George Christy 05-29-2009
When we met Tancredi DeLuca twenty years ago at the time that Toscana opened on San Vicente Boulevard in Brentwood, he looked after us and our guests that included Julia Child, Gore Vidal, designer Kenneth Jay Lane with his Northern Italianate charm and comfortable professional polish, jovially suggesting wines and specialties. Our radar picked up that this boyish, basketball-player-tall Tancredi was a restaurant star, and his successful future was a given, but after he departed Toscana, the scene for a while lacked his personal touch. To be fair, Toscana today has the popular and winning Antonio DeCicco as host, whose career we’ve followed from his waitstaffing days at Giorgio’s Ristorante in Santa Monica. A born gent.
Not long after leaving Toscana, the entrepreneurial Tancredi opened Trattoria Amici in the Beverly Terrace Hotel, an overnight hit with such as Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt (remember, they were once together and did marry). The crowds enjoyed Tancredi’s chef-partner Enrico Trova’s good food in an embracing atmosphere and lovely patio, and we were happy to be there, as we are now at Amici Brentwood, which Tancredi opened five years ago and, again, created an overnight hit. No longer affiliated with Trattoria Amici, Tancredi lately announced with his usual enthusiasm, “We’re proud that Piero Topputo has joined us at Amici Brentwood, after his consistent popularity at Caffe Roma and Toscana.”
Piero Topputo hails from the Puglia region of Italy, where he was the youngest of five children in his family, and where his mother’s cooking inspired him to embark, after high school, on a career as a chef. His credentials are impressive, having graduated from the Professional Institute of Hoteliers, where he chose the school’s five-year plan, toiling summers in restaurants in Florence, Hildalgo, Rimini, and mastering their various regional dishes. At Amici Brentwood, Piero is drawing raves from regulars for his black and white pasta with king crab and arugula ($22); the braised short ribs ($32); the wild boar with pappardelle ($20).
From Day One, we’ve returned to Amici Brentwood for those delicious, pureed, dairy-free soups. The chunky tomato soup, and the daily offerings, from porcini to broccoli, all nourishing and popular with Westside locals that include Gov. Schwarzenegger with Maria Shriver and family, who often split Margarita pizzas for starters and frequently dine on the pounded chicken breast. Linda and Jerry Bruckheimer order the Dover sole, as do Cuba Gooding, Jr., Peter Berg, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, with Kurt also enjoying the spinach ravioli and the langoustines flown in from the Mediterranean. The wine list includes numerous fine Italian offerings, along with our California wines.
Amici Brentwood’s dining room is relaxing, with sophisticated new-world art, gentle lighting, and that friendly nightly host, Pietro Smargiassi, of the Roman coin profile. Dining’s also available at the bar. We should mention that Tancredi and his beautiful wife Nina are movie buffs. They manage to follow the latest films, and their critiques are invariably insightful. Next month, Tancredi opens Amici Glendale in the Americana mall on Brand Boulevard. Yes, Tancredi, as we predicted and who we assume was named after Gioachino Rossini’s romantic opera, is a star in our culinary community.
Amici Brentwood is at 2438 San Vicente Boulevard (southwest corner of 26th Street) in Santa Monica (the southeast corner on 26th Street is Brentwood!). Lunch Monday through Saturday, dinner nightly. Valet parking in the lot behind the restaurant. Telephone: (310) 260-4900.
Speaking of opera, moms and dads, uncles and aunts, godparents and grandparents, listen here. If you want to introduce your young ones to the glory of operatic music, bring them to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for our Los Angeles Opera’s production of La Traviata, which is Giuseppe Verdi’s most popular composition, inspired by Alexandre Dumas’ 1848 novel, La Dame aux Camellias. Directed by Marta (Mrs. Placido) Domingo, this grand and colorful production, with splendid sets and costumes designed by Giovanni Agostinucci, boasts topnotch singers. With the orchestra under the baton of Grant Gershon during the night we were there, the thrilling voices of the young Russian soprano Marina Poplavskaya as Violetta, Italian tenor Massimo Giordano as her lover Alfredo, and Polish baritone Andrzej Dobber as Marina’s father will long remain in our memory.
While the story focuses on the demimondaine Violetta, I wouldn’t be concerned about your youthful family members. Teenagers today are hip, and those demimondaines, as Marta explains in her program notes, were “women of much higher class … some achieving very high social positions, enormous political power, and amassing fabulous fortunes … they were loved by kings and princes, maharajahs and aristocrats, by politicians, military men, bankers and, last but not least, musicians and painters, whose art was influenced by their existence.”
Marta adds, “This is not an apology for vice, but courtesans have their place in history. Women of great beauty – and sometimes with beauty of lesser degree, but brilliant intelligence – with strong determination, liberated (before liberation was an accepted way of living for women), cultivated and highly sophisticated, and launching new fashions and new modes of living.” She cites Madame De Maintenon, the favorite of King Louis XIV, the Sun King; the exquisite Madame de Pompadour; and the fascinating Madame Du Barry, the favorite of King Louis XV. “Not only did they create styles, they influenced the arts through patronage.”
La Traviata first-nighters included Governor Arnold (Maria Shriver was at the Lakers game with the family), opera “angels” Eva and Marc Stern, Carol and Warner Henry, Dr. Harold Karpman, Katie and Arpad Domyan, Steve Nemeth. The opera remains in performance with changing casts through June 2l. Our L.A. Opera’s director of communications, Gary Murphy, was off to Italy the following morning for a week of wining and dining in the Orvieto area and in Rome, where Gary’s hotel room will overlook his favorite Roman site, the Pantheon. He reminded that the L.A. Opera’s fall season opens on September 12th with Donizetti’s comic opera, The Elixir of Love.
Whenever we catch up with the engaging Marta Domingo, as we did during the opening night, she’ll wink that we must remember to tell friends new to opera that they better not eat beforehand for fear of falling asleep. “They’ll stay awake if they indulge in chocolates and Coca-Cola.”