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RESTAURANTS: Early Bird

Cecconi's makes the WeHo scene

March 16, 2009|S. IRENE VIRBILA | RESTAURANT CRITIC

No other new restaurant has felt so poised to challenge the Ivy. Give a big welcome to Cecconi's, which arrives in West Hollywood via London. The new venue opened in time to host a pre-Oscar cocktail party, then worked out the kinks during a week when everything but the drinks were at half price. The kinks aren't entirely gone: The kitchen seems to be having some trouble getting the food out warm.

But that doesn't seem to faze the crowd three and four deep at the bar furnished with the same sweet table lamps as the London original. For anybody who frequented the old Morton's, though, Cecconi's layout is so different, it's hard to get oriented or even remember what Morton's used to look like. The bar dominates the middle of the dining room with room for a handful of tables on either side. And now there's a broad terrace out front screened from the street by a tall, very green hedge. And this is definitely where you want to sit.

The cooking for such a scene restaurant is better than it needs to be. The chef is Mirko Paderno, who knows scene: He was the opening chef at Dolce restaurant and also at All' Angelo restaurant farther east on Melrose. But his job at Cecconi's is more like running a hotel restaurant: It's open continuously from 7 a.m. for breakfast, lunch, dinner and a late night menu until midnight or 1 a.m. most nights.

The other surprise is the prices: not expensive as these places go. You can get half-portions of pasta and risotto from $10 to $12 and half-portions of salads, too, in the same price range -- perfect for those who prefer to toy with their food rather than eat.

But why not give it up for a plate of veal meatballs in tomato sauce or charred octopus and olives drenched in lemon? Other appetizers include carpaccio (to show off Cecconi's Venetian roots), steak tartare and farmers market salads. Our pizza, unfortunately, arrived with gobs of cold mozzarella on top.

Pappardelle with homemade sausage makes the cut. And as for main courses, Santa Barbara prawns with escarole and anchovy works well enough. You can get a decent veal chop, steak fiorentina and even a whole roast chicken for two, which comes in at $18 per person. Not bad. Not bad at all considering the price of the real estate.

Add in some interesting desserts (blood orange cake, for example), and I expect to see Cecconi's doing a brisk business. Scene plus location plus Italian food has always been the formula for success in L.A. Whether they can do lunch -- and breakfast -- remains to be seen.

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virbila@latimes.com

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Cecconi's

Where: 8764 Melrose Ave. (at Robertson), West Hollywood

When: Open from 7 a.m. to midnight Monday to Wednesday, 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. Thursday to Saturday and 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday; full bar; valet parking

Price: Dinner appetizers and salads, $9 to $18; pizza, $15 to $18; pasta and risotto, $10 to $22; charcoal grill and wood oven items, $16 to $38; sides, $6; desserts, $9; breakfast and lunch items less expensive

Contact: (310) 432-2000; www.cecconiswesthollywood.com

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