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Sep 24, 2002 12:13 PM

Caffe Pinguini – the search continues

  • m

The Grubs’ search for the right restaurant in the greater Culver City area for the son of a Grub’s wedding rehearsal dinner (for 12) next month took us to Caffe Pinguini in Playa on Friday.

Very nice physical layout: small, stark & modern, acoustically alive dining room inside. Well-hidden, well-heated, comfortable small patio. Very pleasant ambiance.

Wine list shocking. Pedestrian – evidence of lack of care in selections vis-à-vis Pastina where we had dined the previous night. And OVERPRICED (sorry for the caps, call it Russkar Disease), WAY OVERPRICED. Ended up with an average unknown zin at $45 – at least 4x its worth at TJ’s, with no sommelier assistance to boot. Pretty sure owner takes what he can get a great deal on & adds it to the list.

Menu pretty straightforward Italian. We grub a very nice starter special, smoked mozzarella atop shiitake mushrooms. Surprisingly adventuresome relative to the rest of the menu & surprisingly tasty. La Grubina enjoyed her zuppa di mara, although heavily, heavily burdened with squid at the expense of other more costly items like shellfish & even the whitefish. Mr Grub’s veal w mushroom sauce while not offensive in any respect was pretty underwhelming. No dessert – nothing of interest. Excellent cappuccino for La Madama.

Menu prices also an issue. Generally speaking, chef’s prices for cook’s food. Pastas, $15-20; meats, more than $20. Not outrageous for Pastina or Pane y Vino care & service, but Caffe Pinguini is more Louise's or Anna Maria (RIP) class. Most definitely not worth a drive, but for the folks in Playa with too much money & few other choices, maybe.

The search will continue.

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  1. Monsieur Grubeur -

    I can't grumble with your review of the food at Caffe Pinguini, but I thought I should add that I went to a rehearsal dinner there and had a wonderful time. I don't remember whether the food was good, but we had the whole restaurant and the whole experience was very pleasant. It was also nice to take a walk on the beach after dinner with other members of the wedding party.

    Good luck on your search.

    1. I will actually stick up for Caffe Pinguini food.

      My review is posted below. However, I will note that it seems like you and I ate the menu entirely opposite -- we stuck with ultra-basic, veggie-friendly fare, and were really pleased with the execution. If cook's food is so easy, why is it so rarely perfectly done?

      (And, I agree with Bonzo -- I couldn't imagine a more perfect atmosphere for an intimate, yet festive, rehearsal dinner.)


      1 Reply
      1. re: Jeff P-S

        Jeff, I agree with both you & Bonzo. The food seemed to be nicely executed versions of basic Italian staples. Scrooge McGrub's main complaint is paying a significant premium for what are not significantly premium dishes.

        Must also admit that we weren't dazzled with service either. I believe we had the same 7-ft Benigni server who took our order, then spent the rest of the evening in a loud, animated conversation (stereotype alert: are all Italian conversations loud & animated?) with some pals at a nearby table.

        Given the lovely little patio by the sea, we wish with all our Grubbiness it had turned out differently.

      2. m
        Mouth of the South

        Thanks for the review...please keep posting as you test other places.

        1. Had Dinner there a couple weeks ago....
          Good Atmosphere, The waiters were all italian, really pleasant.
          Reasonably priced, My Veal was excellent and juicy not complains. Our Waiter Bruno, Was really nice and dedicated, willing to help us make our choices, Will go back

          4 Replies
          1. re: LaGuy340

            I used to live in the area at time of the first posts. What I remember most is that the "special" was always salmon. It's not so special if it's always the same is it? I would opt for Cantilini's instead, which is where I went last time I was in the area. More Italian-American than Italian but better than Pinguini.

            1. re: bicoastalfoodie

              imho, they are both to be avoided.

              cantilini's food tastes like institutional frozen food. i used to work for the California Youth Authority, and the ravioli served at cantilini's was no better than the frozen stuff we used to buy for the inmates to eat.

              the only edible thing i've ever been served at cantilini's was their spumoni.

              1. re: westsidegal

                yes, I agree. Cantalini's is what any average joe can cook in their own kitchen. (maybe even worse!) My mom's penne was overly salted by capers and my pesto sauce was out of a jar....Are there other dishes there I should try instead?

                1. re: Kahuna0913

                  i'm not masochistic enough to try any more of their food--not even for the team.
                  my advice is stick with the spumoni if you are forced to go there.