If you do want to bask in the patina of old Venice at Ca' Brea, order carefully and you can get a respectable meal. Start with either the verdure or the salumi along with an order of bruschetta, then have the melanzane or that fluffy gnocchi. For a secondo, consider the Kurobuta pork chop, which is much more straightforward than many of the fussy mains. It's perfectly cooked, rosy and juicy, a fine piece of meat. And don't forget to check out the daily specials.
Look around, and almost every diner is indulging in dessert. Ca' Brea's specialty is a big bowl of floury vanilla cream custard topped with what tastes very much like caramel sauce bought from a restaurant supply. Go figure. It's a childhood comfort food, I guess. Better, I think, is the tortina alla Veneziana, a delicate ricotta cheesecake served with strawberry and blueberry sauces. Or better yet, a glass of rustic grappa or an amaro (bitter digestivo from Italy). Followed, of course, by an espresso, dark and short.
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Rating: Half a star
Location: 346 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 938-2863; www.cabrearestaurant.com.
Ambience: Cozy Italian with dark wood, open kitchen and a handsome, enclosed patio.
Service: Warm and friendly.
Price: Antipasti, $7 to $12; pasta, $11 to $18; main courses, $18 to $24; desserts, $5.50 to $7.
Best dishes: Melanzane al Grana Padano, bruschetta with tomato and basil, verdure antipasti, salumi plate, potato gnocchi in meat sauce, ravioli alla zucca, Kurobuta pork chop, osso buco, tortino alla veneziana.
Wine list: Perfunctory selection of Italian wines from the usual suspects, along with standard California selections. Corkage fee, $16.
Best table: One at the back of the dining room.
Details: Open for lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and for dinner 5 to 10:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and 5 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Valet parking, $5.50.
Rating is based on food, service and ambience, with price taken into account in relation to quality. ****: Outstanding on every level. ***: Excellent. **: Very good. *: Good. No star: Poor to satisfactory.