The chaos of clustered tables and tasteful music seamlessly comes together with the sight of servers weaving their way through the crowds, in and out of the fishbowl kitchen, where tomato cans, citrus baskets and sugar boxes decorate an even more fast-paced scene. It’s classic LA, and as always you can’t believe the place is this packed on a Tuesday night [does anyone have a family in this town?]. But it’s fun, friendly, upbeat, with everyone at the heated outdoor patio and the communal bar tables doing as the Italians do: sharing camaraderie over food.
North Italia, which is rapidly expanding with locations across the US, prides itself in cooking from scratch. Everything down to the pizza dough and pasta is done in-house, a tall order considering that the menu is substantially broader than what you’ll find in your typical trattoria. From there, North Italia brings in a touch of American influence to make things interesting, adding a few extra ingredients here and there for a progressive approach to classic Italian.
Take their garlic bread, which reinvents the timeless dish by piling two-bite bread cubes into a cast-iron, dousing it in butter, olive and truffle oil, then baking it with mozzarella and ricotta. The result is a small mountain of decadence, perfectly textured. Then there’s the roasted mushroom tortelloni, impossibly meaty in a rich cream sauce, complemented with hazelnut and caramelized sweet potato. And the diver scallops, cooked perfectly with butternut squash, luscious Parmesan risotto and a sprinkling of pancetta. Pair it with something from the Italian wine list, or a cocktail that’s crafted as creatively as it’s named.
There are some growing pains as well that North Italia will inevitably get through. Not all the inventive ingredient compilations came together, namely in a short rib radiatori with an overpowering touch of horseradish [that short rib was excellent though!], and a branzino that was cooked well but lacked a necessary touch of garlic, richness or really anything else to give it flavor. Then there’s the matter of service, where staff are incredibly friendly and well-intentioned, but may all the same make you wait for a full hour between courses.
You’ll finish on a good note though. That salted caramel budino and hazelnut torta are primed for indulgence.
North Italia’s Santa Monica location is located at 1442 2nd St, Santa Monica, CA 90401. Open 11a – 9p Sun – Thu, 11a – 10p Fri/Sat. Avg. out-the-door cost for split appetizer, entrée, split dessert and 1 – 2 drinks is ~$105/person. For more information call (310) 382 – 2460 or visit NorthItaliaRestaurant.com.
Slater’s 50/50 rose to fame with its delectable half beef, half bacon patties, then spread across California and neighboring states with a tried and true mantra of burgers, bacon and beer…extra emphasis on the bacon. Now, in an effort to appeal to more of the masses, Slater’s is branching slowly and methodically out of its core menu offerings. New entrees and seasonal menus reach a broad spectrum of palates, with plenty of—dare we say—[more] healthful options.
While seasonal offerings have changed since the time of this writing, expect a lot more green and a lot fewer carbs than you’re used to on a traditionally heavy menu. Bun-less burger bowls have made their debut, and will likely continue in some form or another. The ‘impossible’ vegetarian patty is an option for any burger on the menu. Slater’s is also putting solid emphasis on ahi tuna in appetizers and salads.
Those still seeking decadence should fear not. Slater’s is still going full throttle with unreal burgers, some of the best milkshakes out there, and more bacon than you know what to do with. Hard to argue with the lone star smoke burger, complete with bbq sauce, garlic aioli and thick onion rings stacked high, or the sriracha burger, which uses enough of its namesake ingredient to make that happy birthday shake all the more necessary.
Not all of Slater’s menu additions are healthful, showing that the franchise is staying true to its core audience that favors all things bacon. Nothing showcases this more than the bacon chocolate lava cake, finished with a large strip of bacon drizzled in chocolate and caramel. Just pretend that ordering a burger bowl will cancel it out and you’ll leave guilt-free.
Slater’s 50/50 has locations across Southern California, Nevada, Texas and Hawaii. Hours vary. Average out-the-door price for burger, fries and 1 – 2 drinks is ~$42/person. For more information visit Slaters5050.com.
Master’s of Taste solidified its presence as one of LA’s elite food festivals this year, selling out for the first time and bringing in a record-setting crowd. More than 100 vendors, or ‘Masters’ as they’re called here, showcased an eclectic lineup of global cuisine, craft beer, wine, spirits and—an apparent crowd favorite—desserts for guests to enjoy. Taking place on the field of the historic Rose Bowl in Pasadena, this year’s Master’s of Taste couldn’t have asked for more perfect weather, and despite its infancy compared to other long-time food festivals, went off without a hitch.
Master’s of Taste saw the return of several past favorites, as well as some new players that took people’s breath away. Local eateries from across LA came out in full force, dishing out everything from American classics to worldly fusion to exotic dishes far-away places. Sticky Rice’s chicken khoo soi noodles, served in an absolutely addictive red curry, exemplified the latter statement. Mercado’s equally addictive tacos, Gus’s Bar-b-q’s brisket and cornbread, and LKSD’s dry-aged ribeye with smashed potatoes added to the day’s rich flavor.
Ascension Cellars, Kieu Hoang Winery and Navarro Vineyards were just a few of the event’s many wine providers. Local breweries included Indie Brewing Company, MacLeod Ale, Iron Triangle Brewery and Los Angeles Ale Works. The Raymond 1886, while serving an excellent porchetta, took the cake for killer cocktails with its ‘midnight pancakes,’ which bore no resemblance to its name but went down in spectacular fashion nevertheless. Making a strong presence as well were non-alcoholic beverage vendors, such as Humm Kombucha and East Imperial Superior Beverages.
The event’s ‘Sweet Masters,’ or dessert purveyors, proved yet again to be among the day’s highlights. Leading the way was Supercool Creamery, which put on a show by utilizing liquid nitrogen to make their ice cream on the spot. Fantasy Frostings had a new pastry on display every time you turned your head, with head-turning creations like salted caramel and confetti cupcakes, banana crème tarts and cranberry scones.
This year’s Masters of Taste was hosted by local Celebrity Chef Michael Hung of Faith and Flower, who could be seen conversing with guests while somehow simultaneously serving signature creations. Each year, Masters of Taste proceeds go to Union Station Homeless Services. For more information, visit MastersofTasteLA.com.
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.