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There is good pizza in Los Angeles, but there is also hyped pizza which may not necessarily be great. Fortunately, there are times when both the hype and the food deserve praise. I have never eaten at Roberta’s in NYC, so when they opened in Culver City, I looked forward to finally getting a taste of NYC pizza in Los Angeles. Even though we went for pizza, we decided to try the pasta as well since they had one on special that night. Honestly I can’t say it was memorable enough to write about since the flavor was more about the mountain of parmiggiano than the duck ragu. At $18 for a small plate, it was enough for a meal for a small eater, or a serving to share as a side dish.

The original pizza is $18 and again could feed one person, or if you order something else, you could split it, but it is too thin and small to really be your only order for 2 people. Nice chewy crust, but burnt and with an unexciting sauce. There were condiments on the table, but for the price there should have been no need for do it yourself seasoning. Service was professional, and the atmosphere is great on the patio, but the interior noise level was so high with the sound bouncing off all the hard surfaces, that my dinner companion and I had to shout to hear what the other person wanted to order. We ended up speaking to the server individually because even she had trouble hearing our order!

Pizzana was so booked on a week-end night that I gave up trying to go to stand and wait for 1 or 2 hours, so one week day evening while driving past, I took a chance and asked at the valet how long the wait was before handing over the car keys. It turned out that 7pm on a Tuesday night is a great time to go, with barely a 10 minute wait for a patio table. The $16 chop salad was full of flavor, Italian salami, and provolone. It was a very hearty savory salad, with chickpeas, avocado, and olives that could easily be a meal for one or is perfect to share with a pizza.

The classic margherita for $19 was worth every penny for their use of authentic quality ingredients like fio di latte and san marzano dop polpa. The crust was magnificently crisp, with nice chew, and served on a metal tray with holes to allow the hot steam to escape rather than make the crust soggy. The flavors were clean and needed no additions to perk up the pizza. It was large enough for 2 to share and if you had a monster appetite, you would be very full if you could finish it.

Nothing in Los Angeles compares to Pizzarium in Rome, but that is why we travel 😉

Some places have wonderful views and terrible food, some places have wonderful food and no view. There is a story told of a few places have that unique combination of both wonderful views and wonderful food. Like a unicorn, the existence of the ultimate view and food combination is a mythical fairy tale that I wish to believe is true, so I keep looking for it…

Elephante was rumored to be one of those places. So on one of the many sunny warm Sundays in Southern California, I went with my neighbors, two of whom had been there before and told me that they enjoyed it.

We were one of the few tables with a child, and because we had reservations, we got one of the premiere view tables on the patio overlooking the Pacific. The vibe on a Sunday early afternoon was definitely a see and be seen. Younger crowd (at my age that translates to 20-30’s) all dressed and groomed to the hilt, and everyone had roving eyes to see who had just arrived and who was to be the center of attention. It was a telling sign of the clientele that the private elevator to the top had a security guard who had just kicked out a young woman with a fake ID because he said she had the same name and birthday as the ID of another woman in her group! Ahhh to be that eager to be part of the “in crowd” and to be that careless in trying to pass off a fake ID!

Our view was spectacular!

One of our group is vegetarian, so our choices veered towards the meatless. The brussel sprouts with a mountain of pecorino for $13 was a fresh but not perky salad. The dressing was lemon and white balsamic, but we could taste neither.


The fried calamari for $14 with balsamic aioli was perfectly fried and tender, and we appreciated that the tentacles were included in the serving.

The whipped eggplant for $12 had a pleasant smooth texture, but gave none of us any desire to order it again aside from the warm soft puff of bread that came with it to be torn apart for dipping.


The mushroom wood-fired pizzas for $20 each were decent with a nice assortment of cremini, maitake, and oyster mushrooms, lemon cream and parmigiano reggiano were decent but not noteworthy.

This is a good choice for a few bites but do not expect the be awed;

that is why there is a view 🙂

Bonci’s Pizzarium is my paradigm for pizza, and there just is no rival for the best of the best. Alas I am thousands of miles away from my favorite, but I found two worthy substitutes in the South Bay.

Locale 90 has two locations in the heart of Riviera Village in Redondo, and on Hermosa Avenue in Hermosa Beach. I loved their Puttanesca with white anchovies, olives, capers, oregano, and chili flakes with a red sauce made with san marzano crushed tomatoes. Although they say the pizza is for one, this $14 plate was two meals for me, so it’s not as pricey as it may seem. The crust had the perfect chew, and although it is not as thin as in in Naples, the added bit of thickness helped hold the toppings so you could pick it up to eat it.

