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THE GUIDE / RESTAURANTS: EARLY BIRD

In Long Beach, vintage is Italian

October 20, 2008|S. Irene Virbila | Times Restaurant Critic

You KNOW the neighborhood's changing when a wine bar goes in, and that's what's happened on an otherwise sleepy section of Atlantic Avenue in Long Beach, where La Vineria Italiana is now accepting wine buffs.

It's owned by two Italian sommeliers, both from northern Italy: Riccardo Dal Santo, who is also the chef, grew up in the Veneto, while Davide Visentin is a native of Piedmont.

The space is sleek, a bit on the stark side. The decoration consists mostly of posters of a Vespa and a homely Fiat. But the pizza oven's bright embers (fake -- the oven's actually gas-fired) cast a warm glow from behind the long counter. The wines are all Italian, certo, and almost all available by the glass.

The partners are careful to include the big names, but not too many. They've also larded the one-page list with bottles from smaller producers. Top picks include the 2005 Pino Bianco from Hofstatter and the 2006 Nebbiolo Langhe from Produttori del Barbaresco, both very affordable.

You might want to start with a glass of sparkling spumante while you look over the menu and nibble on matchsticks of fennel and carrots dipped in olive oil. Order a plate of the delicious Parma prosciutto with creamy, fresh local burrata. There's a lovely octopus salad made with sliced, sweet pale octopus, celery and boiled potatoes, and also an arugula, endive and radicchio salad dotted with walnuts.

Pizzas are medium-sized, big enough to share, with sparse toppings in the Italian style. Though they don't have the characteristic smokiness of ones cooked in a wood-burning oven, they're better than most. Pass up the one adorned with smoked salmon and fresh mozzarella or the pie embellished with truffle oil and go for something simpler and more authentic, the straightforward Margherita, here accented with oregano rather than the traditional basil, or the pizza topped with fresh mozzarella, prosciutto and rosemary.

The night I visited, the kitchen had actually run out of pasta. "We make it all handmade for each day, and tonight we never expected to be so busy," the waiter explained. When we expressed our disappointment, he managed to rustle up the very last order of pappardelle so we could try the special amatriciana. Though the sauce needed more hot pepper, I loved the way the tomato was suffused with the sweet taste of pork fat.

As for sweets, why not stick with the wine theme? Share a glass of Passito di Pantelleria, a sweet wine from the island of Pantelleria off Sicily made from dried Muscat grapes.

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virbila@latimes.com

La Vineria Italiana, 4020 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach. 5:30-10:30 p.m. Tue.-Sun. Antipasti and salads, $8.50-$13.95; pizza, $11.95-$14.50; pasta and risotto, $15.95-$19.50; main courses, $18.50-$28.95; wines by the glass, $8-$23. (562) 988-9500, www.lavineriaitaliana.com.

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