What would Americans eat if there never had been an Italy? That question occurred to me as I sat looking around the jam-packed Il Pastaio in the heart of Beverly Hills on a Friday night. I realized how frequently Jennifer and I eat Italian and how many Italian restaurants are recommended at atLarrys.com.
By the time our meal was completed I was ready to celebrate yet again the fact that there is an Italy and that there are Italian restaurants.
The corner of Canon and Brighton in Beverly Hills is a pricey piece of real estate and a relatively small space. That means tables crammed together as tightly as one could imagine. The space between two two-tops comes down to a couple of inches and thatís the case throughout the restaurant. Privacy is not an option and donít be bummed it the people next to you steal frequent peaks into your plate. Sidewalk tables are just as packed together as the inside ones.
On the other hand, privacy in a restaurant need not always be a priority. Throughout much of the world outside the U.S., sharing of tables is not unusual. We think nothing of it in Europe, where we will invite another couple to join us at a table for four if the restaurant is crowded. We have some very pleasant conversations with passing strangers.
Il Pastaio is one of the Drago family of restaurants and that means the food is going to authentic Italian and excellent.
The menu at Il Pastaio is more pasta-centric than some of the other Drago sites. There are 20 pasta offerings on the regular menu. First time there I ordered the scoglio Ė spaghetti with calamari, shrimp, scallops, and mussels in a lightly spiced tomato sauce. The pasta was perfectly flavorful and perfectly cooked. The seafood was tender and tasty and the sauce was delectable.
There are 11 antipasti on offer. It would have been a tough choice, except one of the items is arancini, something I havenít seen on a menu in years. These are fried rice cones filled with mozzarella cheese and peas instead of the more traditional rice balls.
The regular menu is rounded out with six risottos and eight main courses, including three chicken dishes, three veal dishes and two beef dishes. Fish appears only on the daily specials menu along with a hefty assortment of other items.
Each of the Drago restaurants at which weíve eaten has its own personality. It truly is a family of restaurants, not a chain. This one is the most European in its feel. The Dragos came to California from Italy and they brought with them authentic tastes of Italy to dazzle Americans. So, Iíll stop wondering what we would do if there never was an Italy and just give myself over to the continuing enjoyment of all things Italian.