Locanda del Lago, or “Lago Santa Monica” as the locals call it, has been a mainstay of the Santa Monica beach community since it opened in 1991. Located, just steps from the sand and right on the Third Street Promenade, Lago draws first-time tourists as well as longtime fans to its inviting patio and warm interior. They offer Northern Italian specialties, many gleaned from the cuisine of Bellagio on Lake Como. The ultimate upscale restaurant experience, with exceptional flavors and meticulous, friendly service. It’s a favorite of foodies, celebrities, locals and travelers. The freshest seasonal ingredients available from the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market are served in traditional and innovative recipes, and pastas, focaccia, desserts and gelato are house made daily. The popular bar offers Happy Hour nightly and distinctive Artisanal cocktails.
My waiter Simone Zonca from Lake Como was the best source of information about the region. Chef George Washington accommodated my every need with his delicious cuisine, and his hysterical name. My handsome host, Mirco from Bologna, in Los Angeles for the past 3 years, with his wife and 2 daughters. Before this he worked at Michelin restaurant, Il Porto in Italy. He prides himself on a great wine list that is his choice.
The interior is upscale casual with nice peach faux walls and a round, double-tiered candle candelabra in the middle of the room. There is a Pasta bar on the far end of the restaurant, with a large outdoor wrap around patio. Ambient music sets the tone for a nice dining experience. Their customers are, families, Italians, dates, girls out for dinner. My dining neighbors Liana and Enzo, who have been married for 30 years, love the food at Locando Del Lago, they are from Caserta Italy, speaking to them brought me right back to Italy.
Here’s what I tried:
Insalata Cardini, Romaine, creamy anchovy-parmesan dressing, focaccia croutons. They use famers’ market lettuce that they get fresh every week and the dressing was wonderful as well.
Vitello Tonnato, Roasted & Chilled Veal, Genoa Tuna Caper Aioli, Micro Rainbow Greens, Shaved Parmesan. This is very popular in the Lake Como region, and its very light and a great way to start your meal.
Zuppa Di Farro E Mare, Farro Soup, Calamari, Little Neck Clams, Tiger Shrimp, Black Mussels, Tomato, Seafood Broth. Like an Italian chicken soup but without chicken, instead just great seafood broth with fresh clams, shrimp, calamari and mussels, and the faro is an added bonus.
House made Burrata, Chef Daniele’s Signature Burrata Cheese served with your choice of the following, Eggplant Caponata, Grilled Crostino. House made burrata should be enough to make you order this terrific menu item, but the sweet eggplant caponata will also make you glad you did.
Pizzoccheri Alla Valtellinese, Wheat Pappardelle, Roasted Garlic, Savoy Cabbage, Yukon Potato, Creamy Bitto Cheese-Sage Fondue. This is such a crazy dish, who would think that a cheese fondue would work so brilliantly with pasta, but it does. The whole combination is just something you can’t describe until you try it.
Seafood Risotto Do Marre Arborio Rositto, Black mussels, Manila Clams, Tiger Shrimp, Scallops, Langoustino, Seafood Broth. The clams, scallops just pop in your mouth and the risotto has a very subtle seafood essence.
Hand Torn Tagliatelli with short rib ragu, by far my favorite dish of the night. You can tell that the pasta is super fresh, the short rib sauce has all of the short rib packed in flavors, just wonderful. Pasta’s they make: tagliatelle, lasagna, torn pasta, and ravioli.
Salmone Al Finocchio, Scottish Salmon, Taggiasca Olives, Sauteed Cherry Tomato & Fennel, Grilled Lemon. This is a small piece of salmon, with a nice zest from the onions and olives.
Creekstone All-Natural Skirt Steak, Salsa Verde, Grilled Crostino. Nice tender skirt steak, with a great grilled flavor.
Pollo Arrosto Al Limone, roasted half debones, all natural chicken, Lemon sauce, and Parmesan roasted potatoes. Very fragrant sauce filled with lemon flavor and the roasted chicken simply delicious.
