One of the joys of spending a week in an apartment in Florence, Italy is discovering a neighborhood trattoria off the tourist map, a place with surprisingly good food - just a neighborhood place, after all - that you find yourself going back to again and again, especially when they recognize you after the first visit.
Il Forno, in a shopping mall across from office buildings lining the Santa Monica Airport, is a Santa Monica equivalent of the wonderful neighborhood trattoria you find in an Italian city. Chef Domenico Salvatore has been manning the stoves since Il Forno opened in 1985; founder Joseph Suceveanu remains in the front of the house.
First off you get addictive bread, made from the dough they use for their pizza crusts, served with a bowl of chopped tomato in a pool of balsamic vinegar and oil. I’m always partial to the cold seafood appetizer, Capriccio Imperiale at dinner, Insalata di Mare Posillipo at lunch, both chilled Italian seafood salads in a tart lemon, parsley and olive oil dressing.
Pastas are superb, especially the dinner offering of Trofie al Gusto - trofie is a Ligurian pasta shape - with prosciutto, broccoli, artichokes, zucchini and pine nuts in an olive oil and garlic sauce. Once you’ve eaten the bread you’ll be tempted by the pizzas: I often vote for the Capricciosa, mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce, mushrooms and black olives.
Recommended entrees include a chicken breast - organic, free range; this is Santa Monica, after all - with sun-dried tomatoes, a wild-caught whitefish simply sautéed with tomatoes and herbs, a selection of perfectly good meats, and a very flavorful bowl of bollito di mare, a seafood soup perfect for those chilly evenings near the coast.