Some friends took us to this neighborhood Italian last night, telling us that they swear by it. It's on Ventura in the space that used to be a Scandanavian Smorgasbord favored by the early-bird set. The four of us were promptly seated at 7:00 at a table for 6 by the window (table 20) - including us there were only 3 tables in use last night (one couple came in, stood by the door for a while then left when no one came to greet them). However, our waiter, Armando (we asked him, he did not volunteer), was attentive but not intrusive. The bread was a rustic white with great crust but unfortunately not warmed.
For starters: Panzanella, a delicious bread salad with red and yellow tomatoes (not heirlooms but quite flavorful), plenty of basil, sliced cucumber and red onion. Pronounced delicious by our friend; I tasted a small bite and concur. The only complaint was that there weren't enough bread croutons - after all, this was a bread salad. $9.50. Calamari fritti with Livornese sauce. Easily 3/4-1 pound of squid, with more tentacles in evidence than body rings. I thought them very good, not soggy or oily, but Mrs. Swift detected distinct floury overtones to the batter which I didn't. The sauce was sublime, steaming, with a great spicy aftertaste. I ate it by the spoonful. $12.50. Ravioli Porcini, house-made pasta stuffed with porcini and ricotta, topped with a truffle oil and garlic sauce. It had a great earthy flavor. I tricked our friend into giving me a whole one. $17.50. Minestrone soup, not highly spiced per our friend. The veggies looked great, still retaining lots of color. I didn't taste. $6.50.
On to the mains: Penne Semplici, a simple preparation of a light tomato sauce with lots of fresh basil. The pasta was perfectly al dente. $10.50. Linguine Vongole, a perfect sauce with intense clam flavor. This pasta tasted somewhat flat, as if no salt had ben added to the boiling water. Adding salt to the dish didn't help. There was an extraordinarily large portion of succulent Manila clams, all open (one of my peeves is getting a shellfish dish with unopened clams or mussels. Wouldn't you think the kitchen would remove them rather than have you discover that they serve dead shellfish?). $14.50. Penne Sorrentina, again al dente (and they put salt in the water for this one). Good looking chunky tomatoes. Mrs. Swift declared "Good." $14.50.
The total was $133.68 before tip. This included 5 glasses of house Chardonney @ $6.50 each and 3 iced teas @ $2.00 per. On balance, not unreasonable if you exclude the drinks. I'd prefer to see smaller portions and correspondingly lower prices as none of us was able to finish our dishes except for the great ravioli. Corkage is $15 and the stems looked to be the same as you get at Gorikee down the street for $3. I got comped a generous glass of Vigna del Pappa, a dessert wine similar to a late-harvest Riesling. Good viscous character.
Armando chatted with us for a good 30 minutes aftter the meal (except for us the place was empty at 9:30). They will soon be getting white truffles and they can do tasting menus as complex as requested with a couple of days notice. They don't do wine pairings any longer because people would request more wine after the initial pour and they were losing money on it. They will do osso bucco with two days notice. This place has a friendly, storefront feel to it, with some tables outside on the sidewalk patio, and they seemed to take good care of everyone there. We'll go back.