About 30 years ago, before Highway 101 became the Ventura Freeway and almost before Ventura County knew about things like master-planned communities, what we call Westlake Village was an area of rolling hills and fields of wild grasses. Driving by on the highway, you could look over and see the meadows, dotted with oaks, stretching toward the hills to the west. An occasional group of sycamores stood apart.
In the winters, it was all lush green; in the summers, it was browns and yellows, and if you wanted anything to eat, the best bet was Whizin's, just to the south at Cornell Corners.
Over the years, it became harder to find a meadow, and the oaks and the sycamores were hidden between houses. But a couple of development companies came in the 1960s and created Westlake Village, and they did make room for a lake. Where there's a man-made lake, can restaurants be far behind?
Not too far, because Boccaccio's has been in business on the edge of Westlake for 22 years now and today owner Victor Colucci is still there, showing his guests to tables looking out over the lake.
Boccaccio's is not quite as Italian as you might guess from its name, even with a fellow named Colucci running it. On the appetizer list, for instance, you've got smoked Scottish salmon and tuna carpaccio , Japanese style, fighting for recognition with antipasto, distinguished mainly by whole cloves of marinated garlic. Or you might try the jumbo shrimp, firm and fresh, although at least one of us thought the sauce tasted like the bottled variety.
Between courses, the pastime at Boccaccio's is looking out over the lake, which doesn't appear to be more than a couple of feet deep.
While you're gazing past the floating ducks, across the lake and up to the twinkling lights of these expensive homes on the hills, the pastas may have arrived, and Boccaccio's seems to come into its own. A special one night was a ravioli dish, served in a fresh mushroom and pesto sauce. The mushrooms were properly cooked and the pesto was nice and grainy. Another dish worth trying was a side order. This one is a capellini pasta with fresh tomatoes and basil, done al dente, a simple dish, but well done.
At lunch, the menu boasts a penne , that hollow-noodle pasta, cooked al dente with sprigs of fresh broccoli in lemon juice and olive oil, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.
One might go for the swordfish, whether it's done basilica style and stresses basil, as they have it on the lunch menu, or Cajun style, a dinner specialty.
Ordering a Boccaccio's meat dish is a "maybe" sort of thing. One night, the osso bucco was tough and it seemed as though it had ceased being veal before it got to my plate. That night I preferred its side dish, the spaghettini in a tomato sauce. Another time, the New York steak was just all right.
One of the pluses at Boccaccio's, besides its waterside setting, is its service. It's a pleasure to realize that decent service lives in a professional and unobtrusive form as it does here.
Now about the desserts: The sweets here are overdosed with sugar. The first bite into something such as a chocolate meringue layer cake is encouraging. But then a cloying sweetness sets in and you realize that the baker has gone overboard with the sugar.
Boccaccio's is best for its environment, for the ducks floating almost next to you on the lake, for the "wanna-be" sailors tying up their crafts at the dock, perhaps for the sunset across the house-crowded hills. Mix this with a pasta or two.
* WHERE AND WHEN
Boccaccio's Restaurant, 32123 Lindero Canyon Road (The Landing), Westlake Village. 818-889-8300. Open for lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, dinner 6 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, 5:30 to 9 p.m. Sundays. Full bar, reservations accepted, major credit cards accepted. Lunch for two, food only, $22-$40; dinner for two, food only, $38-$60. Recommended dishes: ravioli in mushroom and pesto sauce, $8; penne with lemon and broccoli, $6.50.