Cantalini's Salerno Beach Restaurant
Has anyone eaten at this restaurant in Playa Del Rey? I drive by it all the time when I go surfing in Manhattan Beach --and I always think that it looks like and interesting/"old school"/kitschy/ place to try --from the outside --but yet, I have not taken the plunge --I noted some previous posts that gave some good reviews --but I guess I'm looking for more...
Cantalini's has a strong local following, myself included. We eat there fairly often--some of our favorites are the garlic spinach, seafood ravioli, penne pasta, cioppino (chock full of seafood), Caesar, (above average for the price) and wines by the glass (good quality and not as pricey as other restaurants in the area). I agree the bread could use improvement. LA Times honored Cantalini's as a top ten Italian restaurant in 2008. I have never had a bad meal there plus the employees really hustle.
This is, of course, a late reply. But I'd often wondered the same thing as OP when driving by. So after a thousand turns at that intersection, and after reading the conflicting opinions on Chow, we finally tried it. First visit was "prime time" on a Friday night. We walked in to find a packed house which surprised me considering what I'd read. The crowd was mostly older folks. We were directed to the attached "Harbor Room" to wait. The Harbor Room is a little nook of a bar with old photos of the area as decor. Our table was ready earlier than promised. Throughout the experience, all the service was very professional and pleasant (both visits).
The vibe is accurately described as "old school/kischy" and it was fun. Booths along one wall, two-tops down the center, and a couple tables that accomodated slightly larger groups on the opposite wall. On the second visit, we didn't go until about 8:45 (also a Friday) and the room was about 1/3 full.
The food was about what other posters have noted: uneven. A bread basket with two types of bread (one a foccacia) was placed. There's probably room for improvement on the bread. We agreed that the sauteed spinach garlic olio (a huge portion for $6.95) was great. The garlic cloves were perfectly roasted, carmelized, and mellow. We ordered it again on the second visit and the garlic was even better that time. The dinner salad lettuce mix, and the dressing, are pretty b-flat; as an entree salad it was $2.50. But, it comes with a tasty cheeseroll- and that's what earned it a repeat on the 2nd visit. On the second visit we tried the ceasar salad ($4.95). I've had better and I've had worse. On the first visit, I had the rack of lamb special. It was OK, but I probably won't order it again-- hard to put my finger on what the problem was. The surprise was the potatoes on the side. I was initially disappointed b/c they looked like steak fries, which I don't care for. I tried one anyway and ended up eating them all. They turned out to have this great pan-roasted crust of varying degrees on different pieces. Dining parter thought the ravioli was OK (I'll have to check to see if she ever served time in the CYA under the watchful eye of Westsidegal who compared this dish to prison food). I didn't think to try it. On the second visit we split the Rigatoni al Pesto. ($13.95) It didn't have that overly oily separation that can be common in pestos. The noodles were properly cooked and the ratio of noodle to sauce was right. The dish grew on me. Lastly, as noted by others, the Spumoni is great.
I forget the tab on the first visit. The second visit was less that $41.00 (before tip) for the spinach app, two salads, the pasta, a glass of wine (decent size pour) and spumoni. They apparently have complimentary valet parking, but we found parking w/in 75 yards both times. Yes, it's no Mozza; but frankly, we can't go to Mozza all the time. We love the food at a number of other Italian restaurants on the westside, but Cantalini's atmosphere and service are better than some and their prices are better than others. We'll return to Cantalini's occasionally because of the total package.