As a food person who teaches cooking, I often get asked what my favorite restaurant in L.A. is — a daunting question for anyone due to the magnitude and expanse of such a place as Los Angeles. How about narrowing it down a bit. Why not wonder what my favorite Italian place in Santa Monica is. Now we can actually have a stab at an answer, don’t you think?

Well I went to such a place on Saturday night with my husband and although we have been there a number of times I still vote for Capo on Ocean Avenue and Pico Boulevard as hands down the best meal I have had in Santa Monica and maybe in all of L.A.

Wow! Now that is quite a claim, but seriously this place is unreal! I know, I know it is too expensive, but what are we talking about here? Any good restaurant anywhere — even on an island in the Puget Sound — is expensive. The minute you have food made to order with any type of atmosphere and decent service you are looking at $100 per person for dinner. So Capo is a bit more than that — it is well worth it. I for one don’t enjoy most restaurants because I can cook better than most and often find the trendiness of a place a huge turnoff. So I love to find somewhere like Capo that has been there for years and is not overrun with trend spotters where the food is fantastic, service professional and atmosphere romantic and cozy.

We had the tasting menu as there were so many choices I figured let the chef decide what is best. I am glad we went that route although with eight courses it was a bit too much food for me. It began with a homemade white corn ravioli which was divine and moved on to a wonderful artichoke salad, delicious baked crab, porcini mushroom soup, heirloom tomatoes with burrata, grilled branzino, seared New York steak with fava beans, and finally ended with a plate of homemade cookies, tiramisu and crème brulee. Whew! This was enough food for us to have split the tasting menu, but who knew. Next time we will have that choice. We both truly enjoyed the entire experience with no complaints and would love to return if only to sit at the tiny bar and enjoy a glass of wine and one or two appetizers.

This is the perfect place for a special occasion or a romantic dinner for two and reminds me of the great restaurants in New York.

My version of one of their pasta dishes, gnocchi with pesto, is a beautiful alternative to the traditional gnocchi made with boiled and mashed potatoes. This version utilizes ricotta cheese and comes out light as a feather. I wish you all the enjoyment of making and eating this simple, tasty dish.

Amanda Cushman is a culinary educator who has cooked professionally for 25 years. She teaches privately for groups of two to 20 students. She has developed hundreds of recipes for cookbooks as well as food magazines and Web sites. She can be reached

Ricotta gnocchi with pesto

Serves 8


2 cups ricotta cheese

1 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 1/2 cups flour

1/4 tsp. salt


3 cups basil leaves, washed dried

3 tbs. toasted pine nuts

2 cloves garlic, peeled

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

1/2 cup olive oil

salt and pepper


1. Blend the cheeses in a medium bowl. Add flour and salt until dough becomes a smooth ball.

2. Turn out onto a floured work surface and divide the dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into a long rope and cut into gnocchi shapes as shown. Refrigerate the gnocchi for about 30 minutes before cooking. They can be frozen at this point as well.

3. Combine the sauce ingredients in a processor until blended, taste and adjust seasoning. Add water if it’s too thick. This can be frozen for up to three months.

4. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil and add the gnocchi about 20 at a time. When they rise to the surface test one for doneness. Remove to a bowl and toss with a sauce.

Wild mushroom sauce

Serves 4 to 6


1/2 oz. dried porcini, soaked in hot water to soften for about 20 minutes

5 tbs. extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 pounds wild mushrooms, wiped clean and quartered

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped

1/2 cup dry white wine

Salt, pepper

1/2 cup heavy cream

chicken broth, as needed

1 pound short shaped pasta

Freshly grated parmesan


1. Drain the porcini reserving the liquid and chop the mushrooms, set aside.

2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat and sauté the fresh mushrooms until they soften slightly, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and parsley sauté for another minute.

3. Add the porcini to the skillet with their juices and cook for 3 minutes. De-glaze the pan with the wine adding salt and pepper to taste, reduce the wine to half, about 10 minutes.

4. Add the cream and cook until thickened, about 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding chicken broth is needed if the sauce is too thick.

5. Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente in a large saucepan of salted boiling water, drain and transfer to a serving bowl.

6. Toss the sauce with the pasta and serve with the grated cheese.

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