Valentino has long been L.A.’s ultimate special-occasion Italian restaurant, a bells-and-whistles place where you reserve a table weeks in advance when you’re approaching an anniversary, promotion to partner or a birthday divisible by five. The Milan food establishment considers it the best Italian restaurant in the United States, and a copy or two of the wine list would probably be sufficient armor to protect a platoon of soldiers against a roadside IED.
But it turns out that even Valentino wants to be not just admired, but loved; wants to be a joint you might stop into for a bite before a concert or after a movie, a glass of prosecco and a couple of the fried Parmesan chips called fricco; a few transparent shavings of the best culatello; a plate of tender ravioli topped with a spoonful or two of Roman-style stewed tripe, or an arrangement of crudo, Italian-style raw fish drizzled with oil and dusted with various grated salts. The new V-vinbar is a little awkwardly situated in a high-traffic area between Valentino’s dining rooms, and the grouping of high, darkwood bar tables and sleek bar carts looks a little like what your wealthy uncle tried to do when he set up a pub in the basement of his mansion. You may be drinking a Limoncello Drop, but this ain’t Cheers. Still ,if you’re going to hang out at a wine bar, you might as well head toward one that takes its wine seriously, and although the prices aren’t particularly low, the by-the-glass list includes things like 1993 Aldo Conterno Barolo, barrique-aged 1996 Altero Brunello, and 1988 Dunn “Howell Mountain” cabernet to sip with your giant salumi plate, which aren’t exactly on the list at Bodega or Vinum Populi. 3115 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 829-4313.