I also tried their Sopressata salami with smoked mozzarella and roasted peppers for $15, which had nice flavors, but the puttanesca was my favorite.

Both locations offer a nice selection of beer and wine, and the Smog City IPA was a perfect accompaniment to the pizza.

Il Romanista is one of the few places in Los Angeles serving up Roman style square pieces like Pizzarium. The sell by slice, not weight, but the spirit of the place is like Pizzarium, with varied choices of fresh ingredients for a very reasonable price for the quality at only $3.50-$4.50 per slice. One slice is good as an appetizer, two for a meal, and three if you are very hungry! This mixed mushroom slice was good on its own, but even better with some red pepper flakes.

They had one slice of squash blossom and goat cheese left, so my friend and I shared it 🙂

The cheesy version of a mushroom slice was just as good as the tomato version.

Although the pizzas are crisp and look flat, the crust has the loft and texture that shows off how the 36-72 hour cold fermentation process has worked its magic.

It’s nice to have good places nearby, but LAX is also nearby, so one day I may just have to make the 17 hour flight for a taste of my pizza paradigm 🙂

I must confess that I did not like Eataly in Rome. There were beautiful products, from pasta to condiments, many counters serving snacks and sweets, and several options for eating both inside and outside, but it made no sense to me to shop or eat there when I was in ITALY, with authentic local options literally surrounding me. The only people I saw buying and eating anything there were tourists and they were mostly American, seeking perhaps the comfort of a known brand name from the US. The equivalent of this experience would be going to chain lobster restaurant in Maine instead of a local joint, or *shudder* buying a supermarket baguette in France instead of getting one from a boulangerie. WHY?!?!?!?! Just DO NOT do it. Taste at least one peach, ripe, fresh off the tree; you can always open a can of peaches afterwards, if you still prefer them 🙂

Eataly in Los Angeles offers a few products that are a challenge to find here, but those who know good Italian and European markets can easily find most things for for less. Bay Cities in Santa Monica is still my all time favorite place to shop for any Italian ingredient. A1 in San Pedro has a nice selection, and Eagle Rock Italian Bakery and Deli has many great products. I like keeping small businesses alive, and the personal interactions are as important to me as the presentation, so even though I love to peruse the big name financed stores, when it comes to actually buying, I will continue to spend my money with the smaller shops.

If you prefer one stop shopping with gorgeous presentation, then Eataly Los Angeles is your new mecca. Just as Paris has the gorgeous La Grande Epicerie, and tourist centric Lafayette Gourmet, Eataly is a feast for foodie eyes. My next three posts will be mostly photographic, so enjoy the eyefest:)

Few places in Los Angeles embellish their eating establishments with extravagant displays during the Winter holidays like they do in France. Bottega Louie is an exception, with a towering “tree” of macarons, including gold ones, reaching to the ceiling, one of several throughout the restaurant and market, but the grand centerpiece in the dining area can be seen from the pastry counter at the other end of the cavernous space.

I’ve been enthralled by this place ever since my first meals here years ago, so much so I wrote two posts, back to back on it back in 2011. Since my return to the US, I have been wanting to revisit some old favorites, and when friends came into town for the week-end, it was a perfect opportunity to meet for brunch downtown.

After years in France, the macarons looked very bright to me, but I’m sure the intense colors sell well here, where bright intense colors are an enticement.

If you can’t decide what to choose, you can always opt for one of the prepackaged gift boxes of varying sizes (they will ship many of their products if you don’t want to carry it back home).

Some things can’t be shipped and should be eaten fresh, like their viennoiseries and

bread, which are very good even to a bread snob like me. The big baguette is pricey at over $5, but it is huge and it freezes well if you can’t eat it all the same day.

Since I usually came for lunch or late supper, this was the first time I encountered the brunch choices, like this freshly squeezed pineapple juice for $7. They had other choices like melon, carrot, and “green”, if you want something other than the usual fruit and citrus.

Once one of my friends saw the table next to us eating the two eggs with turkey sausage, potatoes, and smoked bacon, she didn’t want to get anything else, and she was very happy that they made her order exactly as she wanted, right down to the “burnt” whole wheat toast for $17.

