La Cava Shines With A Taste of Tuscany in Sherman Oaks

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BY KAREN YOUNG

UPDATE: MARCH 18 LA CAVA NOW HAS A LIQUOR LICENSE.

There’s a little taste of real Italy right smack dab in Sherman Oaks at the newly opened La Cava — which starts with a warm greeting by the very charming and humorous owner, Armando Pucci. It’s a casual, neighborhood gem of a restaurant with the authentic taste of a traditional trattoria off a side street in Tuscany. Nothing trendy or fancy — just real good food.

(L-R) Owner Armando Pucci and Chef Jesus Gutierezz PHOTOS: Karen Young

In order for a restaurant to be successful, those running it must create a welcoming ambiance — and that is something which Pucci is well aware, having been involved with the restaurant business since he moved to the States twenty years ago.  Pucci, who is also an actor,  was an owner at La Buca on Melrose and had his hand in some of the finest Italian restaurants in Los Angeles, including Brentwood’s Toscana.  The chef, Jesus Guttierrez, honed his skills at Chaya Brasserie and Toscana (among others).

Pucci redesigned the cozy space that was formerly occupied by Watercress, creating a warm, yet modern ambiance with distressed wood chair rails and rich dark wood tables. The walls tastefully display Italian themed photographs. There are also a few sidewalk tables for eating al fresco (Ventura Blvd style that is!).

The menu is varied for such a small restaurant and there are daily specials written on a red chalkboard that can be seen as you walk in the door. There’s a wide range of antipasti, salads, soup, pizza, pasta, and paninis (lunch) and secondi (entrées) with variations of seafood, beef, chicken and lamb.

Pesce Misto with lobster, salmon, white fish, calamari, spinach and checca was a lunch special

Upon sitting, you are presented with a basket of rosemary focaccia accompanied by a most delicious spread of pureed gazpacho beans, artichoke and olive oil that is absolutely addicting. Olive oil and balsamic vinegar bottles are also at the table.

I’ve now dined at La Cava three times. On my first visit with My Daily Find’s resident chef, Gwen Kenneally, we decided to share three dishes — which were divided on two plates at no charge without our asking. We started with the Insalata della Cava, which is the house chopped salad `with a mix of greens, chicken, provolone, tomatoes and garbanzos mixed in a very light, fresh lemon/olive oil dressing.

Next up was Tagiatelle Bolognese which is done exactly as you’d find it in Italy. The sauce absorbed beautifully in to the pasta which was cooked perfectly al dente. Most Bolognese sauces feel meaty and heavy. The meat in this dish blends delicately into the tomato sauce so that the flavors meld together.

Tagiatelle Bolognese (split portion with fresh parmesan added)

Our last course was listed as a special — the Pesce Misto — a grilled plate of tender calamari, salmon, white fish and lobster accompanied by sautéed spinach and chopped tomato checca.The seafood tasted very fresh and each piece was evenly dressed with a lemon and olive oil dressing — completely refreshing on a warm day.

We ended our meal with coffee which is brewed Lavazza. We declined dessert, but Pucci persuaded us with his charming smile. We ordered Tiramisu, but when he appeared again, he also handed us the  Ricotta Torte and the Chocolate Torte — “we like our women chunky,” he quipped with a grin as he walked off.

My next visit was a little simpler. I ordered the Panino Vegetariano — a panini filled with grilled zucchini, tomatoes, mushrooms and provolone and served with a side salad. The vegetables were grilled to perfection and served on a soft ciabiatta with a pesto/eggplant spread. My dining partner had the Salmone alla Griglia — grilled salmon served with spinach and a chopped tomato checca.  This was similar to the grilled seafood platter Gwen and I shared and again lightly seasoned perfectly with olive oil, lemon and salt.

The Margherita Pizza (seen here) and all the pizzas are very thin and delicate.

My third visit was a Sunday lunch for my dad’s birthday, so there was a bigger group of six. Pucci wasn’t in (which is rare), but his right hand, Davide, was there and served us well. We ordered  some repeats of what I’d eaten before, like the salmon and the tagiatelle, but this time, I tried the Pesce Bianco alla Livornese — white fish sauteed with a tomato sauce made with capers and oregano,  served with roasted potatoes and spinach. The fish was substantial, very flavorful and flaked with a fork. The sauce tasted like it was made from ingredients fresh from the garden.  The Margherita Pizza is perfect for sharing as an appetizer for a bigger group or on its own as an entree. It’s a very thin, delicate pizza with a fresh, tangy  tomato sauce which tastes like tomatoes just off the vine.

The service was very good with a larger group. The bread basket was refilled a few times and my brother was given a small pot of coffee at the table because it was apparent he was ordering refills.  Since I had said it was my dad’s birthday,  Davide served a complimentary slice of chocolate torte with a candle and the birthday song.

Pesce Bianco alla Livornese — white fish sauteed with a tomato sauce made with capers and oregano,

Pucci is currently looking to expand his wait staff with the proper Italian feel and is also in the process of getting a liquor license (expected in about a month). While already catching on through word of mouth, I suspect La Cava will really take off when the service and the liquor license are complete.

La Cava is a tantalizing work in progress — and a welcome addition to the neighborhood.  It’s already on my short list of “go to” places in the 818.

Panino Vegetariano

Lunch entrees: $11-$20, Dinner entrees  $13- $25 (some specials like Osso Bucco can run $34).  La  Cava 13565 Ventura Blvd Sherman Oaks, CA 818-981-1517 (Ventura just east of Ventura Cyn). Open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner.

La Cava makes homemade desserts. Ricotta Cheese Torte and Chocolate Torte seen here.

Karen Young is the Founder/Editor of My Daily Find. Email: karen@mydailyfind.com

I didn't order the Salmon Carpaccio, but it was so beautiful, I had to take a photo. It was owner Armando Pucci's lunch!


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About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.

  • http://www.marymcgrathphotography.com Mary McGrath

    Great review and outstanding photos Karen!

  • http://www.MarcieD.com MarcieD

    Great find – My Daily Find!!! We can’t wait to try La Cava!! Sounds fabulous!!!!

  • http://www.XtremeDesserts.com Glenn

    I’ll definitely be trying this place, great review!

  • Cyndi Menegaz

    Me too! Thanks for the tip Karen. Can’t wait to try it.

  • Betsy

    Karen, this place sounds amazing! A very dear friend who is Italian and also an amazing cook just told me about la cava last week. Can’t wait to try it. One correction on the address. I think you meant to say ventura just east of laurel canyon.

    • KYoung

      Hi Betsy, It’ll be pretty perfect when they get the liquor license. No, it’s in Sherman Oaks, east of Woodman, two doors to the east of Coffee Roaster (best coffee, btw!)

  • Carolyn

    Just had lunch at La Cava yesterday. I only had to close my eyes and I was in Italy. Really, the food is that good. Great thin crust pizza. Sampled the papardelle with vitello sauce…delizioso! Tiramisu is light and not too sweet. Nice to find real Italian food in these parts.

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