Santa Monica's Via Veneto Highlights the Beauty of Italian Cuisine
What makes a dish bellissimmo may vary from person to person but one of the reasons why I fell in love with Italian cuisine - true Italian cuisine - is the appreciation in the simplicity of natural and curated ingredients for any plate. It isn't about smothering pasta in heavy tomato sauce (what a travesty!) nor covering every visible inch in Mozzarella; it's about paying attention to the land and its labors. Many regions of the country put forth dishes borne from agrarian communities so seasonality is the determining factor of what gets eaten, and we should pay attention to that detail.
Via Veneto in Santa Monica abides by this sentiment with rotating menus that can and will switch out monthly and/or more often depending on the produce. We were invited in one evening to experience their menu. I was extremely delighted to see creativity in the dishes but also an attention to what makes Italian cuisine beautiful - the ingredients.
We began our dining with an expansive plate featuring a beautiful arrangement of their Carciofini ($19 - farm baby artichoke salad) and a long artistic selection of the Tris Di Pesce ($24 - wild amberjack tartare, ahi tuna tartare, salmon tartare) starters. Finely shaven baby artichoke in the salad lent a tender texture that still maintained some bite from its own rawness. The addition of lemon juice in the mix gave the right amount of zestiness and tang to give the salad some complexity behind its simplicity. As for the tartare trio, they were an impressive treat, each furnished with their own blend of seasonings and herbs to best match the fish's profile. Particularly impressive was the amberjack not only because it is not a typical feature in restaurants in a tartare but because it was perfectly balanced.
Our entrees that evening were the Rombo ($46 - wild caught turbot, capers, Taggiasca olives, and heirloom tomato sauce) and Scaloppine al Limone ($36 - veal scaloppine and lemon sauce) with sides of Patate Novelle ($7 - Pewee roasted potatoes) and Spinaci ($7 - spinach). Another point of Italian cuisine that I really appreciate is how light the dishes actually are as compared to the Americanized version of Italian food which is typically heavy and can induce a food coma-like state. The fish was tender and hefty, punctuated by pleasantly tangy bursts of capers and highlighted by the savoriness of tomato sauce. The veal was quite thin and lightly breaded, balanced in its inherent meaty richness by the zest of its lemon sauce.
The end to a surprisingly filling meal gave no mercy as we were presented with a trio of desserts, each showcasing different styles to cater to a range of sweet tooths. This trio involved an affogato, panna cotta, and profiterole-like dessert, all of which proudly showed their unique merits whether it be the strong, robust coffee in the affogato or the perfect texture and jiggle in the panna cotta or the light fruitiness of the third. As the restaurant seemed primed for celebrating a special occasion, having a selection of various desserts would likely be the best way to go for your meals' finisher.
If you are on the hunt for a special experience with gorgeous food both in design and in taste which highlight the seasonality of its ingredients, I'd suggest giving Via Veneto at 3009 Main St, Santa Monica, CA 90405 a try. Reservations are likely recommended here.
Photography by Duc Duong.