Locanda Del Lago gives you the north of Italy on the Westside
In Santa Monica, Locanda Del Lago has been synonymous with Northern Italian fare for 20 years. Milan-born co-owner West Hooker-Polettibrings Lake Como to life for diners on a daily basis, while Megan Heritage (who’s been with the eatery since 1996), and Roger Barakat provide a level of service generally reserved for five-star hotels.
“Ourmenus are rooted in theauthentic, quality cuisine of Lombardy and evolve from it to create a balanced selection of dishes that take full advantage ofthe best flavors of the season, the best specialties of Lake Como and the availability … of spices, fruits and vegetables not grown in Italy,” says Hooker-Poletti.
Located along the Third Street Promenade at Arizona – the heart of the renowned farmers market – the restaurant has firmly established a reputation for the highest-quality ingredients from the most respected sources.
Twice a week, Chef Gianfranco steps outside to purchase the best organic offerings from renowned farmers like Windsor Farms, Harry’s Berries, Weiser Farms, Garcia Farms, Coleman Farms, JJ Loned Daughter Ranch, and Lilly's Eggs, and on non-market days, Scarborough Farms delivers fresh organic goods.
Why you should go:
The patio is a people-watcher’s paradise. Al fresco dining along Third Street provides a fantastic opportunity to enjoy the sights and sounds of an eclectic mix of tourists and locals. You never know what type of serenade you’ll be dining to, but you’re guaranteed to be entertained in one way or another.
Indoors or out, the volume is generally low enough to conduct business or get to know your date. The open kitchen allows diners to see the magic as it’s made. Rustic wooden chairs provide a touch of Old World craftsmanship, white linens adorn the tables, each of which is embellished with a vase of flowers. A large chalkboard, meanwhile, provides the farmers market suppliers sourced by the restaurant.
What to order:
All pastas are made from scratch in-house every day, as well as focaccia bread, desserts and gelato. Impress your client or your date (or your client-date?) by correctly pronouncing “Tagliolini di Farro con Missoltino.” Or just point to it, if you prefer.
“When you’re done, you’ll be speaking fluent Italian,” my server told me.
Italian cuisine in L.A. can be found at just about every price point imaginable. At Lago, you’ll probably have enough leftover cash to shop along the promenade. Pizzas begin at a meager $11, and the filet Mignon will only set you back $34. Of course, you could break the bank on a bottle or two of wine if you care to.
Essential dishes include Burrata con Proscuitto e Zucca: creamy Burrata cheese, thinly shaved Parma prosciutto and braised Kabocha squash with pumpkin oil; and Calamari Fritti, assuming you’re a lover of battered squid, and if you’re not, keep it to yourself.
The carpaccio is another popular item. “This is a typical Bellagio dish,” Barakat tells me.
For dessert, don’t miss the tiramisu – it’s by-the-book and with a glass of port, the perfect finish to a great meal.
Locanda Del Lago features one of the best Happy Hours in all of Santa Monica. The bar is intimate, meaning small, and the deals require drinkers to imbibe in this “cozy” setting. Bartender Joseph Matlock mixes some of the tastiest cocktails in town, and knows his apertifs and digestivos, as well.
The wine list features just short of 400 labels, hailing mostly from Italy and California. The list includes a strong by-the-glass selection, as well as half-bottles and large-format bottles. This list wins Wine Spectator’s “Award of Excellence” every single year dating back to 1995.
If you’re willing to lay down $22 a pop, go fo the Smoky Godfather, smoky, peaty 16-year-old Lagavulin scotch balanced by St. Germaine and infused with and served alongside crispy pancetta. It takes a good 10 or 15 minutes to make, so get your order in ahead of time.
“He has to smoke the pancetta,” GM Megan Heritage says of Matlock, adding that he infuses the Knob Creek whisky with rosemary.
Hooker-Poletti is constantly bringing rare and interesting bottles back from his frequent visits to the Old Country, and you never know what new liqueur might be on hand. I enjoyed my first glass of grappa with this man, and enjoy a taste every time I dine here, just out of tradition.
What people are saying:
TheLos Angeles Times calls Lago’s antipasto bar “one of our favorites,” while The Hollywood Reporter calls the joint a“chic, authentic Italian bistro.”
Metromix says the place has the “warmth of an old Italian inn and the cool factor of a Santa Monica hot spot … Lago has a loyal base of regulars because the customers are treated like kings, and the bustling restaurant is run with astounding ease.”
Frommer’s says that “There’s no better place to people-watch than at the outdoor patio.”
And from Gourmet magazine: “Italy meets the Pacific – authentic cuisine of Milano, Como and Stresa served up in the most California of settings. Don’t miss the Ossobucoalla Milanese.”
What I think:
In terms of quality, value and service, Locanda Del Lago is not only of the best Italian restaurants in all of Santa Monica, it’s one of the best restaurants, period.
Scott Bridges has covered the Los Angeles scene for over ten years as a journalist and food critic.
See review at: http://www.bizjournals.com/losangeles/news/2014/02/18/locanda-del-lago-gives-you-the-north-of-italy-on.html?page=all