What? Another Santa Monica corner taken up by an Italian restaurant? When Elon Musk finally gets to Mars no doubt he will find an Italian restaurant on the nearest corner and a Starbucks nearby.

But wait! This one is a step ahead of the others, run by a real Italian restauranteur, and with a superior menu to most of the others.

You’ll have no trouble meeting the owner, Andrea Inio. He’s always there and always meets and greets the customers. And he’ll remember you the next time you come in. He grew up by Lake Garda in a restaurant family. This puts him close to my heart because for the past 40 years each year Bonnie and I have visited friends with a summer home on Lake Garda.

Trained by his stepfather, one of the top chefs in Italy, Andrea came to Los Angeles in 1991 to study finance at Loyola Marymount, then came back to the restaurant business. For 12 years he worked at Locanda Portofino on Montana, where I first met him.

The menu is not as extensive as, say, Lago — another restaurant whose owner also comes from the Northern lakes of Italy. It is more focused and more like restaurants in Italy. There are 10 “starters,” including just about all of my favorites: grilled Spanish octopus, fritto misto, mushroom timbale, and eggplant parmigiana. But there are also plates of Italian cold cuts and cheeses with roasted vegetables, beef carpaccio, and San Daniele prosciutto with organic tomatoes or roasted vegetables. As you might guess from the menu and the restaurant’s name, vegetables are the highly prized products in this restaurant.

There is a nice mix of salads, and all the usual main courses (I had a terrific veal chop with mushrooms the last time I was there). But the stars for me are the pastas—10 selections on the menu. I found those to be among the best anywhere in town, both in preparation and in selection. Carbonara pasta is hard to find elsewhere. The lobster ravioli includes strips of zucchini blossom and mullet roe; the crabmeat tagliolini includes pink grapefruit; the clam spaghetti is made with saffron and zucchini blossoms. In other words, the preparations are just a bit more on the gourmet side than in almost any other Italian restaurant in this area.

Desserts are ordinary.

 

Orto

502 Santa Monica Blvd. SM CA 90401 (where Jiraffe used to be)

424-433-8100

open lunch and dinner every day (another nice feature).

 

Merv Hecht, like many Harvard Law School graduates, went into the wine business after law. In 1988, he began writing restaurant reviews and books. His latest book is “The Instant Wine Connoisseur, 3d edition” is available on Amazon. He currently works for several companies that source and distribute food and wine products internationally. Please send your comments to: mervynhecht@yahoo.com.

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