Locanda del Lago
231 Arizona Ave
Santa Monica, CA
I work on the Promenade.
Yes, I work on Third Street Promenade. Not near 3rd Street Promenade. Not around 3rd Street Promenade. I work on Third Street Promenade.
No, I do not wear a black smock and stalk customers with a wand of lipgloss and a spritzer full of fruity musk giving away samples of very expensive skincare products. No, I don’t play an instrument, sing, or dance. No, I do not brandish a clipboard and beg complete strangers to watch a movie, get a haircut, or come to Jesus.
My office has moved to the Promenade.
It doesn’t help my shopping habit.
Nor does it really help my dining adventures, because let’s face it, y’all. The dining options on and around the Promenade are pretty tragic. If it’s not the food court in the mall on one end, then it’s a choice of chains on the other end, with devastatingly overpriced mediocrity in between. There are mild- to moderately better options slightly off the beaten Promenade path, but really now, how may times can one go to Hooters?
You can never get enough Hooters!
We went to Locanda del Lago, an Italian restaurant on the corner of Arizona and 3rd Street. I had never been there before because 1) Locanda del Lago, or "Lago" for the natives, is on the Promenade, and 2) Lago is Italian food (I guess I'm a native now) and why would go all the way to *gack* 3rd Street Promenade to eat Italian food for dinner when I live all of three smacks of a stiletto heel from Little Italy? But I work on the Promenade which means I spend more than 50% of my waking hours there, and Italian food and I are in that slow, painful process of getting to know each other again.
Lago is "made up" Italian, the same way the Venetian in Vegas is "made up" Venetian. It's dark inside, and though it seems to leave the tourist-ic chaos of the Promenade on the sidewalk, it is still loud and busy just below the annoying point. We had to wait for a bit for a table to be ready, then sashayed our way over a "bridge"-for-effect, squoze between tables, and shimmied past what seemed mostly like couples. I hope they really were tourists, because a non-tourist would never bring a date to the Promenade unless s/he wants to go home alone.
I know almost nothing about Italian food, so I couldn't authoritateively say from where the cooking comes, but since I am a web ninja (I can't tell you about this secret weapon I call "google?!"), I can refer to a semi-expert and say that Lago serves food from in and around the Lake District of northern Italy. Of course, I am still not sure what that means other than 1) there are no meatballs and 2) I know where the restaurant's name "Lago" comes from now.
I wasn't all that interested in the bread, though I did have a taste because good a food blogger tastes everything! It defintiely tasted like...bread. Next!
Because I have gustatory ADD, I couldn't force myself to order a full entree. Gnocchi was tempting, but the kitchen decided to taint it with truffles, so I ordered instead two sides as small plates: and Cavolini di BuxellesPolenta ai Funghi Trifolati. For those of you who didn't get to spend a semester abroad in Italy, that's "Brussels Sprouts" and "Polenta with Porcini Mushrooms." I didn't spend a semester in Italy, but there is a translation on the menu, you know.
The Brussels sprouts were well done. They were neither bitterly undercooked nor overcooked to a pulp. I usually eat Brussels sprouts simply steamed with a little salt, so their being sauteed in butter was an oily, but pleasantly decadent, surprise. I still had to add a little bit of salt, but with a shake out of the way, I could have been perfectly content with another order of the tiny half cabbages and another bottle of wine.
I have mixed feelings about polenta. On the one hand, polenta is slightly exotic and relatively new. I realize, of course, that cornmeal has been around since the dawn of time, but in the small scheme of things, serving it as "polenta" is a more recent development as compared to, say, rice or spaghetti. On the other hand, polenta just seems like a yellow version of Cream of Wheat. Whoa. It's like an externally Asian version of ninety-nine cent white trash! Like me. I ignored the latter hand and quite enjoyed the soft, creamy polenta, though like the Brussels sprouts, it seemed a little heavy on oil. I understand the appeal of a "drizzle of olive oil," but the kitchen went Rachael Ray and was a little overzealous with the ee-vee-oh-oh.
Most of my attention through dinner was focused on the conversation rather than the meal. Even when the management sent desserts to the table on the house, I took notice because I was impressed by that (I know that could go both ways - either it means "someone is oohlala special" or "you come here a lot, spend lots if money to impress, so we will help you"), but I never missed a beat of the conversation. I cannot for the life of me remember a single thing about which we talked. Perhaps the wine had kicked in harder better faster stronger than usual. Perhaps the conversation truly was just conversation and nothing of particular depth or importance, but the act of conversing was so fast and natural that we couldn't stop. I love that. I love conversation that doens't have to be about anything, but the act of conversing itself. Intelligent, quick, witty, challenging. Cut-down. Comeback. Turnaround. It turns me on like you wouldn't believe, but I won't get into that now.
Dinner at Lago was longer than expected expressly for that. I am not sure I would go back to Lago just for the food, but good company and good conversation, I will go anywhere.
** a year ago today, it was getting dark, jim. or dahk-jjim **