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The Beach Gourmet: Locanda Del Lago or The Inn Of The Lake

Lake Como in Northern Italy is renowned for its natural beauty, it’s quixotic qualities and seductive cuisine. Locanda Del Lago justifiably boasts these attributes in a single setting on the corner of Arizona Avenue and the Third Street Promenade, and during a recent visit a guest and I experienced a most welcoming atmosphere of Italian warmth, villa-esque décor and tantalizing gastronomic treats as we escaped from the urban hub-hub and the human circus of the Promenade’s skateboarders, troubadours and strange performers.

Authentic Italian in Los Angeles County often means a portrait of the Pope on the wall, an actor playing the role of server called Marco, but whose real name is Mark hailing from Ohio, real plastic trees, and a menu consisting mainly of pizza and spaghetti bolognaise. Lago has, since it’s natural birth 17 years ago, maintained bone fide Italian credibility with it’s original décor, authentic cuisine and on our visit, a studied and charming Italian server honestly named Enrico. Yes, Lago is the real Northern Italian deal.

We took our picture perfect table situated near the window, giving us cinematic views of the shadow play that is the Promenade in the evening, as well as fine views of the dining room itself. Enrico wasted no time in bringing us a basket of fresh breads as well as a delicate specialty that resembled wafer thin napkin cones, created by dry frying Parmesan cheese. This creation was succulently priceless.

Lago’s menu is rich, varied and seasonal, with copious choices of appetizers, main courses, specialties and desserts, as well as substantial options of soups and salads, sandwiches and sides, and of course pizzas, this time though, more of the gourmet variety, with tempters like a Diavola (spicy salami Calabrese, oregano, fresh mozzarella and tomato sauce, $15.50) and Quattro Stagioni (marinated artichoke, garlic-parsley sautéed mushrooms, nicoise olives and thin-sliced ham over mozzarella and tomato $16.50).

Appetizers were, well, appetizing, and for myself it was the Burrata alla Caprese con Balsamico (chopped Roma tomato with fresh burrata cheese in balsamic vinaigrette, flavored with basil-infused olive oil, $14.95). It was a welcoming doorway into what was to be a villa of vibrant tastes, fresh and lively and yet with a sublime quality that invited the palette to explore more substantial flavors. The perfect pathfinder indeed.

For my partner Dale, the gastronomic first scene was played by Insalata Mista (mixed greens with shaved celery, carrot and sliced Roma tomato in a lemon dressing, $9.95). Compact and tidy with simple, fresh ingredients, the lemon dressing light and uncomplicated, just what an Italian salad should be.

Enrico entertained us both with colorful nostalgic tales of his homeland, and as I listened I could almost smell the scents of Sicily, feel the history of Rome, and for just a brief moment, I had a vision of Brando in The Godfather, but my entrée was another kind of star altogether, a piscatory player that appeared on the menu as Salmone ai Porri e Senape (pan-roasted Atlantic salmon fillet with sautéed leeks in Dijon mustard sauce over black basmati rice pilaf, $25.95).

A delicious piece of fish perfectly prepared accompanied by quite the most thoughtful escorts of tender leeks, a subtle and finely flavored sauce and rice that had a definite risotto quality. A strong recommendation for any seafood enthusiasts indeed.

Dale, chose Costata di Manzo allo Scalogno (grilled 18 oz. bone-in rib eye steak finished with roasted shallot-red wine reduction and served with grilled asparagus and chive mashed potatoes, $33.95)

Ordered well done it arrived as specified, so well done, chef. The generous cut retained it’s juice and flavor whilst having a slightly crisp exterior. Again, the shallot red wine reduction was subtle, more complimentary than dominant, a hallmark of good balance and skilled use of ingredients. The asparagus and mashed potatoes were very tasty, with particular merit being awarded to the potatoes, as they were divinely smooth and satisfying.

We couldn’t depart from Lago without caressing our palates with a sweet farewell, and so we sampled a most delicious dessert. Semifreddo di Zabaione Pralinato (home-made frozen hazelnut ice cream cake drizzled with caramel sauce, $8.95) was scintillating but delightfully light, and if any of the other desserts are up to this standard, then this diner strongly suggests a final indulgence.

A restaurant needs more than excellent food, attractive décor and good service to become great. There is one essential addition to the aforementioned qualities required to elevate the standard of the diner’s experience, and that is the mood set by the staff. Locanda Del Lago can take pride in the fact that on our visit the ambassadors of this restaurant exuded an air of delectation that was as generous as the rib eye steak was large and as sweet as the dessert.

There is no need to search for a lake to enjoy a welcome at this “inn,” simply visit 231 Arizona Avenue in Santa Monica or call them at 310.451.3525. to make a reservation (not essential).

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