Gracing the corner of Arizona and the Santa Monica Promenade is one of the rare restaurant staples of the area, Locanda del Lago, now celebrating their 20th year. Remember when the promenade was an armpit of the area? Trendy stores and fine dining now prevail. Even with a few restaurants in flux, it’s nice to see that Lago continues to thrive.
Owner West Hooker-Poletti, who studied at Cornell, has a lineage of hospitality experience. He’s cut his chops at such places as the Mayfair Regent Hotel in New York, The Beverly Hilton, and the New Otani Hotel in Los Angeles.
West has a winning combination with this restaurant, transporting diners to the charm of Italy’s Lake Como area. Inside, you’ll find an easy woodsy atmosphere, engaging bar, some family-style dining options, and of course a dynamite menu.
And this place is on a roll. Currently, they are offering a monthly whole-animal dinner series called “Morso della Bestia” (Bite of the Beast) as well as a Meatless Monday menu, in addition to its regular/a la carte fare for lunch and dinner.
Lago is fortunate enough to take advantage of the nearby farmers market, utilizing many local ingredients in their dishes, many that are highlighted on their blackboard.
Venison seems to be on the radar of many restaurants these days, so I was curious to see how this treatment compared to my experience recently at some other restaurants. Lago delivered.
Chef Gianfranco Minuz, who hails from Pasadena’s Tre Venezie, executed these dishes with flair and finesse. Tonight, center stage focused on their New Zealand all natural venison. This “Bite of the Beast” 5-course meal features whole animal roasts, along with traditional rustic dishes. House wine accompanied the meal.
By far, my favorite course was the first one, an antipasto consisting of a thinly sliced venison Carpaccio, with sautéed baby beet tops, caramelized onions and walnuts. I could have easily dined on this alone. The flavors were a subtle tease to my famished palate. More please.
Second place went to a braised venison and juniper berry ravioli, with a sage infused brown butter. As we were dining family style, the other couples at the table seemed equally engaged, enjoying every morsel, their Iphones finally parked to the side in silence.
I began to slow down with the heavier whole-wheat spaghetti with venison ragu, the meat more dense, but certainly far from gamey. True carnivores will delight in this dish, along with the brandy-roasted leg of venison with a delightful sweet potato puree, blueberry compote and sautéed Swiss chard. I loved the side dishes.
Hats off to their dessert, a ricotta strudel with Tahitian vanilla sauce that immediately planted itself onto my hips for my lazy ride home.
Cost for five courses: $60, not including tax or gratuity-definitely a bargain in my opinion since the house wine is included. Upcoming meals include:
Feb. 23-Muscovy Duck
March 29-Virginia Sea Bass
April 26-Capon Chicken
Beyond these monthly themed menus, you can also find soups, salads, pastas, risotto, pizza, and a variety of meat, fowl and fish selections, along with a nice roster of desserts. The patio is an engaging one, allowing diners to gawk at the plethora of people strolling the promenade.
Locanda del Lago
231 Arizona Ave.
Santa Monica, CA. 90401