Via Veneto, Santa Monica

Los Angeles has many celebrity restaurants; most of them fall short from a great dining experience. Much like the celebrities behind them, they are sometimes glitzy at sight but shallow when you get to know it. Via Veneto is definitely an exception.

Partly owned by rockstar Warren Cuccurullo (Zappa, Duran Duran and yes, some porn), the restaurant is closely managed by his 2 other Italian partners. The façade is discrete and unpretentious. The dining room features only a few tables dimly lit by candlelight. Service is prompt. Menus, water, wine, specials; all delivered in the proper order, swiftly after we sat.

The menu

The printed menu has a good selection of classic Italian fare. With a focus on ingredients more than inventiveness; appetizers, pastas and seafood dishes are fairly appetizing. But the real treat comes in the night’s specials. Usually announced table-side by one of the restaurant managers, the list goes on for about 3 minutes as he enthusiastically describes each dish, by heart, with a thick Italian accent. By the end of it, you can’t help but wish you could order one of each.

The meal

I started with Burrata with prosciutto. The appetizer was, like its name, simple and mouth-watering. The creamy cheese was perfect in texture and mild in taste while the thinly sliced cured ham added a welcomed salty contrast to the dish. It may not sound very appealing but if you’re into cooking, you know it’s hard to beat a good combination of fats like cream, pork and olive oil. It gives a simple dish like this rich and complex flavors.

For entrée, it was an easy choice. The reason I came back to Via Veneto in the first place. As I said, there are many appealing things on the menu but nothing beats their homemade ravioli. Simply put, this is the best ravioli you’ll ever eat in your life. They usually have them filled with choice of asparagus, pumpkin and veal. They are all to die for. But this time I had the night’s special: Lobster zucchini ravioli with tomato-lobster sauce. My only regret was not ordering more. The incredibly light pasta melts in your mouth as you taste the delicious filing and sauce. The portion is relatively small. It doesn’t look that way but once you start eating it you’ll inevitably finish wanting more. A tough act to follow.

The classic Italian desserts are announced like specials, table-side. I had the Panna cotta. Honestly, it wasn’t that great. The dessert had a slightly harder outer shell reminiscent of day-old flans. The caramel was, in my opinion, unnecessary as it overpowered the berries it came with.

In short

Via Veneto is not a fine dining restaurant. Service can come across as somewhat rushed and the atmosphere as unremarkable. But this is definitely one of my favorite Italian restaurants. One I’ll come back to many times. For one reason and one reason only: their ravioli. It is so good you may as well have it for appetizer, entrée and dessert.

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