I have eaten at a dozen Italian restaurants in the Los Angeles area over the past year, but the one that reminds me most of being in the actual country of Italy is Piccolo in Venice. This is partly due to its location which, like many of the places I loved in Italy, is a quick pedestrian turn off of a main road (in this case the freak filled boardwalk) onto an alley walking street and voila, you feel as if you’ve entered a charming Italian home. An intimate room where a fireplace glows, waiters are snappy in the dim light to take your coat, and once you sit and start to settle the smells from the small kitchen float to the nose full of deep dark meats and doughy delirium.
Piccolo was also the first restaurant I ever tried in Venice, marking both a friend’s birthday dinner and the night I decided I was going to move to the beach to finish my novel so perhaps maintains an elevated rosy hue in my mind for those reasons. In any case, I wanted to take the Cute Gardener there for a while now and finally got a chance to this past weekend.
Overall, our meal was as delicious as I remembered. It included adorable, tiny black balls of squid ink bread with verdant olive oil; a moist focaccia I actually liked (nine times out of ten I don’t); a yummy sweetbread patty starter that arrived atop a dollop of polenta underneath a runny quail egg with tangy marsala sauce; a subtle quail sugo spaghettini; and a top-notch beef tenderloin agnolotti of perfectly thin pockets of meat swimming in an aggressive garlic oil and rosemary sauce. The only downfall to Piccolo is that it is very expensive per dish when you consider the actual amount of food you are getting so we decided to skip a third course, headed straight to a tiny mascarpone and ganache dessert and ended up seeking out another place in town for more food.
As we were eating at place number two for the evening, we were thinking about the price of Piccolo. It doesn’t happen to me often, but when I thought of the maybe eight tiny pieces of pasta in my bowl, I got a little frustrated. How can anyone possibly get sated on something so scant?
So we decided to do an experiment. The next day, after ice-skating in Santa Monica, we went to Piccolo’s supposedly cheap and cheerful sister Hostaria del Piccolo, owned by the same people but offering simpler and less sophisticated fare. It seemed to be doing well considering they had opened a second Hostaria location in Venice just a few weeks ago.
Lured in by the egg dishes on the brunch menu, we ended up beginning with pig ears instead and what a beautiful thing they were. Super julienned and fried perfectly so that you got some crunch but didn’t lose your teeth, the generous pile was served with a side of mellow salsa verde that provided a perfect soothe to the fry. We were also instantly impressed by the service, almost as if we were still in the upscale version from the night before.
We tried a sausage and pepper pizza although were surprised when the “pepper” came as really just a drizzle pureed pepper sauce on the already cooked pie. The dough was a little soft for my taste but the nicely sliced sausage was wonderfully integrated with the melted cheese and the green olives. I discovered that green olives are a perfect salty compliment to melted cheese and dough.
The spinach tagliatelle pasta was homey and savory like chicken noodle soup albeit a tad bit overdone on the noodles. All in all, for an impromptu lazy Sunday stop for a bite it was above the norm. It was almost akin to my enjoyment of Pizza Antica, other Sunday funday faves.
The bottom line is I love both Piccolos. One, I can go to once a year or on special occasions when I have a bigger budget to order more dishes and the other I can duck into with friends for a scrumptious, eight dollar plate of pig ears. I can equally see myself doing both.
Piccolo was chosen by Zagat as one of Los Angeles’ Top Ten Restaurants in 2012. Not Top Ten Italian restaurants, but restaurants in general. That is certainly saying something … that I have excellent taste … (said with a wink and a smile as I try to determine what else I am going to make on a green olive pizza at home for my next restaurant-inspired challenge…)