Ari Gold once said to a client on Entourage “I don’t represent people, I represent temperature. And you’re cold.” Such an adroit adage can be extrapolated many ways in our fair city. Why is one club white hot one month and dead the next? Why is one neighborhood suddenly the “it” spot only to be forgotten as the next enclave finds its footing? Why is one restaurant jam-packed while a neighboring joint sits empty? Often these answers have less to do with inherent quality and more to do with the endlessly fickle nature of the denizens of LA.
The Monster has been meaning to hit Villetta since its opening a few months ago in the space formerly occupied by Chez Mimi (if you follow this blog such a turn of phrase should be familiar, many of our newest haunts are born in the spaces of past restaurant failures only proving the above point). But without reservations and staring at a forty-five minute wait, Mr. and Mrs. Monster first hit Amici a block down for a glass of wine. Amici was near-empty despite a pleasant room, friendly staff and fine food. Amici is cold. Villetta on the other hand, is supersonicly hot. And The Monster is happy to report it’s deservedly so.
The space is divided into multiple rooms both inside and out with a true Italian courtyard feel replete with potted herbs and fruit trees. There is an inside bar off the first outside room that was jammed all night, could this be the Brentwood meat market for eligible oldies? There’s also an outside “bar” with a few high back chairs that is more conducive to a having a glass of wine and amiable conversation. Additionally, there are a few seating areas with lowslung couches and tables where one can also order off the full menu. These are first come, first serve as are both bar areas meaning walk-ins (like Mrs. and Mrs. Monster) are welcome. All told, the place felt just the right amount new and classic.
Once seated at the outdoor bar we were offered focaccia and ciabatta bread while perusing the menu. The focaccia proved a nice diversion from hunger, the ciabatta not as much.
Chef Pippa Calland has the menu divided into the following sections: Pizza etc., Antipasta, Insalate, Pasta, Pesce, Carne, Contorni. The wine list was long and varied, showing a true desire to pair great wine with well thought out food.
The Monster spotted “varied and sundry pickled vegetable and fruits” and had to get that to nosh on. Pink turnip, beets and multi colored carrots in individual mason jars was the day’s selection and the great variety of tastes are pickled on site daily. This dish, while simple, was a winner.
We followed that with a pizza with zucchini blossom, cresenza, jalapeno, chive and pine nuts. Mrs. Monster, between ravenous bites, commented this was one of the best pizzas she’s ever had. The Monster concurs. A touch of sweet from the cresenza cheese with beautiful crunch from the pine nuts. The jalapeno was used sparingly and was considerably more mild than anticipated which paired well with the chive and perfectly cooked thin crust.
For the main courses two pasta dishes were chosen. The fontina fonduta filled ravioli with asparagus, peas, chives and pea shoots was well cooked and delicious, if not a bit ordinary in that it felt like a dish that could be served at innumerable other Italian restaurants a stone’s throw away. The fregola with manila clams and tomatoes however was revelatory. Fregola (or fregula as it is more commonly spelled) is similar to an Israeli couscous. Here it was prepared in a traditional manner, with a tomato sauce (a touch spicy) and clams (wish there were more than two and they were more integrated into the dish) though some of the pasta was a tad overcooked. Those complaints aside the overall assault on the tastebuds was marvelous and the dish was wiped clean with our fourth helping of the ciabbatta.
Pomegranite limoncello ice as a palatte cleanser was brought to the table before the desert menus were proffered. Refreshing, tart. A nice touch in a restaurant that felt like it had been in business for years, not scant months. This is not an inexpensive meal, though Brentwood Italian never is. It felt sufficiently different from the other stalwart Italian restaurants in the area to find its niche, and given the crowds late into the night perhaps it already has surpassed many of them.
While the desert menu looked appealing, Sweet Rose Creamery was across the street and still open so The Monster called an audible and decided we’d take our desert there.
Why go? Because the scene and the food are of a quality that this place being hot makes complete sense. Which in LA makes no sense.
Monster rating: 4 ½/5 Monsters
246 26th Street
Santa Monica, CA 90402