FORMA
1610 Montana Avenue
Santa Monica, CA 90403
(424)231-2868
Reservations required

I couldn’t get a table at Forma when I first tried. It was 7:30 on a Thursday night, and I thought I’d go try this “great cheese place” as it was described to me. Without a reservation, there was no love for me that night.

Now I really wanted to know what this place was about. So the following Monday I dropped in for their happy hour menu, where I could be seated at the bar. They have an extensive happy hour menu and I was a bit overwhelmed with the seemingly delicious options; not the least of which is a selection of over 60 amazing cheeses, all of which are displayed in mini-fridges behind the bar.

My obvious confusion led me to rely on the strikingly handsome young man, Francesco, for a recommendation. Looking like a young soccer star who has never had carbohydrate in his life, I asked for his favorite appetizer, “Definitely the arancini” – deep-fried rice balls that ensconce a creamy gooey sweet yet slightly tart cheese that is melted and oozes all throughout the rice.
Francesco is a Santa Barbara native, but his Italian parents taught him well is all I can say…

The following week a friend wanted to take me to dinner, she loves Forma, and I was still wanting to sample more of the menu, so that was an easy choice. We arrived for a 6 p.m. reservation and even then the light and bright room were starting to fill with chattering couples and groups.

As luck would have it, Francesco was our waiter and again he led me through the menu with some delicious choices. Forma has a Burnt Spaghetti Assassina – it’s pasta with tomato sauce that is literally charred to add a smoky, crispiness that caramelizes some of the sauce. The mashup of the burnt tomatoes with caramelized sauce and the dryness of the pasta makes for a wonderful flavor burst beyond the normal spaghetti and red sauce. When I was a young boy, Mom always made extra pasta so that there would be leftovers for the next day, that she would reheat in butter and almost char – it was a delightful next day dish and this Assassina brought back great memories for me.

We had a marvelous creamy burrata, served with prosciutto to add a salty tang that was offset by a fresh peach for sweetness. This was a beautiful pairing of flavors.
One of the signature “show stoppers” of Forma is the saucing of pasta in giant wheels of cheese. Francesco to the rescue again with a recommendation for the Chitarra Cacio E Pepe – an Italian late night favorite after too much wine – this marriage of pasta, olive oil, pepper and pecorino romano lived up to its reputation.

As a main (as if I needed more food at this point!) was the braised short ribs, with a side of short rib ravioli. After 8 hours of being bathed in a slow cooker, these ribs were fork tender and packed with flavor. The meatiness and savory succulence of the sauce was a delightful play on
the palate.

The least interesting dish was the Trofie al Pesto. This bowl of fresh pasta in a basil pesto with vegetables and pecorino was not bad but was a dim bulb compared to the robust flavors of all the other dishes.

Rounding out dinner was a Nutella bread pudding that was a creamy, deliciousness served warm and thankfully was perfectly portioned to not be one of those monster desserts that restaurants tend to put out and leave one feeling sick and overfed.

All in all, I had a wonderful time at Forma. I tried again to get in this past Tuesday and the earliest reservation I could find was for 9 p.m., so I suggest you plan ahead and make your reservations early. And be sure to ask for Francesco – he’ll guide you through the menu superbly.

Forma deserves 4 1/2 stars out of 5. Prices range from $5-20 for small plates, $23-29 for second-course items, dinner mains are $20-48. Valet parking is available, and there is plenty of street parking after 6.

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