I've always liked Bono's even when no one else did, and God knows no one else did in the old days. I liked Bono's wild bar scene, his interpretation of a comfortable, informal pastel-peach and terra cotta Mediterranean villa, which, he said on the phone, he did first and then tried to figure out what went wrong afterward. "Like everything else I've done in my life--my music, my career," he said.
After three years in business, the bar is going great guns while the restaurant around the bend struggles for recognition.
Well, maybe its time has come.
"The food is becoming more what I want it to be," Bono said.
He Can See Clearer Now
The place, in other words, is reaching for a focus, which, in Sonny Bono's eyes, is becoming clearer and clearer, now that he has discovered that Italian cooking--Sicilian in particular--has a range and depth he never thought possible. Until now, Bono was featuring his parents' rendition of simple Sicilian cooking brought from their native Sicily to Detroit and later to Inglewood, Calif., where Sonny grew up.
"Now I'm up in Palm Springs sun-drying tomatoes, reading Italian cookbooks and growing my own basil. I'm trying to take in everything I can about regional Italian cooking," Bono said. And he's serious. This June, Bono will fly to his ancestral town in Sicily for more study. "I take my restaurant very seriously."
Meanwhile, Bono's new chef, Glen Feinman, a graduate from the prestigious chef's school, Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., tries to re-create Sonny's Sicilian cuisine. Feinman spent most of his culinary career on private luxury yachts off the Miami coast, doing Caribbean as well as other imaginative, interpretive cooking, in which young chefs from CIA seem to excel.
He manages to incorporate the interpretations in the specials offered daily--jumbo Spanish red shrimp stuffed and marinated to cook on mesquite, pasta with a combination of seafood in a spicy red sauce.
As far as Italian things go, the pasta is freshly made daily from semolina flour, and the sauces are a smattering of old and new style.
'Sonny's Dad's Favorite'
Looking over the Italian menu with English subtitles, my eyes locked onto sugo di spuntature , described as "Sonny's Dad's favorite--an old family recipe of meat sauce with beef ribs and Italian sausage on rigatoni."
Immediate flashback: my old tenement building where our Italian neighbors, who lived on the floor below, cooked up a storm of pasta made with beef ribs and basil-scented sauce every Thursday. Every Thursday, cooking smells wafted up to our windows above, driving us to gastrointestinal frenzy. The dish, prepared by Mr. Fiorentino for the family, was a Mt. Vesuvius of a pasta plate with a sauce that draped over the pasta like lava. Would Bono's come close to Fiorentino's? It did. A memory not only revived but satisfied at last.
There is an entire page describing the unusual types of pasta to which we have come to expect from Italian restaurants: fettuccine with Cognac, angel hair pasta primavera , linguine with eggplant, linguine with scallops, white wine and herbs, and pasta Bolognese with veal meatballs.
I tried the pasta primavera with angel hair pasta (quite good) and the fresh spinach tagliatelle with fresh tomatoes on the day's special (a bit watery).
My only honest-to-goodness disappointment was the shrimp salad, which, I think, was dreadfully abused from a beauty standpoint. Cut shrimp? Warm greens? Help.
The carrot soup, on the other hand: beautiful color, superb taste, perfect texture.
For those who like fish, the chef loves to prepare the many dishes offered. Some, like the swordfish with oregano, is grilled on mesquite. Calamari fritti (fried squid) was quite fresh.
Bono's, 8478 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 651-1842. Open Monday through Friday for lunch 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner from 5 to 11 p.m. Open Saturday and Sunday for dinner only: Saturday 6 p.m. to midnight; Sunday 5 to 11 p.m. Reservations accepted. MasterCard, Visa, Diner's Club, American Express accepted. Valet parking. Average pasta entree $7.50; average meat dish $10. Wine served by the glass and from a list featuring 10 of Italy's growing regions.