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EATS: Restaurant Reviews and News | FIRST IMPRESSIONS

A Light Italian Aerie

March 06, 1997|S. IRENE VIRBILA | TIMES RESTAURANT CRITIC

If you live high in the Santa Monica Mountains, where can you drop in for a cappuccino or a panini on the spur of the moment?

Now there's the stylish little cafe Graziella in the Glen Center at the top of Beverly Glen. The tiny storefront with a fireplace, a high vaulted ceiling and an ornate, old-fashioned bar has just a few tables; an outside terrace set off with formal hedges and topiary is furnished with half a dozen more. Tables are covered in white linens topped with butcher paper and the walls are decorated with nostalgic black-and-white photos of Italian film stars and scenes of Sicily, where owner Graziella di Marco grew up.

Graziella is truly a cafe in that it has a small, limited menu and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Di Marco, who has worked in Italian restaurants in Los Angeles for almost 20 years, including a two-year stint as manager of Il Fornaio in Beverly Hills, is a warm and lively presence in the dining room. She oversees the kitchen, too, and has taught her young chef how to make sauces the way her mother made them at home. "Once in a while, I call Italy and ask my mom what she made for lunch, and I put that on as one of my specials."

Her family dishes include an orange and fennel salad, spaghetti aglio e olio (with garlic and hot pepper) and rotolini di melanzane(eggplant stuffed with angel hair pasta, fresh tomato and basil, topped with mozzarella and baked). There's a decent grilled steak panini and sometimes a dinner special of chicken breast Marsala. But not many more substantial dishes.

It's a place to drop in with friends for a plate of pasta and a glass of wine--though right now, you'll have to bring your own (and people are showing up with some very fancy bottles). You might want to bring some strong, fruity olive oil, too; she favors a light, pallid one.

Di Marco has clearly observed through the years how this crowd likes to eat: salads, light pastas, easy renditions of Italian favorites. That means sauces made with lean ground beef (instead of crumbled sausage) or based on vegetables including, of course, the ever-popular pasta alla primavera. Nothing too challenging, just comforting and familiar.

BE THERE

Graziella Italian Cafe, Glen Center, 2964 Beverly Glen, Bel-Air, (310) 475-7404. Open seven days for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Major credit cards accepted. Parking in lot. Appetizers $7-$13; pastas $8-$11; panini $9-$10.

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