The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Like father like son. It’s all too rare that a restaurant in Los Angeles can exist, even excel, for over twenty-three years; it’s even more rare that a son born into the business can spawn the next generation with finesse and panache. Such is the story of Mario and his handsome son, Sal, who have created Marino’s and Il Grano, respectively, both a few miles apart and yet light years different.

6001 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles
Cuisine: Traditional Italian
The Scene: Roman Holiday
Must Try: Mafaldo Dominica
Star Rating: 3 of 4
Average Cost: $12-$23 Entrees

Every time we enter Marino, it’s akin to going home for dinner (without the screaming and yelling, of course). If we had a traditional Italian family, then it would be the Marino family. Michael practically grew up as a member of their family, having eaten there for 23 years, including preview dinners the week before they opened.

The sensational traditional Italian food is unparalleled and we have never been disappointed, having dined there well over one hundred times. Think Roma with the décor, which is appropriately dated with pink walls, popcorn ceilings and myriad oil paintings on the walls. Start with their Pizza bread (you have to ask for it as you won’t find it on the menu); it’s pizza without anything on it, but when you add some butter, you can’t stop eating it. Ask Chef Mario, 73 years old, who started at Chianti on Melrose at 22 years old, to create his off menu dish, Malfaldo Domenico, Michael’s favorite. It’s lasagna noodles smothered with warm Ricotta cheese in Marino’s perfect Marinara sauce for approximately $14. One of our favorite things about Marino is that they use only the appropriate amount of garlic and you don’t walk away smelling like you’ve been to the Stinking Rose or Maria’s. Another must taste is the Branzino (striped sea bass) de-boned at your table and prepared exactly as we tasted it in Italy, but better. Market price is $44 for two. Another favorite dish, Veal Parmagiana, is light and fluffy, which is unusual for the typical sauce laden Veal Parmagiana at other Italian destinations, and it’s well priced at $17.50.

Don’t forget to say hello to the Marino family because they will certainly remember you when you return. And if you tell them Michael and Scott sent you, well, you’re part of the family!

11359 Santa Monica Blvd, West L.A.
Cuisine: Nouvelle Italian
The Scene: Intimate chic
Must Try: Fegato Grasso (Foie Gras)
Star Rating: 3 of 4
Average Cost: $24-30 entrees

After fighting the endless construction of the west side’s beautification, a walk into Il Grano is like taking a giant breath of fresh air. Small and intimate, the two rooms present a clean white backdrop offset by creamy banana colored booths and chairs of the same shade. Crisp white tablecloths with simple flowers at the center create a canvas for the food delights created by Sal himself. The dark hardwood floors make the entire room pop, and the full bar, albeit small, is offset by a simple spray of fragrant lilies.

Stefano, the Maitre D of Valeninto fame, is as much a welcoming presence in the front as Sal is in the back. Sal whips Italian into new taste treats such as the Rollata Di Proscuitto, Fegato Grasso D’Oca E Fichi, which is Parma Proscuitto, Foie Gras and Fig roulade, served up on a frisee fresh cherry salad; a personal favorite of Scott’s and worth every cent of the $18. The shaved Porcini Rugola is graced with an 18 month aged parmigiano salad that is delicious, although the portions were smallish for the $18 antipasti price. The Maine Lobster open ravioli (not ravioli, but a type of noodle that we’ve never experienced) on yellow corn and a dash of spinach pasta was presented in an artistic fashion that made the taste even more sensational ($19). In fact, so many dishes were unique and well presented, we recommend the Menu Degustazione, which is the Chef’s tasting menu of five courses for $65. Sal also provides a tasting menu of five courses for vegetarians for $49. With a Moscato D’Asti dessert wine in hand ($8), the Triple chocolate Marguise lightly graced with a ganache sause tasted even nicer than it looked.

With traditional and cutting edge Italian food just around the corner, it’s no wonder why this father and son keep their successes all in the family!

Posted by The Dining Duo | 3:29 PM | , , , , , | 0 comments »

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