“Buon cibo!” (Good food!)
North Italia recently opened in Santa Monica, and we tried it out for tor the first time a few weeks ago. We were running errands around the Promenade and thought it was a good time for a late afternoon snack. While walking past Santa Monica Place, we noticed a very inviting patio and it turned out to be the roomy outdoor seating for North Italia restaurant. I took a quick look at the menu board outside, and after reading through some pretty mouthwatering descriptions of appetizers and pastas, I decided that this would be a good place for some small bites. It also happened to be happy hour, and I took that as a sign that this was the place to be.
North Italia is small chain from Fox Restaurants Concepts, which also runs Flower Child (another great spot in Santa Monica for fresh, healthy food). I think there are about 10 or 11 North Italia locations, spread throughout the Southwest. Lucky for me, there’s one in my neighborhood now.
We ordered a couple of local beers to start. It seemed mandatory, as we were there during happy hour. And as a “pre-snack,” we ordered the Crispy Calamari. This had to be some of the best calamari I’ve had in a long time. The breading was actually very light and airy; not dense or overly coated, like most other fried calamari. Squeezing the lemon over it gave the calamari a refreshing quality. It was also served on a bed of arugula that was tossed in a grilled lemon vinaigrette. Definitely the brightest tasting calamari dish I’ve ever eaten.
It was hard to choose our “main” snacks because there were so many options on the menu. But our friendly waiter helped us out. We ordered two dishes: the short rib radiatori and the traditional bolognese. The pastas are made in-house every day, so we had to pick a couple to try.
The short rib radiatori is called just that because the pasta is shaped like radiators. The pasta is ruffled (and cute), and each ridge is perfect for catching the creamy parmesan sauce that coats the whole dish. The short ribs were very tender, and the fresh horseradish and wilted arugula added some intensity to the dish. The herbed breadcrumbs contributed a slight crunch to the softness of the noodles and the short ribs. It was a remarkable bowl of pasta, with perfectly prepared short ribs that practically melted in your mouth.
I had to order the bolognese, too, because the menu (and our waiter) indicated that it was the “house specialty.” The homemade tagliatelle was perfectly al dente, and each noodle was coated in a traditional tomatoey meat sauce and a layer of freshly grated grana padano cheese. It was fragrant and rich, and it made me wish I had an Italian grandma who would cook this for me every day. I totally understand why this is the house specialty. The tagliatelle was top notch, and the bolognese sauce was incredibly tasty.
Okay, so this wasn’t really a “snack.” I guess once we sat down and really started to examine the fantastic menu, there was no way we could limit ourselves to a couple of small appetizers. And I’m glad we didn’t. The calamari was amazing, and the two pasta dishes proved to me that North Italia really does handcraft their dishes. It’s not just a marketing tagline. The food truly is “handmade with love from scratch daily” — and just one bite will prove it.