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EATS: Restaurant Reviews and News | COUNTER INTELLIGENCE

Generous Portions of Italian Attitude

At Antica Pizzeria, the food is traditional, and so is the leisurely approach to eating.

September 17, 1998|CHARLES PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There are ristoranti where you go for the wholesome vegetables and lightly grilled Tuscan meats. There are others where the thrill is a warm Italian family feeling, or maybe just the killer tiramisu.

Antica Pizzeria is where you go when you want to fantasize that you're actually in Italy. It seems oblivious to the fact that it's in Marina Del Rey. Or California, for that matter.

In reality, you're on the second floor of the Villa Marina Marketplace, overlooking a huge shopping plaza. You can see into a retro-'40s burger shop on the other side of the escalator, and the Gelson's entrance is right around the corner. But all that seems far away.

It's not because of the decor, though there's a pleasant mural of an Italian street scene--depicting a rather empty street, seen over the shoulder of somebody who's playing some bizarre giant lute. Nor is it because of the dining patio with umbrella tables and lots of plants.

The real reason is that Antica Pizzeria is saturated with Italian attitude. You've come here to eat; bene, take your time. Nobody would dream of placing demands on you--not in a place consecrated to eating, God forbid.

And the food is saturated with Italianness too. When Giuseppe Miele opened the original Antica Pizzeria on Third Street, next to L.A. Trattoria, it was the first American pizzeria to belong to La Vera Pizza Napoletana, an organization of Neapolitan pizza purists.

So all the pizzas are cooked on the bottom of a wood-burning brick oven, and the moderately thin crust is made of nothing but flour, water and yeast. No wacky American (or Californian) pizza toppings allowed, just the classics, made with the classic ingredients. These pizzas aren't flashy, but they're going exactly where they want to go. Their oven-blistered crusts have the honest savor that made pizza a Neapolitan working man's pleasure in the 19th century.

The toppings are a mostly familiar litany--capricciosa, quattro stagioni, quattro formaggi (but they can be customized with more ingredients at $1.75 an addition). It's hard to beat the simple pizza Margherita, because of an excellent sweet, fresh mozzarella, but you might want to try one of the interesting tomato-less models, such as carrettiera, topped with escarole, ricotta, Parmesan and black olives. A "pizza bun" is like fresh pita bread stuffed with, say, sausage, goat cheese and rapini.

An inconspicuous box lists some other things cooked in the pizza oven. There's a roasted chicken cooked so brown it seems like duck, and a humble cupcake-sized version of timpano, the pie stuffed with pasta and a meaty sauce that starred in the movie "Big Night." The best of the oven dishes is listed among the main entrees--it's salcicce del ghiottone, two coarse Italian sweet sausages, oozing grease and snapping with flavor, with polenta and spinach.

Before hitting the pizzas, you may have looked at the fairly short list of appetizers, which includes good grilled vegetables, OK fried calamari and a terrific bruschetta: two slices of ciabatta toast loaded with very ripe tomatoes. The antipasto caprese (mozzarella and tomatoes) features the same wonderful cheese as the pizza Margherita.

On the salad list, the best choice is the substantial walnut and Gorgonzola, notable, again, for a richly flavored cheese. Pass on the Caesar salad. It has crisp fresh croutons but a shockingly insipid dressing.

The pastas are easy to take, but not a reason to come here. There's always a ravioli of the day, such as beef in tomato sauce, and a lasagna of the day: e.g., Bolognese, soft baked pasta sheets in a meaty sauce with a tomato and Parmesan flavor. The gnocchi are extremely soft all the way through (you get a huge soup plate of them mixed with fresh tomato sauce), but the risotto is on the dry, even chewy, side.

Nor is dessert much of a specialty. There's a photo-illustrated catalog of Italian pastries and ice cream novelties that you may have seen in another restaurant or two. They're OK, though the profiteroles tend to be a little mushy, and the panna cotta is actually just creme caramel (your bill even lists it that way).

Well, take it or leave it. Antica Pizzeria is like a radio station that blissfully plays oldies and has never imagined wanting to do anything else.

BE THERE

Antica Pizzeria, second floor, Villa Marina Marketplace, 13455 Maxella Ave., Marina del Rey, (310) 577-8182; fax 301-7014. Open 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Beer and wine. Ground-floor parking. All major cards. Dinner for two, food only, $28-$46.

What to Get: bruschetta, walnut and Gorgonzola salad, timpano, pizza Margherita, pizza bun with sausage, salcicce del ghiottone.

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