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THE REVIEW

Ado in Venice

Chef-owner Antonio Muré has impressed elsewhere, but the indifferent service and a pricey and scattershot menu outweigh the handful of dishes that work.

August 26, 2009|S. IRENE VIRBILA | RESTAURANT CRITIC

When I pull up to Ado, the new Italian restaurant that's moved into the old Amuse space on Main Street in Venice, chef-owner Antonio Mure is standing in his whites in the doorway, his dark hair pulled into a ponytail, so chic he looks as if he's waiting for Vogue photographer Steven Meisel to show up any minute.

The place is adorable, a yellow two-story building that was built in 1908 and was once used to house railroad workers -- before it became the coffeehouse Van Gogh's Ear and later Brooke Williamson's short-lived Amuse cafe.

Mure has put in time behind the stoves at Locanda Veneta, Piccolo and his own Melograno, which closed earlier this year. His partner is Paolo Cesaro of Via Veneto and the recently shuttered Hidden, both in Santa Monica.

Compared with Melograno's focus on the chef's native Piedmont, Ado's menu seems scattershot, a mix of conventional L.A. Italian dishes and others dressed up with fancy ingredients to appeal to somebody's idea of luxe. It's as if he decided authentic and regional don't work, scratch those and go with what he thinks plays in L.A. -- big portions, luxury ingredients, fancy plating.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, August 28, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 62 words Type of Material: Correction
Ado review: In Wednesday's Food section, a review of Ado, an Italian restaurant in Venice, said that chef-owner Antonio Mure had cooked at "Locanda Veneta, Piccolo and his own Melograno." He neither owned nor cooked at Melograno; in addition to Locanda Veneta and Piccolo, Mure had been involved with La Botte in Santa Monica and the now-closed Il Carpaccio in Pacific Palisades.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, September 02, 2009 Home Edition Food Part E Page 2 Features Desk 2 inches; 67 words Type of Material: Correction
Ado review: An Aug. 26 review of Ado, an Italian restaurant in Venice, said that chef-owner Antonio Mure had cooked at Locanda Veneta, Piccolo and his own Melograno. However, Mure was not an owner of Melograno, and he did not cook there. In addition to Locanda Veneta and Piccolo, Mure had been involved with La Botte in Santa Monica and the now-shuttered Il Carpaccio in Pacific Palisades.

And why name it Ado? It's easily confused with Ago: too close to Ago for comfort. In fact, I had to head off a couple of guests who were heading to Agostino Sciandri's well-known West Hollywood spot.

The space is a natural for a trattoria serving rustic authentic fare. But Mure and Cesaro have other ideas.

I love walking past the chef's table downstairs with a view of the kitchen, up the narrow wooden stairs to the upstairs dining room with its bare wood beams and soft brown walls. The windows are open to the breeze, and there's a tiny terrace outside with a few tables fit close together. It feels very bohemian and enchanting. And incredibly loud as the partying crowd gets deeper into their wine.

Menus are handed out. "Water -- sparkling or still?" The wine list. I look in vain for a mid-priced Chianti Classico or Ruffino, a lusty Barbera or even an Orvieto I'd like to drink. But this list has only a handful of wines under $50. The one Chianti I find is a 2003 Capannelle Riserva at $83. Pass. If you want to spend more, a lot more, you can drink Tignanello, Solaia or Sassacaia, all priced above $300. And wines by the glass? Dull, dull, dull. Finally, I settle on a bottle of Speri Valpolicella Ripasso for $46. Meanwhile, a second bottle of water has been opened (without anyone asking) and poured and we're already down $14 for water before we've even taken a bite.

--

High hopes dashed

I've enjoyed Mure's cooking at Piccolo and at Melograno, so I'm looking forward to this meal. At Ado, though, he seems to be off his game. Some dishes are fine, oddly enough, more appetizers and main courses than pastas. And some of his more elaborate ideas seem woefully wrongheaded.

The best dish in the house? Crudo d'orata -- thinly sliced raw sea bream garnished with red onion, capers, olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. The fish is very fresh, the taste bright and citrusy. Passed around the table, the crudo disappears in a flash.

Instead of the standard beef carpaccio, Mure sometimes makes his with buffalo. It's a beautiful rosette of overlapping slices of raw beef with a thatch of baby arugula in the center and a drizzle of mustard. Quail prosciutto is made in house, slices of the tiny cured breast with a swirl of Gorgonzola sauce. It has a mild, gamy flavor, but, really quail prosciutto is just a bit twee, don't you think?

And things go downhill from there. I'm intrigued by the grilled cuttlefish with fava beans, but what arrives is a tall bowl of pureed fava -- in other words soup -- garnished with a piece of cuttlefish. Who could eat this much bland fava puree? And the poor cuttlefish is drowned. Warm baby artichoke and crab salad is just awful. Turned out of a cylindrical mold, it has the texture of wet sawdust. The crab is tired, the whole thing salty.

Waiters seem intent on turning the tables, interrupting your conversation to relate the specials, refill water and take your order.

Now here comes the shell game: The server tells you about the special, tagliatelle with black truffles, neglecting to mention the price. Or that these are not the famed black truffles gourmandes go crazy over. They are the much, much less expensive summer truffles from Italy. Lacking much scent or flavor, they bear little resemblance to the dreamy black Perigord truffle, which is what is usually meant by "black truffle."

Making matters worse, the waiter tells us that at $35, these are "very inexpensive considering that they say white truffles from Alba are going to be $3,000 a pound this fall." Irrelevant! These truffles have nothing to do with white truffles! Since this deliberate truffle confusion has been going since Mure's Piccolo days, I can only assume there are lots of gullible eaters out there eager enough for the truffle experience that they go for it.

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