Take one seasoned Italian chef, add fresh seafood, a large pile of mesquite and one huge kinetic sculpture that might be described as a mechanical waterfall, and you pretty much have the Wave Seafood Bar and Grill.
As a place, I liked this Encino room when it was Trilussa, and I like it even more now. The dining room and bar have an energetic buzz. One wall features an engaging mural of an Italian street scene, and two display kitchens add interest to the scene.
The Wave is owned by Giuseppe Bellisario and his son, Giovanni, who used to run Giuseppe in Los Angeles. Chef Franco Montalvo makes good use of a wood-burning pizza oven and a fragrant mesquite grill, though I sometimes fear he tries to do too many things. This menu could use some pruning so it can concentrate on its strong points, and the service could stand some sprucing up.
To start, a busboy brought big, crusty loaves of sourdough bread to our table, and some of the appetizers were quite good. Montalvo smokes his own Atlantic salmon and serves the buttery slices with lemons, capers and chopped onions. He also makes delicious Maryland crab cakes in a creamy lobster sauce.
The thin-crusted pizzas from the wood-burning oven are wonderful too. There's a terrific pizza alla checca, with chopped tomatoes, garlic and basil. A Wolfgang Puck-inspired lox pizza is topped with cream cheese, chives, red onions and the chef's good smoked salmon.
The pizza Pugliese, topped with onions, capers, olives and anchovies, would be truly wonderful if made with imported instead of canned olives. But apart from the pizzas and some appetizers, most of the food is ordinary.
The lobster bisque, for instance, is nice to look at, but it tastes like cream of tomato soup, with none of the richness of a classic bisque and no more than a hint of lobster flavor. There are nice Blue Point oysters on ice, but why serve East Coast oysters when we have fresher and better oysters out here? And the "jambalaya" is pasta with shrimp and chicken in a bland tomato sauce. At least the pasta is al dente.
Nothing is wrong with the mesquite-grilled seafoods. Two of the better ones are the Pacific yellowtail and the Lake Superior whitefish. But they're run-of-the-mill, and aren't helped by an insipid pilaf and undistinguished steamed vegetables. My favorite entree is on the menu's "Best Sellers," Atlantic salmon baked "in a bag"--or en papillote. Served in a white wine sauce with minced carrots, celery and onions, the salmon is delicious and meltingly tender. But I especially like the way the chef stuffs a ribbon of his smoked salmon into the center of the filet--a satisfying inspiration.
The one dish I would avoid is the steak-and-lobster combination, at $22.50 the menu's priciest item. It's a steak that tastes as if it has spent time in a freezer, with a 1/2-pound Pacific lobster cooked to extreme dryness.
For dessert, our waiter recommended sorbet, which turned out to be a supermarket-quality rainbow sherbet. A better choice would have been the delicately flavored Key lime pie, but not the cloying caramelized apple pie.
So yes, catch the Wave. It's a nice place to eat, as long as you're not counting on being swept away.
The Wave, 16925 Ventura Blvd., Encino. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 5-10 p.m. Sunday. Full bar. Valet parking. All major cards. Dinner for two, $35-$49. Suggested dishes: Maryland crab cakes, $6.95; Atlantic smoked salmon, $6.50; pizza alla checca, $7.50; Pacific yellowtail, $15.50; Atlantic salmon in a bag, $17.50. Call (818) 905-6595.