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.
The Planned Parenthood Los Angeles (PPLA) Food Fare brought in its landmark 40th year in grand fashion, bringing together some of the most noteworthy restaurants, wineries, breweries and distilleries in Los Angeles, as well as attracting major players from as far as Las Vegas. The event, held in Santa Monica’s Barker Hangar on the first Thursday in March, per tradition, drew more than 2,000 supporters and food fans and raised $1.3 million for PPLA.
PPLA Food Fare 2019 Chef of the Year, Helene An of Crustacean Beverly Hills, joined PPLA Guild President Karen Morin Green in kicking off the event. An’s legendary garlic noodles were then one of the seemingly infinite offerings that welcomed guests when the Hangar’s doors opened.
Restaurants were out in full force, with staples such as Rao’s, Ayara Thai, Upper West and Momed serving up specialties from curried short rib to killer meatballs. Tacos were among the crowd favorites, with players from Border Grill and Madre to Pinches Tacos and even Firestone Walker dishing out carne asada and fusion poke creations alike. Pink’s, which joins Crustacean as one of the few restaurants that pre-dates the PPLA Food Fare itself, took pride in serving full-size ‘stretch’ dogs. Boneyard Bistro and Granville added to the event’s heavy side with brisket sliders and chicken mac ‘n’ cheese. Viviane, Salt’s Cure and Takami Sushi were just a few more of the incredible list of venues supporting PPLA with signature tastes.
Wine, beer and spirits were much abound, with the likes of Navarro Vineyards, Angel City Brewery, Craftsman Brewing Company, Kikori Whiskey and Infuse Spirits among the libation purveyors. Additional drink providers included Suja, Pasquini Coffee Co. and the ever-growing Elixir G.
Dessert has long been a highlight of the PPLA Food Fare, with groups like Valerie Confections, The Pie Hole and Jennifer Pennifer Bakes creating salted caramel cheesecake, bite-size Nutella pies and other decadent creations. Pazzo Gelato’s ever-changing selection, from hazelnut to raspberry white chocolate and beyond, kept people coming back.
40 years of experience has made the PPLA Food Fare one of the best-run food festivals in Los Angeles, with spectacular ambiance, a jovial crowd, and extreme attention to detail ensures lines are minimal to non-existent. Expect PPLA Food Fare 41 to return Thursday, March 5, 2020. For more information, visit PPLAFoodFare.com
In a world where fine dining is dominated by red meat, Water Grill emerges as a rare entity that truly puts seafood first. Water Grill takes their seafood so seriously, in fact, that they control virtually every step of their supply chain. Sustainable seafood has been a top priority since the first restaurant’s opening in 1989, long before it was ‘cool.’ Nearly 30 years, Water Grill has expanded ever-so-carefully with prime locations across Southern California and Dallas.
A theme of humble elegance resonates from the moment you set foot through the doors. A sprawling dining room with plush booths, dark wood tables and dim lighting speaks to the iconic steakhouse while the raw bar, lobster tanks and fish state that while steak is served here, it comes in a distant second. The staff to guest ratio is astounding, with an army of servers catering to the haute crowd in spectacular fashion even by fine dining standards.
Water Grill’s menu is both vast and ever changing, the revolving door of seafood selections changing with fishing seasons from across the world. An impressive raw bar showcases all the oysters you could ever want, as well as a fashionable crudo lineup highlighted by addictive Japanese-seasoned scallops.
Iconic dishes such as crab cakes and lobster rolls have been perfected over three decades. You’d be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t order the Chilean seabass, a historic best-seller so rich and flaky that it practically melts on the plate. Shellfish is nothing short of top-notch—spiny lobster was in season at the time of this writing, served sliced down the middle and practically bursting at the seams with butter.
Artfully crafted cocktails and a sophisticated wine and beer list contain a pairing for everything, and that impeccable service staff s more than ready to navigate the menu for you. Expectedly, the price point here will set you back, but is worth every penny.
Water Grill has locations in Santa Monica, DTLA, Orange County, San Diego and Dallas. Santa Monica location open 11a – 11p Sun – Thu, 11a – midnight Fri/Sat. Avg. Out-the-door price for appetizer, entrée, side, split dessert and 1 – 2 drinks is ~$150/person. For more information, visit WaterGrill.com
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.