Somewhere along the way, a malicious ex-New Yorker started a rumor that there were no good Italian restaurants in LA. Probably in a moment when they were homesick for “real” pizza or just wanted to be sitting in a room full of red checkered tablecloths eating penne alla vodka. While we will concede that you cannot get anything like a NYC slice in this town, we’d also like to state for the record that excellent Italian restaurants do exist in Los Angeles - and not just all those new spots making pasta in climate-controlled rooms or playing rap and serving thin, crusty pizzas. There are plenty of classic Italian restaurants that stand up to the red sauce-filled places in New York. One of them is Via Veneto.
In an old building at the end of Main St. in Santa Monica, Via Veneto feels like a different world from the nearby bars filled with people celebrating their first night of legal drinking. It’s a small, white-tablecloth restaurant, that is equally suited to a romantic candlelit meal and dinner with in-laws you actually like. Actually, this place works for most special-occasion scenarios, thanks to its enormous menu and an atmosphere that guarantees you’re going to have a great night.
A Via Veneto night starts with being greeted in Italian and ordering a glass of prosecco the moment you sit down. From there, go for a mix of classics like fritto misto and spaghetti bolognese, plus a wildcard like the excellent lobster carpaccio, and maybe a veal chop the size of your head to share. The food here is fantastic, but not in a way that means the entire table will spend the whole meal talking about how good the burrata is. You won’t feel the need to analyze Via Veneto’s food - you’ll just want to keep eating it until you can’t anymore.
In an ideal world, we’d treat Via Veneto like the Italian place our NYC friend misses so much. We’d be there once a week, eating pasta and making friends with the staff. But dinner for four here can easily get to $500, and since this is the real world, and we weren’t early investors in Snap down the street, Via Veneto is too expensive for that.
Via Veneto is proof that the East Coast doesn’t have a lock on this kind of classic Italian spot. Save it for a special occasion, preferably one where someone else is paying, and you’ll almost certainly leave feeling like you celebrated appropriately. Even if the New Yorker at the table complains about the lack of penne alla vodka.
You’ve had fritto misto a million times, but rarely as good as this. Light batter, calamari that tastes like it was caught that day, and a lightly-spicy tomato sauce to double dip every bite in.
Lobster proving again why it’s the king of the sea animals. This is citrusy and refreshing, and we would like all carpaccios to be lobster carpaccios from now on.
If you go to an Italian restaurant and don’t order the meatballs, you’re usually doing something wrong. But you can skip them here.
This involves four different types of ravioli on one plate, and we don’t turn down any opportunity to eat multiple types of pasta on one plate. But $38 is too much money for the four small portions of ravioli you get here.
There are many bad amatricianas in this world, but this is not one of them. The regularly-changing pasta menu is where you should focus your attention, and if this is on there, you need to get it.
They change the menu often, but if you’re going to have an entree, a steak or piece of veal is a good way to go. One of the best things we’ve eaten here was a fantastic, paper-thin steak covered in cherry tomatoes.
Big, but in a manageable, I’m going to eat this giant piece of meat in one sitting kind of way. It comes with some arugula and cherry tomatoes, and is delicious, but is also mostly just a lot of meat on a plate. Get it to share if you need something other than pasta.