Check it out--two fabulous Italian restaurants way above the rest...

West Side of Los Angeles:


9737 Santa Monica Blvd Beverly Hills, CA 90210 * (310) 385-1800.

Just off Canon Drive’s monopoly of Italian restaurants is located the completely refurbished locale that once housed Dean Martin’s regular haunt, “Da Vinci’s”, on "little" Santa Monica Blvd.  Don’t expect red booths and dark walls.  Now Italian chic and ripped from the happening restaurant venues of Milan, Florence and Rome, this smart eatery is an anomaly for the standard Beverly Hills fare. 

White walls styled like Venetian plaster are harmonized with white leather chairs and contrasted by a dark wood floors.  Delicate lace curtains create a comfortable bar and private seating area.  With street parking and plenty of city parking just between the Santa Monica Boulevards, there is absolutely no reason not to experience this stylish restaurant that clearly separates itself from the pack of the usual choices.  Even the napkin rings will make you feel like you’re dining somewhere stylishly unique.

“Sfixio” means “spur of the moment” and that’s because owners Massimo—handsome Chef extraordinaire—and his charming, beautiful wife, Mara, decided to move to Beverly Hills and open a restaurant on a whim.  Even under the best conditions, this is quite an undertaking.  Not to worry, Massimo refined his culinary skills in Florence, a town that has birthed so many great Chefs.  As soft jazz music wafts through the surroundings, Mara welcomes you with kisses to both cheeks as if you were family; there simply is no substitute for genuine Italian warmth. 

Mara steers you to a table while explaining that the restaurant doesn’t even have a freezer, insuring that the freshly made pasta and all other ingredients are unsullied from local market to your table each and every night. 
When so many of the other Italian restaurants in town use dried pasta, is there really any excuse for doing so?  If you think there isn’t a difference, we urge you to try any of the pasta dishes at Sfixio and judge for yourself. 

Every dish at Sfixio is superb but we have our favorites. The Albacore Delizia ($16) is served with peeled fresh tomatoes, Massimo's own lemon zest and a fresh basil reduction, which make a perfect seasoning and allow the flavor of the sashimi to come through with gusto; a perfect way to start a meal.

Our perennial favorite (which we have to have almost every time we dine there) is their black truffle caviar ($34), which is not caviar at all but black truffles made in tiny balls to resemble caviar and served with their house made Taglioni.  This is a taste sensation that should not be missed as the pasta melts in your mouth and the flavor lingers on your tongue. The combination of the lightly drenched pasta bursting with the flavor of black truffles is extraordinary.

For main courses, our favorites tend to be the Salmone ai 3 pepi con Patate in Crosta ($22), Massimo's salmon which is wild (rare now these days, like the Branzino he also procures) and is served with three different peppers.  Michael, who is not even a fan of salmon, loved this dish.

The Tagliata di Manzo ($34), is their grass fed rib eye with baby arugula and parmesan in a balsamic reduction, which was delivered medium rare, just as ordered and extremely tender. It seems everyone is demanding grass fed beef (and rightfully so), and it's great to see Sfixio doesn't skimp in this department.  Next time you’re at one of those Canon Drive restaurants, ask them if their products are grass fed, wild and local, and then consider what you’re putting into your body as you dine.

Finish your delicious meal with Massimo's Ricottina con Amarone ($10) to satisfy your sweet tooth and desire for cheese.  This place is Ricotta cheese with honey and cherries (YUM), and you will have enjoyed a perfect meal.  By the way, Sfixio is now open for lunch, as well, so we can’t wait to try it in the afternoon.

East Side of the West Side of Los Angeles:


6001 Melrose Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90038 * (323) 466-8812

Everything that is old seems to become new again and Michael has been a devoted patron of Marino for over twenty-nine years, first dining there the week before it opened when he was invited as a neighbor who anxiously awaited the unveiling.

Now under the tutelage of the handsome and charismatic Mario Marino, Jr. after the untimely passing of the equally charming Mario, Sr., little has changed except the d├ęcor.  That is exactly the way we like it.

Mario and the staff learn your likes and dislikes quickly.  As soon as we arrive, we make a stop for a drink before dinner at their intimate bar, enjoying a glass of wine from Marino's extensive wine list, and also enjoying the bar tender.

As we slide into our comfortable booth, our pizza bread has been placed in the oven for our homecoming. Marino's pizza bread is exceptional; it is made in small quantities with natural yeast flour and olive oil, with just a pinch of salt (Mario will be the first one to point out that they don’t believe in inundating their food with salt like so many restaurants), and ready for you to smother with butter...or not. Every person we bring raves about Mario’s "amuse bouche".  Another amuse bouch that we enjoyed so much was the meatball and pasta sampler.

One thing that is most definitely new here is their desire to make each and every dish organic and healthy. There are very few ingredients that are not locally sourced and shopping is done in tandem with their sister restaurant Il Grano. It's not only all about the organic ingredients at Marino's, it's also about the artistic and mouthwatering display of the food as well.

Our suggestion to really acquire the full Marino experience is to let Mario design a multi-course tasting menu for you.  We did the last time we came to dinner and he worked around all food requirements and budgets. It was truly a memorable experience and a large cut above the typical Italian dinners served throughout our fair city.

We started with the aforementioned pizza bread followed by fresh Santa Barbara prawns with stuffed calamari and organic greens (so fresh in fact that it seemed like Mario just caught them that afternoon).  After our scrumptious prawns, we feasted on homemade fettuccini with Shrimp from Il Grano.  Amid courses Mario told us, "we are not feeding you, you are feeding us".

We then tasted some line caught sushi grade swordfish prepared lightly in a lemon caper butter sauce. Each of their sauces has a refinement, of which we were aware upon each delicate forkful. I remember years ago Mario Sr. told me "if you can taste the garlic, there is definitely too much of it,” something we have taken with us throughout our dining experiences over the years.

The desserts speak for themselves.  Look at this chocolate delictable on a plate.  Total yum.

A great many studio heads and agents come here as their watering hole and you can join them at lunch, even if you're on a tight budget, as they have a terrific prix fixe lunch at $15-$20, which includes salad, soup, pasta and other choices, as well as dessert.  This could easily be the best deal in town because of the price and the quality of the cuisine.

When you go—and you should—be sure and say hello to Mario who just might be one of the nicest restaurateurs in town.

Appetizingly yours,

Michael and Scott
The Dining Duo

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Posted by The Dining Duo | 11:08 AM | 1 comments »

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  1. Katherine Page // September 17, 2012 at 9:25 AM  

    The truffle caviar is an inspiration on the chef's part. Have never seen this done before even in Florence. You lucky guys to have two amazing places nearby. Think of me stuck with Legal Seafoods (not that we go there! I do cook a lot and yes, there are some fine dining choices in the Boston area, but increasingly less. Portland, Maine is the foodie haven these days in New England ).

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