A lot of people I know were disappointed when they learned that Chez Mimi, one of the few remaining authentic French restaurants in our area, closed and that another Italian restaurant would open there. As one put it, “who needs another Italian restaurant in this neighborhood?”

And yes, there are a lot of them, but it does seem to be the cuisine of choice for going out to dinner. And Antonio di Cicco, the general manager, seems to have done a really nice job of cleaning up Mimi’s old place and making a very pleasant space for dinner, with small rooms and even outside garden dining.

Not everyone agrees about this restaurant. I have friends that love it, while I see reviews where folks complain about the service and the prices — especially those for wine. I don’t see much criticism of the food. I am somewhere in between.

My main criticism, if it is one, is the emphasis on pizza. Who goes out to a fine dining restaurant for pizza?

My main accolades go for the unusual nature of the foods. Yes it’s OK to open up another Italian restaurant if you are going to serve dishes that one can’t find on other menus, and that is the strength of this restaurant.

I’m not going to lie. I did have a pizza — and it was pretty tasty with crisp thin crust, just how I like it. I also had the fried zucchini blossoms, which I often see in Italy but much less here, and that was a treat. On one occasion I had the roasted marrow bones, which I make at home sometimes because I can’t find them in local restaurants, but here they were and they were delicious.

How about taglierini with uni (sea urchin if you don’t speak Japanese)? How often do you see that on Italian menus? And I saw a beautiful leg of lamb served Greek style, which is the kind of dish I like to find in a restaurant, since I don’t make it at home very often.

The chef claims to be serving Tuscan food, and maybe so. But the saving grace to my way of thinking is that this is not just another Italian restaurant — this is high level dining with particularly interesting foods in a nice, and unusual, setting. It’s not cheap; expect to spend between $60 to $100 per person to eat and drink well.

Now if only they can get those wine prices down.

If You Go

Villetta

246 26th St.

Santa Monica

90402

(310) 394-8455

www.villetta.us

Merv Hecht, the food and wine critic for the Santa Monica Daily Press, is a wine buyer and consultant to a number of national and international food and wine companies. He can be reached at mervynhecht@yahoo.com.

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