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Each immigrant
wave has brought
new recipes
and restaurants.

While there's a burgeoning underground of inexpensive restaurants in the area where you can easily eat (and eat well) for $15.00 or less, the recognition of this subculture has been sadly neglected. Each new immigrant wave has brought new recipes and entrepreneurial skills to L.A. So when it comes to eating good food, and eating cheap, as the Chamber of Commerce likes to say, "L.A.'s the pLAce."

II Forno, 2901 Ocean Park Boulevard, Santa Monica, 450-1241. Il Forno is one of the best and least pricey Italian trattorias in Los Angeles. The pizzas, such as the rustica with sun-dried tomatoes, smoked cheese, basil and olive oil, are crisp and yummy; the carpaccio is bathed in olive oil and topped with capers; and the pastas range from a spaghetti alla checca with tomatoes and basil to tortellini stuffed with meat and mushrooms.

by Deborah Sroloff
 
Monday, November 20, 1989
 

The light, clean style of Il Forno, a high-tech, no-nonsense trattoria-type cafe and pizzeria has become a very popular place for serious eaters of authentic Italian food. I can only compare it with some of the wonderful food I found while poking around in the small towns of Northern Italy.

The seasonings are bold, and chef Domenico Salvatore doesn't copy or compromise his gutsy Italian flair for trendiness. While his pizza menu is dramatically extended to include caviar toppings and other exciting tastes, he has not excluded the dieter who can order the spa pizza made with lo-fat cheeses, fresh tomatoes, olives, capers, mushrooms, eggplant and other assorted vegetables in season. In fact, they are so tasty, l don't know why anyone would want the high-calorie, high-cholesterol kind. His fresh pie-shaped breads are baked all day, and served hot out of the pizza ovens.

The restaurant is surrounded by glass, and pinkly clothed tables line the the covered outdoor courtyard patio. While the seating inside is close enough to start a romance, it's not private enough for seduction. The noise level reaches high peaks at times, but everyone's plugged into their own socket, and the energy is pleasant.

I don't think you could find a tastier or more delightful antipasti buffet, "a la Italiana" ($6.95). The most expensive entree is $12.95, and that price offers dishes like Osso Buco (veal shank). You can dine well for less than $10. Of course, it's also easy to spend more, depending on how many courses you have.

My date and I split an appetizer of highly seasoned eggplant that was deliciously bonded with mozzarella and parmesan cheese in a basil-and-light-tomato sauce, and it didn't fall apart when we divided the crock. I have never passes up pasta fagioli on a menu, a classical dish steaming with the price of the poor. It's pasta and bean soup, and you can get it here, intriguingly spiced, with or without squid.

If I had to choose just one dish from this chef's talented, adventurous combinations, it would be the spirited-spunky "Fettuccini a la Rustica," a rare treat of stunning flavors emphasizing lightness. The pasta is tossed and sauteed in olive oil, basil, and garlic, with fresh artichoke, fresh and sun-dried tomatoes, eggplant, and baby asparagus.

From the "spa cuisine" menu, we had scampi that was baked in the oven with a touch of brandy, fresh grapefruit juice, and green peppercorn with Dijon mustard. The taste was rich, but calories were minimal. I also want to recommend the baked half chicken in lemon sauce. The flavor of the lemon was in the chicken, not on it. As W.C. Fields might have said, "A tasty morsel of pulchritude," and I'll add that it was succulent, too!

To really appreciate the food here, you must take a few people along to share some platters. I wouldn't have wanted to miss the tagliollini, a narrow, flat pasta dressed in the kind of fresh tomatoes you might have picked off a bush when you were a kid. But the taste came alive with capers, artichoke, black olives, and a dramatic mixture of intense spices. Terrific cappuccino! An outstanding Italian production!

by Shirley Firestone, vice president of the California Restaurant Writers Association
 

Ronarld J. Berard

You know you're a regular when free pizza appears on your table at II Fomo in Santa Monica.

Local Heroes: They're Close to Home-and They Care

Il Forno and Cafe Jacoulet are part of the neighborhood

The world is populated by three kinds of restaurants. In Los Angeles, the most important is the hot new restaurant-the one. that just opened, the one that everybody talks about, the one that nobody can get into. Hot new restaurants, however, don't last; sooner or later they either die or turn into one of the other varieties.