Another friend and I both ordered the Lobster Hash for $20 with lobster, yukon potatoes, shallots, brussel sprouts, and two poached eggs napped with a smoked paprika hollandaise. I liked how the poached eggs were slightly runny, but she preferred her eggs runnier; I thought that the kitchen did a nice job of “middle ground” eggs in a dining room with over 200 seats. Our server was very attentive and literally followed every request with a smile and “Yes, of course”! Including one for warmed milk with the filtered coffee ($.50 surcharge), and as I mentioned earlier, making sure the wheat toast on the side was “well done”.

When we had all cleaned our plates, I tempted everyone to get an order of beignets ($12) to split; the table next to ours chimed in on my description and echoed that they were indeed wonderful. These are still the best beignets I’ve ever had 🙂 Light and buttery, with the raspberry compote so addictive that my friends were licking it off their fingers and “double dunking”!

No one had room for anything else,

but our eyes feasted on all the pastries as we left 🙂

Since my motto is “I will travel for great food”, the main reason I went to Rome was to eat 🙂

I ate so many delicious things in one week that I may have been channeling Elizabeth Gilbert in “Eat, Pray, Love“. I believe that there is very little in life as satisfying as the pleasure of taking your time to savor all the flavors and delights of great food, sharing it with others perhaps, but I got to do that a bit later in the trip.

The only appointment I had made for a sight was for the Vatican Museum and Pizzarium is literally one block from the Metro Station Cipro which is the stop for that attraction. The place also goes by the name Bonci, the creator/owner of Pizzarium, who was there one of the three times I went, training staff on how to dress some slices properly. A rarity in Rome is that they are open every day of the week, although the hours vary a bit on Sunday. If you don’t want to wait during Lunch and Dinner go in the lull of the afternoon or late at night. The first day I went around 1pm and waited about 30 minutes, another day I went around 6pm and there was no line at all. If it’s crowded, grab a number and watch for it to be posted on the screen above the counter. You order on the left, pick up your drinks and then go pay as you wait for your order to be delivered on the right side of the counter. Condiments are also on the right side of the counter, but I didn’t want to ruin the perfect flavors by doctoring up my slices.

Every hour and every day, there are new selections, and everything is sold by weight. Prices range from about 20 Euros to over 30 Euros per kilo, a good sized portion will run you 8-12 Euros or about $10-15 US. If you want to try more than one flavor, ask for small slices so you can eat two because their scissors work fast and cut generously unless you tell or show them you want smaller slices. I learned that Rome is almost like the US when it comes to portion sizes, but without doggie bags unless you order your pizza to go:)

I went three out of my seven days in Rome, and never tried another pizza place after my first bite here! The first pizza I got was a spinach, buffalo mozzarella, and anchovy on tomato sauce. The toppings were outstandingly fresh (these were not the canned anchovies you find in the US), and the crust had a crunchy bottom, but the soft chewy texture of a great baguette on top. It was the best combination of topping and crust I’ve ever tasted in a pizza. There was a reason there was only a small bit of this choice left in the case, and I was glad I got some before it was gone. At first I thought it was too much to finish, but I couldn’t stop eating and “somehow” I polished off the entire serving.

My second time I went for something more traditional, a tomato basil, and an artichoke heart and potato dusted with pecorino cheese. Once again, astounding crust and incredible vegetables. This combo would be a vegetarian’s dream, and this time I got two smaller slices and a beer to wash it all down.

For my last day, I went back and saw Bonci putting out the sausage, ricotta, tomato, and basil, so I had to try that as well as the kale with cured lard and mushrooms which Bonci dressed himself with more kale and olive oil. I couldn’t stop smiling from happiness with every bite. I could happily eat here every day. With an ever changing menu, friendly staff, and an owner who is passionate about his pizza, you can’t go wrong with any choice.

Italy is famous for their gelato, so one day for breakfast (yes, I really did channel Elizabeth Gilbert), I got some at Sora Lella on Isola Tiberino (the island in the middle of Rome). I wasn’t the only one, getting gelato for breakfast at 11am 🙂

Since it was a nice day, I strolled over to the bank of the river and ate it with a view of the water.

My friend Chantal had just been to Rome a few months ago for her birthday and she told me I HAD to go to La Romana because she didn’t even like gelato and loved it here so much that she went daily.

