Since I had not taken a foreign language in high school, I was put on probation until I passed a foreign language class while at UCLA. I chose Italian since it was rumored to be the easiest. But it was not easy for me.

To improve my Italian I started eating dinner every evening at Mario’s Italian Restaurant in Westwood Village. At the time it was one of the few Italian restaurants in the area, and one of the best. All of the waiters were native Italians and were glad to help me with my foreign language skills.

Mario, the owner, was well known in the restaurant community and helped many of his staff to branch out into other restaurants and businesses.

One of these lucky waiters is Oscar Morel, who, with his partner, recently bought out the Ritrovo restaurant in Brentwood and renamed it Il Piccolo Verde. When Oscar and I made our connection with Mario it was as if we had each met a long lost relative.

Oscar Morel, owner/chef of Il Piccolo Verde in Brentwood, salutes with a nice house Chianti and two signature dishes, Neapolitan pizza margarita and a world-class Cioppino. (John Blanchette

As some will recall, I’ve written about the Ritrovo restaurant in Pacific Palisades, one of my favorite Italian restaurants. The menu at Piccolo Verde is the same (and even has the Ritrovo name on the cover) and the recipes are the same. The pizza is the same, and they have the same kind of pizza oven.

And so the pasta is excellent, the pizza is as good as anywhere on the Westside (I prefer the New York style) and my wife’s favorite salad, the Mateo, is always as she likes it. This is one of the few restaurants that serves a really authentic spaghetti carbonara, the regional dish of Rome.

But Oscar, who spent most of the past 25 years running Spumoni in Santa Monica, has added another feature: heath conscious Italian food. As they advertise it, they have a separate section on the menu “dedicated to healthful, low calorie, great tasting Italian dishes … [with] gluten free grains, organic and fresh vegetables and organic unrefined cold pressed oils.”

There’s a Verde vegetable salad and a faro salad, buckwheat risotto, and pollo cacciatore — free range chicken with red, yellow and green bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, garlic, sweet basil, light tomato and white wine sauce, along with millet Verde. This is a really delicious dish.

The menu is extensive, and the prices are reasonable. Grilled rib eye with onions, arugula and Swiss cheese at lunch is $14. Soup and any salad combination at lunch is only $16.

“We really want guests to feel at home,” Morel said. “The area is comprised of so many great neighborhoods and businesses and we are very much looking forward to serving our guests.”

The nine desserts on the menu include just about every dessert associated with Italian restaurants. The wine list has all the usual suspects, but at prices a bit more reasonable than in many restaurants.

There’s no reason not to go to Piccolo Verde when you want Italian food in the Brentwood area (or you can take advantage of their delivery service). My only concern is whether or not there is enough of a reason to go there. The fact is the area is overwhelmed with Italian restaurants, and unless there is something really special it’s hard to compete.

But Piccolo Verde has two things going for it. First of all, it’s a really friendly atmosphere and the waiters are pleasant. Secondly, it has the healthy food menu. Maybe that will be enough for it to succeed.

If you go

Il Piccolo Verde

140 South Barrington Place

Brentwood, Calif.

(310) 472-4939


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



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