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EATS: Restaurant Reviews and News | FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Sunnier Side of Italy

The owner of Primi in Rancho Park has hired a new chef to liven up the menu of his eatery.


Primi, Piero Selvaggio's Rancho Park Italian restaurant, has a new young chef. He's Vittorio Lucariello. And, like Selvaggio, who also owns Valentino in Santa Monica and Posto in Sherman Oaks, he comes from the south of Italy. His mission: to revitalize the cooking of the 14-year-old restaurant. To that end, he's introduced a handful of dishes from the sunnier regions of Italy. They are modest, but positive changes to a menu that had become somewhat tired.

On a recent evening, he offered a stuzzichino at the beginning of the meal: a spiral of fresh white anchovy pickled in a sweet vinegar and paired with a splash of sweet red pepper sauce. It made a refreshing bite, especially in this heat.

One appetizer I liked very much was a chilled eggplant terrine with tomatoes, dense and delicious. There's also a nice sea bass carpaccio garnished with asparagus tips, capers and a fragrant lemon emulsion.

His potato gnocchi are a lovely surprise, too, tossed with a fresh and graceful tomato sauce of cherry tomatoes and scamorza cheese laced with sweet basil leaves. I also recommend the light layered Neopolitan lasagne that sits in a puddle of molten bufala mozzarella. Spaghetti alla chitarra, cut on a wooden box fitted with strings and sauced with black olives and sardines, could have been a little more al dente, though.

The chef has a light touch with braciola, another Neopolitan staple. These are thumb-sized rolls of tender beef with a tomato and pine nut filling. Another good choice is the branzino (sea bass) all' aqua pazza--in "crazy water"--a light broth emulsified with olive oil.

And for dessert, check out the sfogliatella. This is the real thing, an ineffably light clam-shaped pastry with layers of fragile leaves of dough enclosing a vanilla-scented ricotta filling. This alone is worth the trip.


Primi, 10543 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles; (310) 475-9235. Open Monday through Friday for lunch; Monday through Saturday for dinner. Valet parking. Dinner appetizers $7 to $11; pastas $ 12 to $14; main courses $19 to $25.

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