By. Merilee Kern
Los Angeles is a city known as much for its distinctive award-winning eateries as it is for its celebrity residents. In fact, many of the city’s restaurants—particularly those frequented by Hollywood’s elite—often become as revered as the star clientele, themselves. One such establishment is Via Veneto in Santa Monica, which enjoys its fair share of celebrity patronage. From David and Victoria Beckham’s joint birthday party to distinguished diners the likes of Madonna, Sean Penn, Eva Longoria, Harrison Ford and Duran Duran’s Warren Cuccurullo, who is actually one of the restaurant’s investors, this locale has received more than its fair share of A-list adulation. Understandable amid an authentic, locavore-minded approach to European-style Italian cuisine that’s served up in an impeccably intimate setting.
Via Veneto has made a name for itself not only in Santa Monica but Los Angeles at large. Renowned for its enticing menu complimented by a remarkable wine selection and uber-cozy ambiance, the restaurant has become a staple in the community for discerning locals and tourists, alike. While serving up Italian standards like ravioli, gnocchi, spaghetti and fettuccine, the restaurant has mastered the art of elevating common Italian fare to a level that reflects superior culinary skill, creativity and artistry.
The success of Via Veneto is due, in large part, to the dedication and expertise of its owner, Fabrizio Bianconi. He migrated to the United States from Rome and, after working his way through some of the finest restaurants in both Italy and California, he opened this eatery to aptly express his passion for the Italian fare he grew up with. His vision came to life within a classic structure on Santa Monica’s Main Street. Fabrizio quickly became enamored with the inherent character of the building’s lofty ceilings and stone floors. This fitting venue, combined with Fabrizio’s strong ethnic roots and elevated European-style menu, have made Via Veneto a go-to for those seeking a truly memorable Italian dining experience.
Via Veneto’s menu, itself, is brought to life by two of Los Angeles’ top chefs. For his part, Chef Ruben Vasquez (aka Lo Cheffone) brings to bear a rich culinary history. With more than 30 years of experience in some of Los Angeles’ finest restaurants, a thorough knowledge of Italian cuisine and decidedly-apparent attention to detail, his level of craftsmanship is duly complimented by his kitchen counterpart: Oscar. Affectionately known as the “Pasta King,” Oscar is the genius behind Via Veneto’s pasta dishes. The chef’s expertise is reflected in the menu’s authentic gnocchi, perfectly executed spaghetti and fettuccine entrées, and superb ravioli. The ability of the two chefs to ensure Via Veneto’s menu is consistently executed in extraordinary form has kept restaurant patrons—both the famous and the famished—coming back again and again.
Recipe for Success
Creating their trademark fine dining dishes begins with uncompromised, artisan-level ingredients, each personally sourced by Chef Ruben, and Via Veneto makes use of some of the finest that the local region—and Italy—has to offer. For example, their meat products like beef, lamb and veal are held to an exceptionally high standard. Sourced from nearby sustainable ranches, the animals are solely fed a vegetarian diet and are never given antibiotics or growth hormones. This extra level of care ensures these proteins are top caliber.
As well, many of the restaurant’s most notable dishes utilize distinctive and even highly coveted ingredients such as white truffles. Due to the delicacy’s very particular growth requirements regarding climate and soil, this fungi is known to exist in only certain locations during certain times of the year, making them incredibly rare and highly sought after. During the three months (October through December) that these exceptional culinary treats are available, Via Veneto imports them straight from Alba, Italy and integrates them into an inventive seasonal menu like none other.
During my own visit in May, black truffle was the featured menu item and the ingredient was exquisitely utilized in numerous dishes, including the Filet Mignon Carpaccio I ordered. The prime carpaccio, sliced impossibly thin, featured a generous layer of rich, thick and creamy Taleggio cheese fondue that boasted an explosive shaved black truffle punch. While in my estimation the portion of fondue was a little heavy handed relative to the extraordinarily delicate meat it covered, I thoroughly enjoyed the overarching flavor profile of the dish that was otherwise well-executed.
While the carpaccio was a pretty hard act to follow, I also reveled in the Ravioli Trio appetizer—a tantalizing flight consisting of handmade pasta pairs stuffed with sweet lobster and a bright organic tomato sauce; fresh asparagus (inside and atop) with a delicate white sauce; and, my favorite of the lot, pumpkin with butter and sage that was just the right balance of sweet and savory.
Ever the appetizer aficionado I pressed on to sample a few other starters, including the Polipo Alla Griglia. This fresh grilled octopus salad with red and yellow tomatoes, sliced fingerling potatoes and caramelized onions included two octopus tentacles that were perhaps the most tender and succulent I’ve ever had. I also appreciated the grilling technique whereby the amount of bitter char was minimal as compared to the unfortunate industry norm.
For its part, the Crostini with Prosciutto and Wild Mushrooms duo could have been a meal unto itself. The fork-and-knife dish consists of two tantalizing types of large-form crostini: one topped with melted mozzarella and a generous layer of prosciutto, and another with melted mozzarella and a heap of meaty porcini mushrooms.
So wonderful was the porcini juxtaposed with cured meat that, for my entrée, I ordered the Scaloppini di Vitello Al Porcini—three veal scaloppini cuts generously topped with a decidedly salty pancetta, all blanketed with a glistening porcini mushroom sauce that added a velvety quality to the dish. Another in my party ordered the enormous Tomahawk Ribeye to share. This behemoth Tuscan style, dry-aged bone-in ribeye from a grass-fed, GMO free source drew much mouthwatering attention as it commanded its way through the dining room. This super thick, simply seasoned “cowboy cut” steak, with its gorgeous sear locking in profuse juices dutifully permeating the supple meat, was carved tableside to the delight of all.
As a lighter-side end to such a magnificent, albeit heavy, meal, I opted for the Panna Cotta on the recommendation of the server. The mild mannered vanilla flan was served with cross sections of two complimentary sauces: red berry and chocolate with Nutella. Fresh raspberries and blackberries, a sprig of mint and a crispy Italian cookie as an apt foil to the creamy base rounded out this lovely dessert.
When you are in the Los Angeles area and have a yearning for exceptionally high quality Italian fare—and can appreciate a moody, candlelight-laden atmosphere exuding a chic rustic elegance—proceed directly to Via Veneto. Whether you opt to sit in the charming upstairs private loft area where you can have a romantic Italian dinner for two or a party of twelve, or situate yourself under the glow of the chandelier in the cozy main dining room with other Via Veneto guests, prepare yourself to be impressed with the dining experience on the whole. No matter who you are, here you’re sure to eat like a Hollywood A-lister.
***Some or all of the accommodations(s), experience(s), item(s) and/or service(s) detailed above were provided at no cost to accommodate this review, but all opinions expressed are entirely those of Merilee Kern and have not been influenced in any way.***
Photos Copyright Via Veneto