For several years now, weve wanted to go to Caffe Pinguini, located at the very end of Culver Boulevard in Playa del Rey. Ever since we saw their logo on their sign outside a stately, shaded drawing of a levitating penguin we were hooked. Yet weve held off, because frankly, we couldnt find an occasion special enough. The end of Passover provided the perfect opportunity this was going to be a wheat-fest.
The door is opened for us by a host who ushers us right to a table. The dining room is simple, and beautiful. Concrete floors, white tables, looking out onto a patio lit with white icicle Christmas lights. It isnt too dark, or too bright; it isnt too loud or too quiet. A page on the wine list informs us that the restaurant is a sister to three others on the Westside, Il Nido and Caffe Delfini among them. .
Our waiter is charming and as he seems to be about 7 feet tall and has a Roberto Benigni accent (an mannerisms), he is slightly difficult to comprehend. We ask if ordering two pastas and two pizzas would be too much food. He basically says yes. We order two pastas and two pizzas anyway.
Pasta: rigatoni a la gorgonzola, penne with tomato basil sauce. Just the right amount of sauce on each, with each piece of pasta smoothly coated. Pasta is al dente. Gorgonzola is sharp, tangy and creamy; tasting it, my mind flashed onto a pasta Id had in Italy a decade ago. The tomato sauce is excellent extremely smooth, like it has been pushed through a food mill and with some kind of cream mixed in, because it is not the same as their marinara sauce.
Pizza: Quattro formaggio, margherita. Having tried the pizza at Alto Palato and Antica Pizzeria, we can say that this is at least their equal. The crust on each is superb. Flat, sweet but not too sweet and delicious; not as wild (much flatter) as the crust at Antica. The Formaggio comes with no sauce, all cheeses mixed together. Sharp, tangy, like a sister pizza to our pasta. The margherita, though still appropriately Italian in its sauce amounts, is much more satisfying than Alto Palato.
Dessert: We were going to stop, until we saw the homemade orange sorbet, which comes served in a hollowed out orange peel. Creamy, tangy, and crunchy, with (intentional) ice crystals throughout.
We did not stretch the restaurant in anything we ordered, but it delivered everything we asked for consistent, basic, yet authentic Italian food. On future visits well try the fish, the soups, and more. In all, this feels like the perfect neighborhood restaurant.
6935 Pacific Ave, Playa Del Rey, CA 90293
Phone: (310) 306-0117