Mi Piace has been a staple of Old Town Pasadena for about as long as restaurants have stood on Colorado Blvd. A combination of aesthetic experimentation and culinary genius are undoubtedly two of the biggest reasons that this Italian haute spot has been serving patrons for 30 years and counting, with no signs of slowing down. This is a rare scenario where modern design, contemporary ambiance and a timeless menu that embodies authentic Italian classics come together in perfect harmony. Dare I name Mi Piace as one of the top Italian restaurants in Los Angeles.
Mi Piace is made to feel like a home away from home for anyone who walks through its doors. On the surface, the chic pendant lighting, beautifully-lit bar and dark wooden tables sans white table cloths could be mistaken for just about any other trendy spot that doles out new-age fusion. But there’s more to this ambiance than good looks. It’s an intangible warmth typically reserved for coming home for the holidays or seeing a good friend for the first time in years. It’s the genuinely welcoming tone you get from everyone on staff. It’s the smile that comes not just from you upon first bite, but also from everyone on the team that brought that dish into the world just for you. That familial Italian hospitality is becoming harder and harder to find in LA, but has found sanctuary within these four walls.
And while classic Italian doesn’t seem to be enough in an era of global fusion, Mi Piace shines with its iconic menu, where traditional classics have aged like a fine wine. Reading more like a novel than a menu, the seemingly endless list of handmade pastas, wood-fired pizzas, and meat and seafood specials holds an identity far stronger and a level of flavor far more developed than the typically narrow and terse selection of trendy ingredient combinations you’ll find on a clipboard in some of your nearby counterparts. Let’s digress no further on the new kids on the block thought. Let’s talk about how Mi Piace has helped establish Old Town Pasadena as a culinary powerhouse for decades.
Unquestionably, the pasta is going to be memorable to say the least. Mi Piace features two entirely separate selections, one of pasta made from scratch in house, and another of pastas imported from the motherland. Among the many highlights here is the tagliatelle con gamberi, boasting handmade spinach tagliatelle that holds perfect texture and earthy character, soaking up a rich cognac cream sauce and pairing with perfectly-cooked prawns. Then there’s the spaghetti a la carbonara, another impeccably delightful creation that brings together rich pancetta and peas that snap open with even the softest bite.
For something on the meatier side, look no further than the pork ragu papperdalle Bolognese, with mile-long house-made pappardalle woven into a hearty Moroccan-spiced meat sauce with a touch of fleur de sel. Conversely, on the lighter side (but far from light, in traditional Italian fashion) is the ravioli al burro, or handmade butternut squash and ricotta-filled ravioli with roasted sage sitting in a brown butter sauce.
For those crazy enough to divert from pasta, pizza proves to be a lovely suitor, with fresh ingredients atop a perfectly blistered crust. The mixed mushroom pizza with ricotta and micro greens was something else, but with a long list of toppings and endless custom options, there should be a pizza for everyone here.
And while Mi Piace could easily stick to a traditional Italian wine list, they really go the extra mile in their cocktail program. The food menu may pay homage to purebred Italian history, but their futuristic drink menu can go head-to-head with just about any young gun in SoCal. Try the smoke in the water, a martini at heart but an Instagrammer’s dream in presentation, served over a fishbowl-looking base lined with dry ice to make the drink look like a medieval potion. There’s a gin and tonic that changes colors before your eyes, spritzers served in simply the coolest glasses, and so much more on this dazzling list that assures you this place may have been around for 30 years, but has unquestionably ‘gotten with the times.’
Then there’s dessert, where at Mi Piace, there’s always room for chocolate soup. Described as part souffle, part molten chocolate lava cake, it looks like the former and tastes like the latter. Every bite is like an entire chocolate bar just went and melted on your spoon, with vanilla gelato and fresh whipped cream pairing like a charm. But it doesn’t stop there. Creations like the almond rocha cake and the Mi Piace special—chocolate and raspberry mousse layered between white cake, wrapped in white chocolate and topped with French raspberry marmalade—are made to look beautiful and taste even better.
Mi Piace is located at 25 E Colorado Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91105. Open 11a – 11p Mon – Thu, 11a – midnight Fri, 8a – midnight Sat and 8a – 11p Sun. Avg. out-the-door price for appetizer, entrée, split dessert and 1 – 2 drinks is ~$90/person. For more information, call (626) 795-3131 or visit MiPiace.com.
Taste of Italy will see its 11th year in Downtown Los Angeles, transforming the plaza surrounding the historic El Pueblo monument and across from Union Station into an Italian Piazza for one very special night. Benefitting the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles (IAMLA), Taste of Italy is set to bring it a who’s-who of Italian restaurants and wineries from throughout the city.
