As outdoor dining reopens and local restaurants begin the road to recovery the Daily Press is highlighting one excellent eatery a week.

This week the spotlight is on Piccolo: a new Italian neighborhood eatery focused on homemade pastas and high-quality meat and fish dishes that play with spice, texture, and sweet and savory flavors.

The story behind Piccolo

While many restaurateurs struggled, cut back service, or closed doors during the pandemic, Chef Antonio Mure miraculously launched two Piccolo restaurants this year — one in Sunset Park and a second location on Abbot Kinney.

His secret? An undying passion for hosting diners, experience navigating turbulent times, and his “atomic infinite energy”.

“The most important ingredient in a restaurant is a passionate love,” said Mure. “The sound of people laughing, glasses tinkling, pots and pans clanging — that’s something I love in my ears. It drives me nuts, it’s just incredible.”

So far in his career Mure has opened 11 restaurants, including Michelin starred La Botte, which operated for nine years in Downtown Santa Monica. This year Mure has returned to his roots, by redeveloping his original restaurant Piccolo, which he opened in Venice in 2004.

Both Piccolo locations are run by Mure and his partner Tony Black, who are the team behind Barrique on Main Street. The updated Piccolo menu blends a range of fresh farmers market produce and top quality Italian ingredients into flavor packed pasta parcels, slow cooked game meats, and fragrant fish dishes.

On launching and surviving during the pandemic

Family, neighborhood, and community are at the center of Black and Mure’s restaurant philosophy.

During the first 60 days of the pandemic, they ran Barrique as a four person family team with the help of Black’s brother and Mure’s daughter. It was a tough transition and a necessary move to keep the lights on and ensure furloughed staff would have a restaurant to return to.

“Every single day the Chef and I, his daughter and my brother were washing dishes, mopping the floor, prepping the food, cooking the food, and even doing our own shopping,” said Black.

This tenacity allowed them to stay afloat and continue serving local residents, who in turn provided devoted patronage.

“The people who came to support us were community members who had grown incredibly close to us,” said Black. “That’s essentially what we’re trying to duplicate with Piccolo: that idea of having a little neighborhood spot that can really accommodate the community.”

Piccolo Santa Monica has been in the works since December 2019, but its permit and renovation process was significantly set back by the pandemic. Conversely, the Venice location was a pandemic induced opportunity, as the team snapped up a prime location in a recently vacated Abbot Kinney restaurant space.

What to order right now

Owner and Executive Chef Antonio Mure has carefully cultivated the menu to incorporate dishes and styles from all over Italy, drawing inspiration from his Sicilian roots, his family in Parma, and his time working in the Dolomites. He is aided by Chef de Cuisine Victorino Balbino, who has been by his side since the original Piccolo opened in 2004.

Mure assures diners that every dish is divine, but recommends starting out with the jamon serrano, which is served with poached pear, sweetened with canella vanilla, and complemented by a creamy burrata.

For pasta lovers Mure advises ordering the red beet and poppy seed ravioli or the potato and fig tortelloni.

“We serve the tortelloni in a bed of Parmesan fondue, so it’s a cream that is reduced and caramelized, which gives a little bit of sweetness while the Parmesan cheese gives amazing flavor,” said Mure. “When you bite it you have the crunchiness of the fig seeds with a little brown butter fried sage on top.”

For a touch of sweetness Mure points diners toward the three layered tronchetto chocolate mousse or the creme custard.

“My creme custard is special because they reduce the cream to create a thickness like a soft cheese, so you have this beautiful French vanilla bean flavor and soft cheese consistency topped with crispy pistachio nuts,” said Mure.

Piccolo Santa Monica is open for dinner seven days a week at 2127 Lincoln Blvd and Piccolo Venice is open Tuesday through Saturday at 1616 Abbot Kinney Blvd. Both locations have plans to expand into lunch and brunch options soon.

Clara@smdp.com