One of our favorite local walks takes us through the McMansions and more elegant homes north of Montana Avenue to the misnamed Brentwood Country Mart (it’s actually in Santa Monica). Since we have always found the food rewards of this journey to be limited, we were cheered to realize that A Votre Sante, a healthy, veg-friendly (but no longer fully vegetarian) restaurant on our list, happened to be just around the corner in Brentwood proper (13018 San Vicente, near 26th St.). The menu turned out to be a wide-ranging, perhaps too wide-ranging, collection of vegetarian standbys adapted from various cuisines: a burrito, a falafel platter, a vegetable stir-fry, and (straight from the macrobiotic house of horrors) a combination of seaweed, tofu, brown rice, black beans, and tahini. Steering clear of these not-very-promising options (we doubted they could all be done well in the same place), we opted instead for several items on a separate menu whose elegant font promised better fare. We started, then, with two appetizers, a thick, peppery gazpacho, with bits of cucumber and onion for a welcome bite, and a caprese salad featuring juicy, flavorful slices of heirloom tomatoes topped with fresh mozzarella, basil, and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. We were less pleased with our pizza, perhaps another example of how A Votre Sante tries to do too many things. The bland crust was more like a floppy flatbread than the foundation for a genuine pie, while the San Marzano tomato sauce was a little too sweet and the mozzarella not as thoroughly melted as we would have liked (to be fair, we followed our usual practice of requesting a light touch in the oven to avoid charring around the edges). Overall the meal was serviceable but underwhelming. Deciding therefore to skip the restaurant’s desserts, we headed instead to Sweet Rose Creamery, the Country Mart’s superb little ice cream shop, where we shared a scoop of dense, smooth salt caramel on one of the light, crisp house-made chocolate waffle cones. If dinner in the neighborhood of the Country Mart were as special as the ice cream, we surely would be enjoying that long evening walk more often.
Pizza Antica is a light, airy eatery on the dining deck of Santa Monica Place, the only mall we actually like. With its open plan and ocean views, this collection of upscale shops overlooking the Promenade still manages to be democratic; more important for our purposes, it has obvious aspirations to become a foodie destination. Consider, for example, the newly opened Market, chock-full of artisanal vendors, and the half-dozen self-consciously epicurean restaurants, of which Pizza Antica is itself an example. For appetizers, we ordered crispy hearts of artichoke with aioli and lemon, and antipasti of young vegetables. The artichoke pieces, which were breaded and fried, calamari-style, were a bit dry and might have been enhanced by a dash more salt, but dipped in the creamy, garlicky aioli, they were undeniably tasty and gone in an instant. The antipasti dish, on the other hand, was more than just good; it was truly impressive, featuring delectable little heaps of vegetable sides, each better than the next. There were caramelized onions in a balsamic dressing; mushrooms sautéed in a wine sauce; marinated slices of fingerling potatoes; sweet fresh corn; and beautifully roasted red peppers with slivers of garlic that conjured childhood vacations in Sicily. (But see update below.) All of these were served with crunchy focaccia crisps, baked with a hint of Parmesan; more aioli; and the silky house-made mozzarella. For our pizza, we chose a classic margherita, with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil. The restaurant identifies its thin-crust oval pies as Roman; since we saw several that looked burned around the edge (intentional charring, our waiter explained), we requested a gentler treatment. The result was a lovely creation with a light and chewy, almost flaky, crust. Though the sauce was slightly sweet, the pie as a whole was excellent. For dessert, we ordered the bittersweet chocolate tart with hazelnuts, whipped cream, and caramel; the chocolate, as it turned out, was more sweet than bittersweet, like a homemade brownie, but the cream was subtly sugared, the caramel judiciously distributed, and the overall effect sophisticated and scrumptious. Finally, we should not fail to mention our drinks, plain lemonade and strawberry mint lemonade, both spritzers made from manifestly fresh ingredients and perfectly balanced between sweet and tart. Notwithstanding the reasonable prices and casual, friendly atmosphere, Pizza Antica proved a rare creature indeed, a mall-based pizza restaurant in which the food is so far from cheesy that it’s positively upper-crusty.
Update: On two later visits (July 25 and August 10), we were, sadly, less thrilled by the antipasti of young vegetables, which included a seasonal substitution of hard peas and red onion (see picture above). Whatever gap this left in our enthusiasm, however, was filled by the heirloom potato pizza, whose tender slivers of purple spuds; caramelized onions; combination of Fontina, Parmesan, and Petit Basque; and sprinkling of truffle oil and chives, all on a garlic-puree base, was a feat of sublime deliciousness that will surely inspire us to return yet again. (For dessert, we recommend the moist, delicate cornmeal shortbread with fresh strawberries and cream, also shown above.)
Another easy-to-miss foodie find, Antica Pizzeria (13455 Maxella Ave.), which occupies a second-floor corner of a Marina del Rey mall, claims the distinction of certification by the Associazone Vera Pizza Napoletana, a trade group devoted to preserving traditional Neapolitan pizza making. Though of course pizza is this restaurant’s raison d’être, it offers a full menu, with antipasti, soups, salads, and pastas. We started our meal with the very nice insalata mediterranea, featuring mixed greens, black olives, tomato, and goat cheese in a balsamic vinaigrette. For our pizza, we went with the classic, thoroughly authentic margherita D.O.C. (for “denomination of control”), not to be confused with the unmarked, less stringently governed margherita, also on the menu. At its best, the DOC is a lovely-to-behold speckled thin-crust pie topped with a deliciously acidic San Marzano tomato sauce, patches of dense fresh buffalo mozzarella, and basil leaves. Each pie is enough for one hungry person, but we started by ordering just one, which, we were sad to find, was burned on the bottom. Ordering a second pie, we said, “Please make sure this one isn’t burned,” and, sure enough, the next pie was just right, a pizza dream, with its thin but chewy crust and scrumptious toppings. As for our dessert, the coppa profitterol, all we can say is “non l’abbiamo neanche visto” (“We did not even see it”). This cup of vanilla cream-filled pastry balls covered with a dark chocolate custard and whipped cream disappeared in what seemed like seconds. Our final assessment: With the right choices and instructions, one can have a very memorable experience at Antica Pizzeria, though a misstep might lead to disappointment.
Update (August 5): Antica Pizzeria has closed down. Though thin-crust pizza is not hard to find in L.A., this restaurant offered something special, and we are sad to see it go.
This evening we walked to Pico Boulevard to try a pie at Abbot’s Pizza in Santa Monica (at 18th Street). We had once enjoyed a few delicious slices at a workplace meeting, and we had been tantalized by the sesame-covered “bagel-crust” pizza on Abbot-Kinney in Venice many times. Tonight we thought the Cheeseless Veggie pizza might be a nice way to indulge without feeling gross afterward. Unfortunately, neither the crust nor the vegetables (peppers, black olives, and red onion) had much flavor. In fairness, some cheese would have helped. Dessert, at least, was better. At Foster’s Freeze (at Pico and 16th), we each got a junior dip cone, soft-serve ice cream dunked in molten chocolate. This is an old-school ice cream place cum greasy spoon, highly recommended if you can handle the sight of the oozy burgers on the grill.