Excellent service sets La Vineria Italiana apart

la-vineria-italiana.jpgBy Vicki Paris Goodman
Arts and Entertainment Editor

La Vineria Italiana’s rather nondescript drive-by curb appeal doesn’t do it justice. The restaurant is quite attractive inside, with its minimalist architectural detail creating the perfect non-competing backdrop for some impressive features. For instance, a pristine metallic structure looms large in one corner of the wholly visible kitchen area- the shiny contraption is a pizza oven straight out of Star Wars. A well ordered display of bottles of wine doubles as a geometric work of art while functioning as the restaurant’s wine cellar, prominently placed for ready viewing through floor-to-ceiling clear glass.
Décor and furnishings are similar to that of many upscale eateries these days, with neutral-toned walls, earthy stained concrete floors and bar counter, and dark wood tables and chairs. Nary a window treatment exists to break up the clean lines. Contrasting white tablecloths augment the immaculate look. And after dark, tea lights mounted on the walls and window sills create a romantic ambience.
The Italian staff are very competent and eager to please. Several of them served us, or checked up on us, throughout our meal. The attention struck me as conscientious and caring, and not at all confused or hovering.
Some might say the space’s many hard surfaces and minimal decoration lack warmth. If that’s true, then the friendly attentiveness of the restaurant’s owners and wait staff more than make up for it.
Judging from the restaurant’s website, as well as the slightly surprised smile we received upon opting not to order wine, it seems pretty clear that a primary focus of the restaurant is the wine and wine bar. Which might lead some to wonder- how’s the food?
Glad you asked. Excellent freshly baked focaccia bread was brought to our table almost immediately after we were seated. It was served with a very good mixture of olive oil and red balsamic vinegar. Sam and I struggled just a bit with the menu, as the descriptions lack some specificity. Our very willing waiter did his best to answer our questions through a slight language barrier. And we ultimately made decisions we were very happy with.
Sam and I shared a salad ($7.50) of very fresh Italian radicchio, Belgian endive, arugula, walnut bits and shavings of pungent pecorino cheese. A light vinaigrette dressed the leafy greens and purples arranged in a neat pile on the plate. I loved the subtle bitterness of the Belgian endive with the other flavors.
We decided to order one main course from the Primi (pasta) selections and one from the Secondi (meat) dishes, and share both. The Homemade Pappardelle in a White Meat Sauce ($16.95) was ample, unusual and just delicious. Ultra wide (11/2 inch) pappardelle pasta, served perfectly al dente, arrived with a generous sauce of ground pork, veal and turkey. Astonishingly good, this is a dish I’d order again and again.
The Tilapia Filet Foiled and Baked with Cherry Tomatoes and Kalamata Olives ($19.95) looked impressive as delivered in its bright metallic “envelope.” A lovely salad lay on the plate aside the foiled fish. The tilapia was wonderfully flaky and moist, deriving additional flavors from the tomatoes, olives and a slice of lemon baked with it. Another dish I’d order again.
The finely grated fresh parmesan supplied with our entrees even improved the two dishes that truly needed no improvement.
As we prepared to leave, we walked over to get a better look at the wine cellar, wine bar and kitchen area. Although the restaurant was filling up with diners by then, co-owner Riccardo Dal Santo took the time to explain some of the restaurant’s highlights. (And I’m confident he didn’t know I was reviewing his restaurant for the paper.) Both Dal Santo and co-owner Davide Visentin come from Italy and are experienced restaurant chefs and certified Italian sommeliers.
On exiting, we noticed some “al fresco” diners who had been seated at tables on the outdoor patio, which sports a sculptural water feature- the patio is a nice option for mild evenings.
Although La Vineria Italiana’s a la carte menu is just a bit pricey to allow for us to visit frequently, Sam and I thought the food and service were superb. We look forward to our next visit, when we will sample the pizza from that enormous futuristic pizza oven. And perhaps we’ll even sit at the wine bar so we can view the chefs preparing our food.
Bixby Knolls certainly has benefited handsomely of late from the opening of several upscale Italian restaurants. I’m happy to report that La Vineria Italiana has a unique formula that sets it apart from its competition. It is another fine addition to the neighborhood.
La Vineria Italiana is located at 4020 Atlantic Ave. in Bixby Knolls (Long Beach). Open for dinner only. Hours are Tuesday thru Sunday 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.; closed Monday. Corkage is free on Tuesdays. Reservations are accepted. Phone (562) 988-9500. View the restaurant’s simple and attractive website at www.lavineriaitaliana.com.

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