There's A Real Italian Renaissance Going Down In Los Angeles
From Downtown to Venice, flavors of the Old World
The Italian Renaissance spanned three centuries and gave rise to a new level of intellectual and cultural innovation that changed the course of the world. Almost five hundred years later, a new Italian Renaissance is taking place and it's happening in a very unlikely location: Los Angeles.
LA doesn't even have a Little Italy, but for some strange reason 2012 has seen the opening of a whole slew of new Italian or Italian-based restaurants. From high-end osterias to downtown casual trattorias, here are five of the best new bambini on the scene:
Already the bocce-playing old man of the bunch, Vic Casanova's Gusto opened at the beginning of May and the LA food world is fawning all over it. The restaurant mixes elegance with comfort to create a high-brow take on homestyle Italian food that makes you feel like you're eating in the home of a crazy uncle who just happens to be an incredible chef. Handmade pastas are where it's at, with beautiful specialties like gargati with fennel sausage and chianti. But there are also incredibly sophisticated dishes to be found in the main courses. The ippoglosso is not to be missed — perfectly cooked Alaskan halibut is served with black olives, fennel, grapefruit and a sweet onion fonduta. You'll never find it in Mama's kitchen, but you'll be more than happy when you order it from Uncle Vic. 8432 W. 3rd Street Los Angeles, CA 90048 (323)782-1778 gusto-la.com
The guys from Innovative Dining Group may be best known for glitzy Japanese fare at Sushi Roku and Katana, but their latest restaurant is purely Italian. The massive dining room sits in the middle of the burgeoning downtown dining scene and the whole place sorta of feels like a chain restaurant (in the best possible sense of the phrase). Case in point, Soleto already seems like a well-oiled machine with a menu that sticks to classics like chicken parmesan, Caesar salad and spaghetti puttanesca. The best dish on the menu only appears during happy hour, so get off work early to try the calamari with anaheim chiles and marinated tomatoes. At five bucks an order, you might just have to order two. 801 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, CA 90017 (213)622-3255
Superba Snack Bar
You're right. Superba isn't an actual Italian restaurant. It's hard not to include it, though, when a full third of the menu is comprised of pastas that chef Jason Neroni makes in-house. Gnocchi comes with burrata and braised broccoli necks while midnight black spaghetti nero pays homage to the blocks-away beach with sea urchin and squid puttanesca. Beyond the pastas, the restaurant serves eclectic fusion food that matches the hipper-than-hip vibe of its Venice Beach surroundings. Think chorizo meatballs and cauliflower "T-bones." At the bottom of the menu, there's a line that states “substitutions are politely declined, a gluten-free pasta option is available upon request.” It's a statement that bridges the gap between the Venice, here in California, and its namesake in Italy. 533 Rose Ave. Venice, CA. 90291 (310 399-6400 superbasnackbar.com
Here is the latest Italian restaurant to open in LA comes from the Godfather of the Italian-Angeleno food scene, Celestino Drago. Situated in the heart of the Sunset Strip, Osteria Drago is currently the third restaurant in the ever-evolving Drago empire, joining Drago Centro downtown and Enoteca Drago in Beverly Hills. The menu is slight for now, as chef Evan Gotanda (of the now defunct Drago Santa Monica) gets his footing in the kitchen. There are still some kinks to work out, but the menu caters to a more refined clientele with Drago stand-bys like pappardelle with roasted pheasant and morel mushrooms as well as agnolotti filled with sweet corn that puts summer right on your fork. 8741 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90069 (310) 657-1182 osteriadrago.com
It's not even open yet, but Itri has big shoes to fill. When Evan Kleiman's Angeli Caffe closed earlier this year, there was an uproar. Now Casey Lane (The Tasting Kitchen, The Parish) is taking over and installing a pastaria. At The Tasting Kitchen, Lane has over two hundred different pasta dishes in his repertoire, so he'll have plenty of options in his arsenal when Itri deploys in a few months. The chef estimates that the restaurant will open in mid-October, but until then, think of these magic words: rotisserie octopus. Is it October yet? 7274 Melrose Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90046
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