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Ago Has the Location, Lineage for Success

Chef Agostino Sciandri opens an airy Tuscan trattoria with help from some famous friends.


OK, foodies, name all the restaurants that have occupied a certain Melrose Avenue address just east of La Cienega through the years and in the right order. Hint: Sonny Bono's was an early tenant. The last to vacate? Cicada.

After months of construction and a complete make-over, 8478 Melrose Ave. debuts as (this is where the guessing gets tough)--an "elegant trattoria" called Ago. One with an impeccable L.A. pedigree, avid restaurant-goers might add.

The name is short for Agostino Sciandri, the original chef at Il Giardino who went on to found trendy Toscana in Brentwood, Terrazza Toscana in Encino and a string of Rosti take-outs.

His new place, financed with the help of Miramax's Bob and Harvey Weinstein, actor Robert De Niro, and directors Tony and Ridley Scott, among others, is fancier than Toscana, a huge airy space with an open kitchen at the back and a counter with a few seats in front of the wood-burning pizza oven.

Ago's kitchen turns out some of the same Tuscan trattoria fare Sciandri introduced at Toscana: T-bone steak cooked in the wood-fired oven, cannellini beans perfumed with sage, pasta with tomato and basil. But the grizzled chef has also added some variations on a theme that take the cooking up a notch: calamari "carpaccio"--a tasty calamari steak smothered in peppery arugula and tomatoes; a hearty rendition of zuppa di farro, spelt and borlotti bean soup; a baby artichoke salad strewn with walnuts and good Parmesan shavings; and a fine spaghetti allo scoglio--with mussels and clams and squid and a bracing hit of hot pepper.

When I arrived one recent night, gardeners were still setting bougainvillea plants in the ground. And the place felt as if it had opened just minutes before. When an order came in, Sciandri and junior chefs went into a huddle at the stoves. And food was sometimes slow to arrive, even though waiters and staff seemed to outnumber customers 5 to 1. But by the time it hit 9 p.m., gobs of Italians began to flock in the door to a chorus of buona seras. And waiters, Italian one and all, moved into high gear. And Ago came to life.


Ago, 8478 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood; (213) 655-6333. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, daily for dinner. Major credit cards accepted. Valet parking. Antipasti $6 to $13.50; pastas $8.50 to $12.50; main courses $16.50 to $28.

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