IAMLA provided a sneak preview of some of the tastes to behold at the festival, with a pairing menu at Hermosa Beach’s Sosta, a Taste of Italy participant. Opening last year under longtime South Bay Italian Chef Luca Manderino, Sosta showcases homey favorites alongside inventive creations. Crudo di branzino, heavenly prosciutto and seared ribeye were a few crowd favorites, but ultimately it was the house-made gnocchi al gorgonzola that took the cake. We can only hope that such velvety, melt-in-your-mouth potato pillows make their way to the main stage.
Wines served included Custodi Belloro Orvieto D.O.C. Classico, 2015; Tenuta Carretta Nebbiolo, 2017; and Cascina Adelaide Barolo, 2013. Expect pours from PRP Wine International, San Antonio Winery, Lyra Fine Wine Importers and Castoro Cellars, among others, at Taste of Italy.
Additional restaurants are set to include Factory Kitchen, Celestino Ristorante, Drago Centro, Colombo’s Italian Steakhouse and Jazz Club, Osteria Cal Mare, Brera and Black Market Gelato, among many others.
Taste of Italy is set to take place from 5 – 10pm on Satruday, Oct. 12, with an expected attendance of 2,500 people. Proceeds go to The Italian American Museum of Los Angeles, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to showcasing the ongoing contributions of Italian Americans in Southern California and the nation. IAMLA is located in DTLA’s Italian Hall, constructed in 1908 and is among the oldest remaining structures from Los Angeles’ historic Little Italy. More information and tickets for Taste of Italy available at IAMLA.org/Taste-of-Italy.
Where the famed Settebello established the groundwork for killer Neopolitan pizza, Terzo MdR has launched as an alluring new concept and one of Settebello’s first expansions beyond pizza. Homemade pastas with rustic Italian additives and wildly creative Mediterranean antipastis highlight this case study in restaurant rebrands, along with a reinvented pizza menu that boasts Settebello’s tried-and-true crust.
Located in Marina Del Rey’s Villa Marina Markeplace Mall, Terzo MdR (The MdR stands for Marina Del Rey, for those not in the know) sits just a short stroll from the ocean and the luxury hotel-esque apartment complexes that house some of LA’s finest. Each element of the restaurant plays to its native crowd, reflective of its namesake—‘Terzo’ comes from the Italian idea of having a ‘third place’ to spend one’s time (think Starbucks, but with delicious Italian fare). Bright, homey décor gives off an elegant feel, complemented by an open-air kitchen with the woor-burning stove inherited from Settebello as the centerpiece. The patio is lined with outdoor lounge furniture and a multitude of fireplaces. A quaint but very well stocked bar invites patrons to cozy up for some inventive drinks.
Executive Chef Brian Lavin, named one of Zagat National’s ’30 under 30,’ moved from across the country to take the helm. Hailing from Baltimore, MD with extensive travel through the Mediterranean, Lavin created a menu that pays homage to his love for seafood, olives and sweet corn, as well as classic Mediterranean flavors with just the right amount of modern invigoration. Case in point with the seared sea scallops, timed to just about the second with a perfect sear and an addictive sweet corn puree. The roasted U-5 head-on shrimp (read: 5 shrimp per pound) are absolutely massive and do quite well in a chickpea puree complemented with shishito peppers and olive vinaigrette. And not only is Lavin’s chicken liver mousse creamy and indulgent, but it comes out in massive quantity.
Pastas integrate new-age creativity with age-old flavor, with nothing as surprisingly novel as the corn and ricotta cappelletti, or sombrero-shaped pasta cooked al dente to the point of popping in your mouth, releasing an eye-fluttering compilation of smooth ricotta and sweet corn essence. Close behind is the squid ink gnocchi, with tomato braised calamari and spicy breadcrumbs. The ricotta cavatelli boasts wild boar sausage and just a touch of fresno chile for a bit of heat.
When it comes to great meat, however, Lavin’s ‘Nduja, a classic Italian sausage spread, takes the cake. It’s the star of the show alongside roasted corn and thyme cream to highlight Terzo’s pizza menu.
For dessert, the ricotta doughnuts are a house favorite. What makes them so special though, is—wait for it—corn ice cream, bringing out that same addictive flavor that lines the savory menu with even more sweet woven in.
The cocktail menu is equally creative. Try the royal 75, with gin, amaretto, lemon and prosecco, or Hemingway’s rare tale, with run, ancho chile, maraschino, grapefruit, lime and grenadine. A thoughtful wine and beer list rounds things out.
Terzo MdR is located at 13455 Maxella Ave, Marina Del Rey, CA 90292. Open 3 – 10p Tue – Sun. Avg. out-the-door price for antipasti, pasta or pizza, split dessert and 1 – 2 drinks is ~$90/person. For more information call (310) 306 – 8204 or visit TerzoMdR.com.
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.