Some become occasion places-the restaurants you go to on your anniversary, on your birthday or when your boss is taking you for an expense account blowout. These are the restaurants that invariably crop up on those lists of the best places in town. Owning such a restaurant is good for the ego. It can, however, be hard on the pocketbook, and most restaurateurs will tell you that all they really want is a restaurant of the third kind: the beloved neighborhood joint.

This is the kind of place that people go to again and again, the place that they think of as a home away from home. This is a restaurant where the waiters know you, you know the menu, and the chef knows your tastes.

Some beloved restaurants become famous; Spago and Chasen's are, after all, nothing more than neighborhood restaurants for stars. Most beloved restaurants, however, have a different clientele. They are frequented by ordinary people who live nearby and like the way the restaurant makes them feel. Each of these restaurants is a reflection of its neighborhood, and most go on for years making many people very happy. Recently I ate at two such restaurants.

I knew I was a regular when the free pizza finally appeared on the table," - said the friend who took me to Il Forno. One of the dozens of people whose devotion to the place knows no bounds, he's a regular who has been touting the place to me for quite some time. Judging by the numbers of free pizzas on the tables, he is not alone.

But how can you tell which pizzas are free? "It's easy," confides my friend, "This one's not on the menu. It's called pizza Ken, and you can't order it. See-it has no cheese." Pizza Ken is a light, crisp crust topped with a fine plain tomato sauce and a few shiitake mushrooms. I can see how it could easily become addictive; I'm already wondering how I am going to get one the next time I come in. How long before you become a regular?

Probably a longtime; it looks as if this small, clamorous restaurant is not in need of new customers. Most of the people who walk through the door seem to know one other. Kids hop from table to table, plates are passed around, there are a lot of waves and hugs. You are warmed by the atmosphere, and it feels very good to be here-at least once you get used to the decibel level.

The people who own Il Forno have done a very smart thing; they have created a trattoria for Los Angeles. It doesn't look like an Italian trattoria: It's a spare room in a shopping mall with an open kitchen and too many tables squeezed into too small a space. It doesn't taste like a trattoria in Italy either: The food is pure. L.A.-Italian, a mixture of very good pizzas, good salads, eclectic pastas with an American amount of sauce (too much), and entrees that are characterized by their robust flavors and generous size. But it feels like a trattoria: unpretentious, neighborly, overwhelmingly comfortable.

The pizzas are memorable. I barely manage to prevent myself from ordering another. Instead we have a . seafood salad made of baby shrimp, octopus, Calamata olives and squid tossed in a lemony dressing. If the squid were cooked a few seconds less, the salad would be even better. Pastas are served in enormous portions. They are so good that before I realize what I have done I have finished off a plateful of what look like torn ruffly edges of lasagna noodles in a lamb-based sauce.

My friend insists on ordering tonight's special pasta as well. "The owner says it's great," he says. It didn't sound great to me; it sounded as if it contained far too many ingredients. When the waiter was explaining it I got as far as chicken breasts, pine nuts, radicchio, sun-dried tomatoes, shiitake . . . and then lost track. We taste the dish, and sure enough, too many ingredients. It pains my friend to admit that the owner was wrong.

"But try this," he says, tucking into an enormous, and slightly tough veal chop topped with a mountain of shiitake mushrooms. "Isn't it great? We don't usually order entrees," he admits, "usually we just have salad and pizza

and pasta and get out the door for about $40 for two of us." He looks over at my plate, spears one of my Hawaiian prawns in whitewine and garlic sauce (very big and very good) and mentions that we really shouldn't miss the tirami su.

Of course 11 Forno has tirami su. It is, after all, on the Westside where every hip restaurant is noisy and no hip restaurant is without tirami su.

It's good tirami su. But personally I'd rather have another pizza.

Il Forno, 2901 Ocean Park Boulevard, Santa Monica. (213) 450-1241. Dinner for two, $30-$60.

by Ruth Reichel

2901 Ocean Park Blvd. Santa Monica, CA 90405
Copyright © 2012-2013 Il Forno.