Boasting an endless ocean view, delirious sunsets and a colorful Ferris wheel, the Santa Monica Pier seems tailor made for date night. Unfortunately, the culinary offerings (fried fish, hamburgers, etc.) were limited. In fact, the area tilted more toward tourists and families rather than local couples looking for love.
Now, that has all changed radically with the welcome addition of Ristorante Al Mare, an Italian restaurant boasting delicious food, terrific ambiance and plenty of that gorgeous scenery. It’s a perfect place to bring someone you want to impress or reignite a dwindling passion.
Set near the beginning of the Pier, near Ocean Avenue, Al Mare dazzles with three floors for dining. The first floor features a bar, outside seating and a cozy grouping of tables. Upstairs, another room takes overflow and can be rented for private parties and weddings.
The piece de resistance, however, is the rooftop with expansive vistas and open-air fabulousness. The possibility for lunch al fresco is pretty much the best in the whole city. At some point there will be live music as well. A champagne brunch at Al Mare with jazz playing in the background promises to make me fall in love with Los Angeles all over again.
Of course, the other star at the restaurant is the cuisine. Chef Giacomo Pettinari hails from Ancona, Italy and puts his considerable skills to excellent use in the kitchen. Fresh pasta is surprisingly difficult to come by in the area, and Al Mare’s offerings melt in your mouth. The special the day I visited was a house made Butternut Squash Pasta called Cappellacci, or “Big Hat” in Italian. These deep pockets of noodle filled with ricotta and colored a delightful persimmon by the squash and tomato were delicately flavored yet hearty.
Another great choice is the Chitatarrine Nere ai Frutti di Mare. The homemade, squid ink-infused linguine is both sumptuous and chewy in a way that store bought noodles never are. The spicy tomato sauce and sparklingly fresh seafood evoked the nearby sea to perfection. I paired it with an Italian Chianti from Danzante Wines, and while I know little about oenology, the combo made my heart sing.
There are many good things to eat beyond pasta, starting with the wonderful appetizers. One great choice to eat at the bar while taking in a game is the Rollino Cabrese. The spellbinding presentation of a rustic baguette filled with melted mozzarella, marinara, spicy salami and mushrooms will knock your socks off. Crusty, chewy and spicy, this upscale version of a calzone just begs to be eaten along with a cold Italian beer.
Another terrific hors d'oeuvre is the Carpaccio di Carne Trentino. This thinly sliced, house-cured beef comes served with Asian pears, Parmesan and arugula for a unique play of sweet and salty with a little bit from the greens. Equally special and a perfect starter for those with a little more adventurous taste is the Polpo Arrosto. A sort of Mediterranean comfort food, Chef Giacomo, pan roasted the octopus to perfection and then spooned it over his version of mashed potatoes and green beans.
Other appetizers not to be missed include homemade pizza, fresh butter (churned with local milk from Organic Pastures, Fresno) and the Carpaccio di Salmone – a delicious house marinated local salmon paired with buratta and toast points.
I should note that Chef Giacomo “learned to cook in his Mama’s kitchen,” and said he “makes everything from scratch, otherwise I shouldn’t call myself chef.” How’s that for music to a gourmand’s ears?
If you still have room – and I did – make way for a slew of yummy desserts. My favorite, a molecular Buttermilk Foam with raspberries and Lingua di Gatto (a “cat’s tongue tuile, or cookie"), partnered the tart with the sweet and the luscious with the crunchy, which somehow brought Pinkberry’s yogurt to mind. The Torrane was a chocoholic’s dream - a solid square of hazelnut and dense cocoa presented like an upside down lollipop, perfect for nibbling slowly while you linger over coffee, the view and the sea air.
Lastly, don’t forget the full bar that will serve up just about anything you can think up. The specials, like the Raspberry Lemon Drop, evoke a warm day at the beach. Another great choice is the Jalapeno Margarita, which serves up just the right amount of bite.
Ristorante Al Mare is located at 250 Santa Monica Pier in Santa Monica. Click here for more information.