Cucina Bene: Molta Bene
Sherman Oaks, CA
Laughter is brightest in the place where the food is….
Italian restaurants are probably the most successful in Los Angeles. Places such as Barone's, Caioti, Vitello's have been with us for years; the new Pizza Mozza and Osteria Mozza are the hardest to get a reservation for in our city. Well, my friends, I have one more really fine place to tell you about and they celebrated their first anniversary last Christmas. They call themselves Cucina Bene and they're two blocks South of Ventura on Sepulveda Boulevard.
First, the restaurant is beautiful with lovely, large tables and chairs; glowing candles atop the tables, accompanied by fresh flowers; the strains of a pianist serenading you with soft, familiar tunes; a most gracious wait staff and, eventually, food that will please your palate.
Here, the menu is divided into eleven separate categories, all designed to whet your appetite, all designed by Avi and Barry, the owners, to offer you variety and choice. Not to worry, all your favorites are here or, as Lucia, our lovely server told us, "The chef (Avi) will be happy to accommodate you."
A generous serving of bruschetta finds its way to your table as well as a basket of hot, garlic rolls with oil and vinegar. Each will pique your appetite beautifully. We ordered each of the two soups: a tomato bisque and a minestrone: each wholesome and hearty; each with its own bouquet and excellent taste. An Antipasto arrived next. We requested a layer of greens and they obliged. Prosciutto, pepperoni, mozzarella, goat cheese, tomatoes, mushrooms, sliced eggplant, sweet peppers, each in their own corner of the plate. An excellent opener to what would follow.
Being an old Bronx pizza man, we had to try Cucina'a Margherita. At $10.95, it may well be one of the great pizza bargains around. Theirs is the thin crusted, lightly tomatoey, heavily cheesy variety – rectangularly shaped, on a long board. it tasted wonderful but did not surpass the ones at Caioti or Pizza Mozza.
Fran selected one of the "Special" entrees of the day: Chilean sea bass. Cucina's comes crusted on one side and buttered on the other. It's served with pasta in marinara sauce and a wealth of fresh vegetables. From the smile on Fran's face and her two thumbs raised, I knew success had been achieved with this dish. My Veal Parmigiano with pasta Bolognese was very good (B+). A large, flat piece of veal, coated in bread crumbs with a generous overlay of mozzarella and tomato sauce made smiles appear on my face. And the Bolognese was about as genuine as could be prepared. I really would have preferred spaghetti to the thin egg noodles but, no matter, the noodles were good.
Meanwhile, the piano music plays on, adding a lovely background to the tasty meal presented.
They have one of the largest dessert offerings found in any restaurant: a variety of gelatos, bombas, tiramisu, truffles, ripienos and soufflé. They don't make it easy for the patron, as each is presented in pictorial form and your eyes will get quite large as you look the menu over trying to make your selection. Fran selected the Cappuccino Truffle; I, the Bomba. Both were excellent choices. And, if you like true, rich, black, strong, Italian coffee, this is your kind of place. My preference lies in the Starbuck's kind of blend but, hey, everything else was terrific. Even the Gerstel (?) non-alcoholic beer they serve was good.
It's the ultimate Italian restaurant and it's catching on for there wasn't an empty table at 7:30 on the Friday we chose to be there. When you go, please tell 'em Giuseppe sent you; it may mean an extra bruschetta!
Cucina Bene, 4511 Sepulveda Blvd., Sherman Oaks CA 91403, Tel. 818-981-8300. Dinner for two – Approx. $40 w/o wine Open Daily www.cucinabene.com