feel the pebbles between your toes.
The blue prawn scampi are served head-on and cooked to a soft crunch with basil buds and Calabrian chili, and the yellowfin crudo comes topped with kiwi and radishes. The baked baby scallops in the shell with capers, bread crumbs and Castelvetrano olives are a classic. If you’re lucky enough to score an amuse bouche, it’s an ambrosial mouthful of smoked trout caviar–topped mozzarella. An aperitif from the after-dinner cart, stocked with carefully curated and hard-to-find Italian selections, may not be a bad idea if you are in Uber mode.
Transitioning to cheese, there are luxurious selections such as the smoked Bellwether ricotta, served with bright green spring peas and crisp wax beans sprinkled with speck and Parmesan. Perhaps the most sinful Italian-American merger on the menu is the potato focaccia pinwheel with basil pesto and Parmigiano fonduta.
The general consensus at my supper-club table of fellow foodie scribes was that Sasto’s house-made beet campanelle with goat cheese, sage, black sesame and a 14-hour Bolognese was the giù le mani favorite. Perfect score.
Cal Mare, 8500 Beverly Blvd. (ground floor of the Beverly Center), West Hollywood; (424) 332-4595, michaelmina.net/restaurants/southern-california/calmare/.