Drive & Find: Ep 1: Cantalini’s Salerno Beach
We started Drive & Find a few years back because, frankly, we were damn intimidated by the vast Los Angeles culinary scene. It’s a simple concept: two Westside dudes are hungry… they pick an area of town… they take a drive … they find an alluring restaurant … they dine there. This concept has brought us all around LA – from seafood to Thai to total crap – nonetheless our affinity for the unknown remains.
DATE: Sunday, May 2, 2009
RESTAURANT: Cantalini’s Salerno Beach Restaurant
193 Culver Blvd; Playa del Rey, 90293
Their slogan: “The Best in Traditional Italian Cuisine.”
Our Slogan: “The Best in Traditional Italian Cuisine … on that part of Culver Blvd.”
Drive Time: 20 minutes
LIKES: Saltwater smell outside. The house band straight out of an early ‘90s Steve Martin romantic comedy. Cozy date spot. The hand-painted walls. Leather booths outside for table waiting. Cute, oddly dressed hostess. A lot of cork popping all around. Locals in beach attire.
DISLIKES: Thirty minute wait at 7:45 p.m. on a Sunday. The enflamed MAC Tools Autoracing parka worn by a dude at an adjacent table. At times feeling like we were in coastal South Carolina. The bread. Their middle school class project website (www.salernobeach.com ).
THE MENU: Classic Italian fare. What else did you expect?
In the relative ghost town that is Playa del Rey, Cantalini’s stuck out for sure, but in a good way. Its bright neon lights and heavy sidewalk chatter drew us right in. Sure, the 30-minute wait was a bummer, but the fact there were even enough people in Playa del Rey to produce a half hour wait was a good sign. When we asked the Valet if they were always this busy, he exhaustingly replied, “Yes” and plopped down next to us.
This odd, yet charming sense continued into the restaurant. The house band took requests, but seemingly stuck to Randy Newman. Or something that sounded like Randy Newman. The walls are beautifully hand painted with some Italian stuff. Couldn’t tell you for sure what it is – but definitely Italian. The interior also featured numerous family photos alongside signed 8x10s of celebrities who obviously stumbled upon the restaurant when they got lost heading to the airport.
Nonetheless, the food and overall dining experience were quite pleasing. We decided to kick things off with the Caprese Salad. The Caprese, although simple, was executed in the finest of fashion. Like Italian fashion. Which is the finest. Top notch mozzarella, tomatoes and basil are standard but Cantalini’s sly inclusion of pine nuts really pleased the palate.
The menu mentioned a house prowess in regards to their ravioli entrees, so we decided to take the chicken herb ravioli for a twirl. And thank the Dude above, we did. Definitely one of the best, if not the best, ravioli on the Westside. The combination of the diced white chicken, ricotta and herb filling complimented by a light tomato cream sauce made for a surprisingly enjoyable ravioli experience. And they certainly don’t shy away from the shredded parm.
The freshly prepared eggplant parmesan fell a bit short of the manager’s recommendation, which was the primary reason for ordering this classic dish. The Pisa-esque trifecta of layered fried eggplant, cheese, and marinara sauce were complimented by the fast preparation and crisp bite. Added plus: the eggplant’s texture prevented any possible purple veggie from drooping out the side of your mouth. On the other hand, anyone who has ever dated an Italian girl knows it’s all about the sauce, and unfortunately, this entree was lacking – both in quantity and flavor. Without the side of al dente rigatoni smothered in enough of it to cover the eggplant, the meal would have disappointed any parm patron. But seriously it wasn’t that bad…
Truth be told we enjoyed our overall experience at Cantalini’s quite a bit. We found this Drive & Find to be humorous (thanks Randy Newman house band), while simultaneously an enchantingly affordable meal for two dudes at candlelight. As for the locals? They seemed happy as Linguini Clams smothered in white wine, garlic and butter.
Will we be back? Probably.
With dates? Hopefully.
With reservations? Yes.
THE MARK: 4.0 / 5.0