Sitting in the Marina's C&O Cucina for the first time tonight it occurred to me that restaurants are often like movies. Sometimes you're in the mood for the grueling brilliance of Atom Egoyan's and Russell Bank's, "The Sweet Hereafter". Sometimes "Shrek". Tonight we got "Moonstruck". I'm not referring to just the traditional red checkered tablecloth setting or those oil and garlic soaked pizza dough balls that were thrust at us at every turn. No. It was that moment right after we'd been seated at our table when one of a bevy of attentive hostesses dropped the laminated sheets of paper with the lyrics to "That's Amore." In the next instance, an amplified voice was urging us to join in and I could've sworn it was the Lawrence Welk Hour. If Olympia Dukakis, or Doris Roberts for that matter, had walked out of the kitchen at that moment I would not have been surprised. Regardless, it worked and a crowded dining room was left cheering and applauding. No small feat in this day and age.
Two other thoughts that also occurred to me were that I hadn't been in this building since The Black Whale (an unfortunate evening when a blind date for cocktails turned into a $200 steak dinner with a declined credit card); and that of all the local Westside Italian neighborhood restaurants, i.e. Alejo's, Bruno's (before it closed), Maria's, Fritto Misto and the original C&O, to name a few, I had not been to any of them.
For my money, C&O Cucina delivers closer to what Maggiano's intends to, although neither seems to be the worse for business. After letting my companions off at the curb, I waited another twelve minutes before the valet could even take my car. It wasn't that they weren't trying. They were that busy. I haven't seen this kind of action since I opted to use the valet at the Bowl for Diana Krall.
We started with a great crunchy fried calamari, served with a homey sweet marinara sauce for $8.95. More than enough for three. We washed that down and more pizza dough balls with what Dr. Lecter described as, "cheap Chiaaanti." Entrees were a satisfying veal parmigiana for $13.95 with sauteed spinach, a nice grilled salmon with vegetables and mashed potatoes for $17.95, and a bowl of Cioppino that was enough for two for $18.95. My friend loves this dish and boasts of having tried it from Alioto's to Anthony's Star of the Sea. He was quite happy.
A final word about Sandy our server. She gets it. She even managed to harmonize the line, "When the stars make you drool, just like pasta fazool." A lovely African American lady, she immediately joins the ranks of Oscar and Raffi at Spago, Susanne at Sona, Tom at Bastide, and, God bless her, the late Virginia at the Sunset Hamlet. You all have many more, I'm sure. She introduced us to JM Rosen's cheesecake this evening. Apparently, based in San Francisco, Sinatra used to send his driver from Palm Springs to fetch it when he could no longer fight the cravings. Great story but I'd opt for the Godiva version at CF. Final bill with coffee and another glass of the same wine came to $103 for three. Even in 1983, my credit card could've handled that.
(By the way, as some of you have, no doubt, already discovered, Jonathan Gold lends further fuel to the ongoing banana cream pie debate in this week's L.A. Weekly by declaring Pie 'n Burger and Jar the two more noteworthy versions. Yes!)