The road to Italian classics

Avenue Italy has an appropriate location and a beautiful setting

Old fashioned elegance at Avenue Italy, on Avenue I. Photo by JP Cordero

When Avenue Italy opened on Avenue I in Redondo, I thought it might be the beginning of a new era in city planning. We might have Argentine and Albanian restaurants on Avenue A, Bulgarian and Brazilian on Avenue B, Cambodian and Czech on Avenue C, and so on. There are no Avenues J through Z, so we’d be out of luck for Javanese through Zambian cuisines, but we would not only have the ones from the first nine letters of the alphabet, we’d know exactly where to find them.

I don’t know whether the owner of Avenue Italy was swayed by the name of the street when deciding to locate there, but it was a smart move. Redondo residents who prefer old school Italian food in classic surroundings were already visiting the original location in Rancho Palos Verdes, and the departure of the previous Avenue I restaurant left a prime space available.

Besides the synergy with the street name and the rare Riviera Village location with free parking, a big asset here is the beautiful dining space. It was pretty in a cool modernist way when this was La Bottega Romana, but has been transformed into a space that blends indoor and outdoor with ample light and carefully manicured plants. It’s more formal than most eateries in the area, and is one of the loveliest, most tranquil dining rooms in the South Bay.

Once you finish admiring the décor, you’ll turn to investigating the menu. We discussed possibilities with our server Bartolomeo and ordered beef carpaccio, a Caesar salad, and a pizza with luganega sausage, which the menu described as a spicy sausage from Veneto. This turned out to be inaccurate because the luganega has less red pepper than a typical Italian sausage, though cloves, cinnamon, and coriander gave it gentle spice overtones. The meat was finely ground, more like a frankfurter than a typical Italian sausage with its coarse chewy texture and pieces of fennel seed. Luganega is usually offered in a pasta, but we had ordered it as a pizza topping because we wanted to try it. The pizza itself was excellent with a light, thin crust and flavorful sauce with a modest touch of garlic and herbs, and I might have liked it better had we stuck with the traditional sausage and its spicy kick.

Beef carpaccio, a luganega pizza, and a caesar salad at Avenue Italy in Redondo. Photo by Richard Foss

Italians have been eating raw beef as a medicine since the Middle Ages, but carpaccio in its modern form with shaved parmesan and dressing dates only from the 1950s. The version here adds a small arugula and tomato salad on top of the rounds of thinly sliced raw beef, and it’s a polarizing dish. When made with very high quality fresh beef it has much the same attraction as sushi, a pure and different expression of something we’ve eaten cooked all of our lives. It has to be made with top quality products, as it is here, because the cheese and oil accents do not hide the flavor.

I often order a Caesar salad at Italian restaurants because it’s an item that can be made in many ways, with a dressing that can be robust or timid. This one didn’t teach me anything more than the fact that Avenue Italy makes the classics with consistency. The anchovy, garlic, and pepper that make up the sharp flavors were in balance with the egg, parmesan, and oil just as the classic recipe dictates. I slightly prefer a bit more anchovy and pepper, but that’s a personal preference.

We paired our starters with a bottle of wine made from the Pecorino grape, which has the same name as the Italian cheese and has a sheep on the label. This makes sense when you know that the grape has its name because sheep (pecora in Italian) like to eat these grapes. Based on this bottle, I prefer to drink them – it’s a nice light white with moderate acidity, very good with the carpaccio and other starters. The wines here seem to be well chosen but there are few moderately priced selections.

For our mains we had veal parmesan, eggplant parmesan, pollo alla Valdostana, and a halibut daily special. The two parmesans were a study in how the mild protein and the more full-flavored eggplant were affected by the sauce and cheese. The eggplant was a better match for the fruity, herbal tomato sauce with just a hint of wine cooked into it, and the vegetable flavors melded in a way that didn’t happen with the meat. The veal was good and quite tender, and until tasting them side by side I might have expected to prefer it, but experience shifted me the other way. Both dishes come with sides of either pasta or sautéed zucchini and potatoes, and I recommend the latter because the additional vegetable flavors add to the enjoyment.

The pollo valdostana was a bit of a surprise – this dish of chicken topped with crisped prosciutto and cheese is often sautéed in a white wine sauce, but here it is baked and served over a red sauce with linguine on the side. It was different from what I expected, but very good. I checked later with an Italian chef who said that while this dish is always made with fontina cheese, chicken, and prosciutto there are many variations. This could be proof that these three flavors go together so well that however chefs express their local or personal style, it’s still delicious.

The fresh halibut is a specialty at Avenue Italy. Photo by Richard Foss

The star of the entrees, though, was the halibut, which was cooked in an unusual way. Many chefs aim at getting their halibut crispy outside and very flakey, but this was a different aesthetic, entirely. The center of the fish was done just past the point where you’d think of it as hot sushi, so it was incredibly moist and silky. It was a classic presentation of the fish sautéed with butter, capers, and white wine, but the effect was noteworthy. I don’t know how long they’re going to have fresh halibut but you should get this if they have it, and give any other fish dishes a chance.

We were considering two wines, and Bartolomeo brought tastes of a Chianti and a Murphy-Goode Cabernet. To our surprise we preferred the cab, which has relatively soft tannins and bold fruity and jammy flavors. It was good enough to put on our buy list for drinking at home.

On the evening we visited Avenue Italy a large party had depleted their dessert collection, and as we were fairly full anyway we decided to save sweets for the return trip. Dinner for four ran about $50 per person for food, and with two of the least expensive bottles of wine plus tax the tab was $282 – above what I pay for everyday meals, but this wasn’t one. Avenue Italy is a place for dates and special occasions in serene comfort, quite unlike the Riviera Village bustle that dominates this area. They’ve made a bet that locals will recognize the worth of old fashioned elegance, and I hope they’re right.

Avenue Italy is at 215 Avenue I in Redondo. Open daily 11 a.m – 9 p.m. Underground parking. Wheelchair access good. Beer and wine only. Some vegetarian items. No corkage Mon.-Tues. $20 other days. (310) 541-0013. AvenueItaly.com. ER

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Written by: Richard Foss

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