Valentino. Almost forty years strong (which in Los Angeles is quite remarkable). A venerable Italian stalwart with a wine list that makes oenophiles weep. The Monster hadn’t been in almost ten years.
Upon walking in the first thought is has this room been redone since it first opened? Red and powder blue alternating walls, “almost” art deco light fixtures, uncomfortable (and ugly) chairs. At least it’s dim and a cozy room so it radiates energy. Still, the ambiance is circa 1970’s cruise ship. The Monster has to stop himself from singing the Love Boat theme. Probably will not ingratiate him with the waitstaff.
Surprisingly, the menu is a collection of contemporary Italian cooking. Things are on the upswing. And from the start the service is topnotch and accommodating.
But first, a wine must be selected. Wine Spectator has bestowed on this restaurant its highest kudos since 1981. Piero Selvaggio has amassed a cellar of well over two thousand different labels and a hundred and thirty thousand bottles. Passion of this sort must be commended.
A 2006 Neo D’Avola Nerobufaleff is the selection. The Monster grew up in the wine business. He has worked in the wine business. He knows many of the tricks of the wine business. So to select a wine he throws a mental dart at the list and hopes for good luck.
And the wine opens with an almost acidic tinge. It’s not a favorable first sip. The Monster smiles and nods, let’s decant that puppy and pray.
The order on this evening is chocolate pappardelle with Maine lobster ragu and cherry tomatoes along with a spaghetti with baby calamari, clams, and prawns sprinkled with bottarga. The main course will feature baked Tasmanian salmon crusted with Bronte’s pistachio and octopus “in zimino” with spinach and papa al pomodoro sauce.
The pastas are both excellent. Especially so the pappardelle. Nice chunks of lobster marry a unique noodle and complimentary sauce. This dish is worthy of a repeat visit.
By this point the wine has opened up but now features a prominent aftertaste of…blood? The Monster decides not to share this observation.
The main courses falter a step. The fish is a touch dry to start and the sides are pedestrian. The octopus could have benefitted from a touch more prep time and is served lukewarm with a sauce that calls for more kick.
Luckily, the wine has decided to play ball and is now fantastic. Gone is the feeling one is sucking the blood from a scrape on the knee and in its stead is a wine worthy of Valentino’s reputation. The Monster feels vindicated (and lucky).
For dessert Tiramisu. It may be tantamount to ordering vanilla ice cream given its ubiquitous appearance on menus far and wide but it’s a standard bearer worth sampling. It’s a fine enough rendition but won’t have you ordering another.
When the bill comes The Monster is struck thinking if this is Michelin One Star cooking The Monster will eat a tire.
Why go? Because the Pacific Princess is docked at harbor.
Monster rating: 3½/5 Monsters
3115 Pico Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90405