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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Karen Young is the Founder/Editor of My Daily Find. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org