When is a neighborhood Italian restaurant more than a neighborhood Italian restaurant? When people travel from all over the city to eat there. For example, Giorgio Baldi in Pacific Palisades is such a place (although I personally don't go because they are consistently rude to people they don't know.) Another is the popular Peppone's in Brentwood, where Valentino's original chef has reigned for many years. Paolo's charming Osteria Latini on San Vincente is such a destination, and West Hooker's Locanda del Lago on 3rd Street is another. But the ultimate "neighborhood restaurant that isn't" is (1110 Montana Avenue, southeast corner of 11th and Montana Avenue, Santa Monica, 310/394-2070, valet and street parking).
I have been hearing about it from friends and readers for several years. Elaine Newton, Wayne's ex, has been touting it to everyone, and my ex and her husband go there once or twice a week because they love the food and atmosphere. My buddy, Caroline Graham, lives in that neighborhood and eats there several times a week. And it seems to be something of a celebrity haunt; when Reese Witherspoon and agent Jim Toth (now her husband) first dated, People Magazine noted that it was here. Robert Redford all the time, Owen Wilson, Anthony Hopkins, all often mentioned as dining here. Kate Beckinsale and her mom were here last night. Caroline told me that Venice's regal Count Volpe ate lunch here once a week with Dennis Hopper for years.
Somehow I never made it until recently, when I had a Saturday night dinner date with some friends, Amber Renfro Sheikh and Rizwan Sheikh; she is seven months pregnant and wanted to dine close to home, so it was the perfect choice. Was it ever! I ended up leaving and telling the amiable head waiter, Andrea, that I would be back shortly...and quickly returned the following week with Caroline Graham to confirm my first impression. Which was that this is one of the finest, most authentic and romantic eateries in our fair city.
It brings back memories of a favorite trattoria in Rome which my ex and I visited years ago. We ducked into this restaurant when the rains came and the magnificent food started flowing. (I reminded her of a long-ago Italian trip when she ate the same dish for seven nights in a row... spaghetti with basil and oregano. Tempus fugit, her palate has expanded considerably since then. Incidentally, that is now the signature dish at Scott Conant's upscale Montage Hotel Beverly Hills eatery, Scarpetta, where you will see it on almost every table --$24 for a bowl of pasta.)