After finding success in Santa Monica with True Food Kitchen and Flower Child, Sam Fox opened North Italia just down the street in early 2017. The restaurant, as its name suggests, offers fresh Italian fare in the former Buca di Beppo space.
Fox and his team renovated the space by opening up the dining room and painting the walls a clean white. There is a lively bar in the front, and beautiful viewing kitchen in the back. The light wood ceiling offers plenty of recessed lighting, and a few big modern, glass globe lights hang down. Much like an Italian taverna, groups of people chat and share plates of pasta, pizza and salads, while drinking glasses of wine.
The menu is separated into sections – starters, pizza, pastas and main courses. The wine list includes bubbly, a sangria, and variety of white, red and rosé wines, served by the glass, “Terza” (larger pour than a traditional glass) or by the bottle.
Our server Nathan said the chefs at North Italia make from scratch daily the pizza dough, as well as a variety of salads, pastas and main courses using ingredients from gardens, farms and the sea.
From the starter section, we ordered two vegetarian choices. The first was grilled cauliflower that arrived in a black skillet. Accompanying the cauliflower florets were baby asparagus spheres in a pancetta cream, with toasted breadcrumbs and a fried egg on top.
The second dish consisted of arancini spheres made with crispy mushroom risotto, stuffed with scamorza (a semi-soft white cow’s milk cheese), and finally bathed in a delicious red sauce.
Peeking into the large exhibition kitchen, I saw a chef standing at a pasta machine cutting light yellow pasta ribbons. He was making a tortelloni, a larger variation of tortellini. While tortelloni is usually stuffed with ricotta cheese, at North Italia it is stuffed with fresh Italian burrata cheese made from mozzarella and cream.
Looking into the kitchen again, I noticed the chef was now making fresh radiatori pasta. It’s a small, squat pasta that resembles a radiator. At North Italia they top it with a thick parmesan cream sauce and beef short rib braised in red wine. A little bit of horseradish, wilted arugula and a sprinkling of herbed breadcrumbs round out the flavors of this dish.
We also ordered chicken pesto pasta, which arrived with a vibrant, green fragrance due to the fresh basil. It’s enhanced with toasted pine nuts, a little garlic and crispy capers on gigli pasta, shaped like a flower with ruffled edges.
The six pizza choices can be made with traditional pizza dough or with a gluten-free crust. The pies arrive puffy and blistered around the edges. Toppings include Mission figs, Cipollini onions, grilled asparagus, roasted potatoes and Italian sausage. Meat lovers will like “The Pig” pizza topped with spicy pepperoni and soppressata, an Italian dry salami. The Mission figs, goat cheese and arugula give the prosciutto pizza a sweet, salty and peppery earthiness.
The back of the restaurant is a great spot for a semi-private party. In fact, the staff was setting up for a party of 20 while we were there, and soon a group of six adults and 14 children filled the space. The chefs put on a show for the kids, tossing pizza dough into the air. The restaurant is kid-friendly, offering a menu of pasta, pizza, chicken, cheeseburger and grilled cheese sandwiches. Desserts for kids include a scoop of gelato and sugared donuts with a chocolate dipping sauce.
North Italia, 1442 Second Street, Santa Monica, (310)382-2460 and at The Point in El Segundo 840 South Sepulveda, Suite 110, (310)469-7695. There is also a location in Irvine. $$
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