Each morning, brothers Mario and Salvatore Marino stroll through local farmers’ markets in search of the ripest produce, returning back to their restaurant just in time to pull fresh bread from the oven. The pair actually oversees three LA restaurants—La Bottega Marino, Il Grano, and Marino Ristorante—each of which highlights the traditions of the owners’ homeland, Napoli, with handmade pastas, pastries, pizzas, and panini sandwiches filled with seasonal ingredients. As noted on the LA Weekly web blog, La Bottega Marino’s menu foregoes Italian-American standards like caesar salad and fettuccini for more authentic specialties such as porchetta—an herb-rolled pork loin wrapped in pork belly and roasted with a light seasoning of salt, pepper, garlic, and fennel. In addition to perfecting housemade meals, the Marino brothers spend time building their wine list by collecting varietals from almost every Italian region, including the region whose excess CO2 yields bubbly prosecco.
Oenophiles flock to the Colorado Wine Company in Eagle Rock, looking to buy high-quality wines for under $25. They also come in to sip wine by the glass, with a rotating selection of pours between $5 and $12. Each day, Colorado Wine puts together four white and reds to taste inside the dark, woody space, where a long wall of wine bottles stands in as the primary focus of the room. Not to be outdone, beer lovers can also enjoy a rotating variety of six different beers on tap, often featuring Southern California breweries. Cheese plates are available for quick noshing, and on Friday nights from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. the shop offers reduced-price flights with complimentary cheese accompaniment for under $20. Regulars can also indulge in their Wine of the Month Club, which makes sitting inside the cozy space all the more enjoyable.
Benito Prezia founded Buon Gusto Ristorante because he wanted a place where families of any size could gather and enjoy great Italian food. The dining room can seat parties of up to 100 and the menu of Italian classics continues to keep up with the times. But it's what happens behind the scenes that really counts. Chefs select their herbs and vegetables from the restaurant's own garden, filling dishes with fresh-picked flavors. And to keep diners of every age happy, the menu offers a variety a dishes such as spaghetti and meatballs, brandy-soaked beef tenderloin, seafood paella, and vegetarian manicotti. The chefs even make a few gluten-free pastas, helping everyone in a family enjoy a meal at the same table, even when someone is going through a parachute-pants phase.
Cozy candlelight and flickering lanterns cast soft shadows in 55 Degree Wine?s cellar, where waiters eagerly pair customers? palates with weekly rotating wines. Featured on Best of LA Weekly in 2012 for its wine program, the winery stocks more than 2,000 labels, of which up to 60 are spotlighted in the cellar?s monthly lineup of pours. Though most vintages are Italian, ambrosias from Europe, South America, and other far-flung climes find homes in the shop after being tasted and approved by store owners. The thermostat, appropriately set to 55 degrees, helps keep elixirs fresh and patrons comfortable, but guests may wish to bring a sweater or particularly affectionate bear.
Like a massive loom, a circular wine rack curves through the dining room of Vinotéque on Melrose, its warps threaded with hundreds of bottles of vintages from around the world. To complement everything from Vermont chardonnays to Chilean cabernet sauvignons, executive chef Sheila R. Gomez serves up a full menu of tapas, cheeses, and decadent desserts, all prepared with seasonal, locally sourced ingredients. The café's oenophiles also helm weekly sampling sessions and lessons in the garden patio, as the ivy vines creeping up the lattice look on jealously, no one taking any interest in their leaf-flavored liqueur.
Obika’s ingredients are so carefully curated that the staff can point out the exact region in Italy, or even the exact city, from which they came. Compared to the restaurant's other prized, imported ingredients—smoked prosciutto, white salame, capers, parmigiano reggiano—it seems the mozzarella is the most prized of all. The mozzarella is shipped to the restaurant three times a week to ensure its freshness, and the European Union certifies that each batch has been prepared in the traditional fashion. All this attention to detail makes Obika’s menu equally as flavorful as it is authentic. Layers of fresh pasta burble with mozzarella and beef ragu in the housemade lasagna, and mint pesto brings spice to a free-range chicken breast pan-sautéed with artichokes. The kitchen’s oven takes center stage to fire pizzas that, once again, put the carefully cultivated cheese on display. And of course, it wouldn’t be a full-course Italian meal or a day when kids siege power from their babysitters without dessert: the tiramisu and a ricotta mousse sprinkled with pine nuts take the cake. Servers may even shout “Obika!” when they deliver dishes to tables—it means “here it is!” in Italian, and demonstrates just how excited they are about the contemporary, authentic Italian fare their eatery dishes out.