Here are the Wines I tried:
Camara Chardonnay Italy Provincia di pavia, this wine was a pleasure to drink with this great risotto di mare.
Barbaresco “Ca Grossa” Cascina Rabaglio, full bodied, aroma of cherry. I love this wine with the hand torn pasta with short rib ragu, what a great combination.
Barbera Torti Lombardia, bold juicy wine went great with the skirt steak.
Tiramisu Lady Fingers, espresso Vanilla – Mascarpone Cream, Cappuccino sauce, this tiramisu is really as good as it gets, done to perfection.
Lago’s wine list has received an Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator every year since 1995 and has over 400 selections from Italy and California. “Don’t miss the Ossobuco alla Milanese” – Gourmet Magazine. “There’s no better place to people-watch than at the outdoor patio” – Frommers. “Recommended” – Michelin. “Perfectly crafted pastas” – Zagat. “Best Italian Cuisine” – Los Angeles Times.
Farmers/Purveyors: Santa Monica Farmers’ Market: Coleman Farm, JJ Lone Daughter Ranch, Weiser Farm, Tutti Frutti Farm, Jaime Farm, Wong Farm, Santa Barbara Pistachio Co., Fairhill Farm, Tamai Farm, Sycamore Farm, Lily’s Eggs, Niman Ranch, Durham Ranch, and Clean Fish. They always follow the suggestions of the Seafood Watch by Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Information on Owner West Hooker-Poletti:
Born in Milan, West Hooker-Poletti spent much of his youth in Lombardy’s well-known capital city and later in Bellagio, the idyllic village in northern Italy known as “the pearl of Lake Como.”
Moving to the United States at age 18, intending to establish his career in the hotel industry, Hooker-Poletti enrolled at Cornell University’s renowned School of Hotel Administration, graduating with top honors.
After earning his degree, he became assistant food and beverage director at the Mayfair Regent Hotel in New York. At the time, the hotel housed the world-famous Le Cirque restaurant and its legendary owner Sirio Maccioni, who imparted many wise business pointers to the young manager.
Upon returning to California, a strong entrepreneurial spirit moved Hooker-Poletti to conceive of his own dining establishment, and in 1991 the restaurateur opened Locanda del Lago in Santa Monica. “Lago truly started as a window into my past,” he notes. “It focuses on the cuisine I grew up with and the flavors I know best.”
West leads the restaurant along with his wife, Karin Fumagalli, and their 2 children. The family can often be found dining on the patio and enjoying the fruits of their labor. Stop by and say hi!
Megan Heritage, General Manager:
If the chef at Locanda del Lago is the restaurant’s soul, then General Manager Megan Heritage is its heart. Respected, highly regarded, and a favorite of her staff and Lago’s patrons, Megan’s superb operation of the restaurant is a key reason for its popularity and success.
Megan, who has worked at Lago since 1996, began as a server then promoted to lead server/trainer, assistant manager, and eventually General Manager. Most notably, Megan was concurrently studying Electrical Engineering at California State University, Long Beach, as a full time student, where she graduated with honors. As a grad, Megan received many offers to work as an engineer, but her passion for the restaurant industry prevailed. She accepted the position of General Manager of Locanda del Lago and continues to grow and improve all aspects of the restaurant. In 2006, Megan enabled expansion of the company by opening Caffé Bellagio and running both locations simultaneously.
Megan currently works very closely with the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce, the Santa Monica Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and Downtown Santa Monica in order to support the community as well as aide Santa Monica to become an internationally recognized destination. She currently is the co-chair of the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce’s committee PeBL, Professionals emerging as Business Leaders and sits on the Hospitality Committee. She was also the implementer and ambassador of Lago’s green certification and an integral part of Lago winning the Grand Prize at the 2015 Sustainable Quality Awards.
If you want a truly authentic Italian dinner with all of the bells and whistles then Locanda Del Lago is for you. I will make this wonderful cuisine a habit in my monthly restaurant outings.
Locanda Del Lago
231 Arizona Ave.
Santa Monica, CA 90401
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