For too long pizza was something we ordered late at night. After a few (too many) drinks, who was to notice that the crust was soggy, the sauce too sweet or the cheese only half melted? Fortunately for those of us who demand more and like to eat pizza with a knife and fork and a glass of wine, Los Angeles is in the midst of a pizza renaissance. Nancy Silverton’s Mozza proved that pizza can be high brow, Gjelina on Abbot Kinney proved it can be hip and the ever-expanding Pitfire Pizza Co. proved that even chains can produce excellent wood-fired pizza.

Enter Pizza Antica, a relative newcomer to the L.A. pizza game. Situated on the roof deck of Santa Monica Place, Pizza Antica’s exterior is what I might call tavern chic. Dark wood walls bring to mind a cozy European alehouse, but the oversized windows flooding the interior with light make it distinctly SoCal. Inside, black and white floor tiles, marble countertops and wood furniture pay homage to classic bistro style. An open kitchen, complete with a wood-burning pizza oven, keeps the interior warm while a display of wine bottles and microbrews serve as the décor.

The Santa Monica location is the latest of four Pizza Antica restaurants to open in California, and the first location outside of the San Francisco Bay Area. Judging by the menu, it is no surprise that the restaurant group hails from Northern California where seasonal farm-fresh fare is a must. One section of the menu is simply, and aptly, titled “Greens.” There you will find a salad of young field greens with fresh herbs and toasted pine nuts, another featuring fall vegetables, cider vinaigrette and mint and my personal favorite: warm brussels sprouts with caramelized onions, bacon, hard-cooked egg and crunchy croutons, a delightful mingling of salty and sweet.

The restaurant’s housemade mozzarella is as good as it sounds. Placed on top of braised tuscan kale and garlic-rubbed crostini it is even better. It appears several times on the menu, and I encourage you to order it whenever possible.

Pizza, as expected, is at the heart of the menu. You can create your own, but there is no reason to. The menu features 10 pies starting with a meatless and cheeseless option and ending with a meaty and cheesy calzone. If your taste buds tend to savor sweet, try the Bartlett pear, sweet garlic and Mt. Tam Triple Cream pizza. The cheese, made by Cow Girl Creamery in Point Reyes, is a California classic. Earthy and buttery, it is a pleasure to eat raw and a revelation atop pizza.

Like most Angelenos, I enjoy a little spice, and the spicy calabrese sausage, onions, peppers and parsley pie did not disappoint. The crust, crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, is a feat only possible with a pizza oven that can reach temperatures upwards of 700 degrees.

Our server, Dylan, insisted that I order the handmade potato ricotta gnocchi with pesto and sun-dried-tomato cream, and rightfully so, the potato dumplings were as light and ethereal as he promised. If you are carb-averse do not despair, the herb-roasted breast of chicken paired with a warm white bean salad hits the mark, as does a dish of thinly sliced lamb with cauliflower and celery root bagna cauda.

Service is a strong point. It is attentive, yet casual. Choosing between a Nero d’Avola and a Dolcetto d’Alba, Dylan steered me to the right choice. If it’s beer you crave, there is a long list from bottled Budweiser to the $19 bottle of Delirium Tremens, once named the best beer in the world.

When it came to dessert I was happily swayed by our server’s suggestion to try the warm walnut cake with brown sugar bananas. Sinful enough to call dessert, yet not so naughty that you couldn’t eat the leftovers for breakfast, it was a welcome finale.

Best of all, the complete bill of fare is offered at both lunch and dinner – a perfect respite either pre or post shopping.

For more information, call (310) 394-4080 or visit