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.
Union, practically unmarked along its namesake Union Ave. in the heart of Pasadena, has maintained quite the stir across the community since its opening years ago. But this modern Italian eatery has only picked up steam, its modest quarters packed so tightly that another body would inevitably exceed building capacity. So what is it about Union that has people waiting past 10pm for a table?
The answer to that question, at least as of late, is Executive Chef Christopher Keyser. He takes the helm under Owner Marie Petulla’s mantra of sustainable ingredients and, incredibly, complete in-house production. That means everything from house-made pastas all the way down to house-made cheese and butter. And while the menu doesn’t exactly overwhelm you with options, its breadth is impressive given the tremendous effort needed to create nearly every new ingredient. But create is Keyser’s culinary middle name, and he has certainly mastered his craft.
Case in point with the wild mushrooms, a mind-blowing compilation of its flagship ingredient mixed elegantly into a creamy, velvety, heavenly and wildly addictive polenta and coated with a generous coat of house-made Parmesan. Going on record to list this as one of the top dishes in all of Los Angeles. Keyser’s magic keeps going with a perfectly charred octopus, robust and meaty with a lobster jus to boost its character. Then there’s the pork meatballs, huge and confidently devout of filler, served with house-baked bread.
Union’s pastas are as forward-thinking as they are decadent, and while they hold only loose ties to their Italian origin, they fit in perfectly with Union’s ‘so LA’ approach. The bucatini is a clear winner, perfectly textured with coarse almonds that add an earthy, smoky essence that triggers grand nostalgia, though it’s doubtful that mom or grandma necessarily churned out anything like this [don’t take it personally]. The squid ink lumache, one of the Union’s signatures, is certainly novel and the lobster much appreciated, though the bucatini may still take the cake.
Carnivores should definitely order the lamb al latte, or milk-braised lamb shoulder. The salt balance is perfected to just about the grain, and the finished product melts in your mouth.
Pair anything with a selection from a deep wine list, where knowledgeable servers are more than happy to help make the perfect selection. And for dessert, they take that addictive polenta, add sugar and turn it into a budino.
Union is located at 37 Union St, Pasadena, CA 91103. Open 5 – 11p Mon – Fri, 4 – 11p Sat, 4 – 10p Sun. Avg. Out-the-door price for starter, entree, split dessert and 1 – 2 drinks is ~$105/person. For more information visit UnionPasadena.com.
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.