Just as Bonci’s Pizzarium was the best pizza I’ve ever eaten, La Romana was the best gelato I’ve ever eaten. They make it there, and have been since 1947. I chose a “small” Fiordelatte (flower of milk) and Sacher (like the chocolate torte flavor) for 2 Euros, or about $2.30 US, which included chocolate or vanilla sauce in the cone, AND home made whipped cream on top! I only added the chocolate at the bottom of my cone and luckily I had plenty of napkins because I forgot and bit into it making a delightful mess like a kid eating a sundae:) The consistency is lighter and smoother than any gelato I’ve tasted, and the flavors range from the unusual to the approachable, like tiramisu.

La Romana is near Termini Station, so grab a cone or cup on your way to or from the station. It’s behind the ruins and across from the government buildings with all the armed guards, not far from the planetarium which had this inscribed above the door, a quote from Dante’s Divine Comedy, “Love that moves the sun and other stars.” Dante may have been referring to the pizza and gelato in Rome 🙂

Ever since Antica Pizza left the Marina, I’ve been in Napoletana pizza withdrawal. The nearest VPN (certified Napoletana pizza made with ingredients and methods approved by the association from Naples) was Settebello in Pasadena. I just couldn’t convince myself that the drive through down town traffic and then into Pasadena for pizza was worth it. I was thrilled when I saw that Settebello was going to come to the Marina in the same (newly rebuilt and redesigned) center that used to be Antica’s home.

Settebello opened a few weeks ago and the space both inside and outside is comfortable and casual. Servers are young and helpful, even though the fine details of orders and specials haven’t yet been refined. One one occasion I was asked if I wanted peppers and Parmesan, on another not, whereas I was asked how many slices I wanted my pizza cut into, but on another occasion not. I also heard the chef explaining to the bartender what chard was and how it was spelled as he described one of the specials.

The pizza that is the litmus test for a truly great Napoletana Pizza is the DOC Margherita, made with Crushed Tomatoes, Fresh Buffalo Mozzarella, Basil, Parmigiano Reggiano, Extra Virgin Olive Oil for $14, this 12 inch pizza is the classically simple staple for purists. This was a very good version, but it wasn’t as good as Antica’s. The flavor of the tomatoes needed a bit more zing (adding red peppers helped) and the crust, although perfectly thin and chewy, needed a touch more salt. Since  I was not asked how many slices I wanted on this order, it was cut into four huge slices. The pizzas here are meant to be eaten with a knife and fork, so keep that in mind if you are used to thicker crusts that you can hold in your hands.

I came back for another visit and since the signature pizza the Settebello, I ordered it and got Crushed Tomatoes, Pancetta, Wood Oven Sausage, Roasted Mushrooms, Toasted Pine Nuts, Mozzarella, Basil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil for $14. In this case the lack of salt in the crust worked well since the pancetta and sausage both had enough to create a great balance of flavor. This signature offering was great, a hearty yet refined combination of meat, cheese, mushrooms and the interesting crunch of roasted pine nuts. Whereas I easily ate the Margherita in one sitting, two slices of the Settebello (this was cut into six) was plenty for my lunch.

I don’t often eat pizza (you will see this makes only my 7th pizza post on this blog) but having VPN Settebello close by means that when I do get a craving, I won’t have to make a trek to Pasadena 🙂

Sourdough Pizza? Yes, you read that correctly. Wildcraft has combined a Neapolitan style pizza place with gastropub ingredients to create a hybrid that works. With a wood oven that heats to 900 degrees Farenheit, the pizzas are literally made to order and delivered to you in minutes. For those die hard fans of authentic Napoli or New York style pizza, this is neither, but it is a nice fusion stepchild of both. This is the latest venture by the people who created Abigaile in Hermosa Beach, so it’s nice that I get the same food talent now closer to home.

Located in the heart of Culver City, it is easy to access with two free parking structures and is walking distance to both the movie theater and Sony studios. Whether you are watching a movie or making one nearby, this is a convenient place for lunch, happy hour, or dinner.

I could make a meal out of the appetizers here. The fried green olives wrapped in fennel sausage, topped with grated parmesan and almonds for $8 ($5 during happy hour) are the perfect small bites to share for those who want a bit of meaty substance to a bar bite.

When I ordered these I thought the olives were stuffed WITH the fennel sausage, but the olives are stuffed IN the fennel sausage. It actually tastes better this way because it tastes more like meat with a surprise filling, and how often do you find that?

For vegetarians, there are several pizzas and menu items like the baby spinach salad with salt roasted beets, walnuts, goat cheese, and avocado in a balsamic dressing for $9-14 depending on the size. You can add chicken to this and make it a heartier dish if you wish for $3.25. The one pictured is the large size and I recommend this only for a full meal unless you are a a large rabbit! The flavors were superb, but the dressing was a bit excessive, so if you like your greens lightly dressed, ask for your dressing on the side.

Another one of the appetizers I could eat as a meal by itself is the tuna crudo with veggie couscous, pistachios, and pea tendrils for $14 ($10 during happy hour). This is a light and filling dish that would please any pescatarian. What other pizza place would have this on their menu?

I had to try one of their pizzas, so I went with the white pizza with pork belly, fresh Manila clams, oregano, and red onions for $17 (I could not find nor taste any of the chilies nor fried sage that was supposed to have been on this pizza). I was very pleasantly surprised to find that I liked the slightly sourdough crust and that the toppings worked well together. I would have liked more toppings and the missing chilies and fried sage would have added a nice complexity that I found lacking in this pizza, but I enjoyed it enough to take half of the 12″ pie home.

Go for their “Rest & Relaxation” happy hour from 4-7pm when you can get a Cabernet or Pinot Gris for $5, or one of their micro brew ales for $4. They offer complimentary flat or sparkling filtered water, and if you want a full meal with dessert, they also have espresso and tea.

Sometimes Californian hybrids work, and they do in this case.

Wildcraft Sourdough Pizza on Urbanspoon

Ever since Antica Pizza closed, I’ve been searching for a pizza place to love. Bravo does a very good job, but their pizza is more New York style than Napoletana style, and the closest VPN member is in Pasadena, so I tried nearby Sotto.

Located downstairs under the wonderful Peruvian restaurant Picca, Sotto has a slightly speakeasy feel, as if you need a password to get a seat. No need to worry, your name is enough of a password if you make a reservation. You should definitely reserve a table, the place was packed in the middle of the week in the middle of the day.

The Dine LA menu is a steal at only $20 for three courses. I started with the shaved beet and mixed lettuce salad, composed of wheatberries, lemon vinaigrette, and Fiore Sardo. The beautiful rainbow beets added an unusual visual dimension to this salad, and the thinly shaved Parmesan added a nice sharp and slightly salty enhancement without overpowering the greens. I loved this salad and could probably eat it several times a week.

But I came for the pizza, so I chose the classic margherita, made with tomato, mozzarella, basil, and extra virgin olive oil. The ingredients were all high quality and the crust was chewy and thin in the center, but somehow the center was soggy! The pizza was also a bit too salty since they salted the dough and the tomatoes (salt one or the other, but both is overkill). It was still a very tasty pizza, although after eating at Antica Pizza, they fell short on the texture and flavor of the dough.

Dessert was a cannolo Siciliano, made with riccota, orange marmalade, pistachios and chocolate. I didn’t taste any chocolate (unless they were tiny chocolate chips hiding in the filling), but this was one of the few cannoli I’ve ever liked. The crunchy exterior was as great container for the light and flavorful filling.

Service was very slow (more the fault of a full Dine LA onslaught than the server), so be prepared for a leisurely meal. My search for my perfect pizza continues, but Sotto is a nice local option.

Sotto on Urbanspoon

Today’s post is for the Parellis and any other pizza aficionado who insists that their pizzas are cooked with a wood fire. Los Angeles has many places, but as any transplanted New Yorker will tell you, quantity does not qualify as a measure of quality. My favorite pizza place in Los Angeles is Antica, in Marina del Rey, but because it is Naples style, the crust is thin, and the toppings are not Americanized, so I tried Pitfire Pizza for my ex-NYer friends and those who want a US pizza, not an Italian one.

My friend Robin loves the Burrata Pie, for $9.95 made with Burrata Cheese, Tomato Sauce, Wild Arugula Caramelized Onion, Hazelnut, and Pesto Drizzle, but when she saw the special artichoke, arugula, fennel, and fennel sausage pizza, she got that instead of her usual. She loved it, but I was less impressed. I liked the toppings, but felt it was too dry to stand alone without any tomato sauce or tomatoes.

I chose the Merguez with spinach & Feta, Huntington Lamb Merguez, Wilted Spinach, Roasted Pepper Harissa, Feta, Red Onion for $9.95 and throughly enjoyed it. The crust was tender and thick enough for American tastes, the toppings were piquant and fresh, and I liked the overall combination.

Everyone has their perfect pizza, and my taste may not be yours. Pit Fire has good quality ingredients, hospitable service, and a casual atmosphere that welcomes families; you could do much worse in Los Angeles.

Pitfire Pizza Company on Urbanspoon




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