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Jun 25, 2009 03:23 PM

Riva - Santa Monica

Our next date lunch Wednesday was at Riva- Jason Travi’s new venture in Santa Monica. (I am not counting Marty’s on Pico as I don’t consider 30 minutes gulping down burgers on a plastic park bench with the pigeons as date lunch fare.)

Wednesday at Riva is a pleasure. The Wednesday Santa Monica Farmer’s Market is one of the best in Los Angeles. Susan Miller, the GM, explained that Jason shows up with a wheelbarrow of “goodies” every Wednesday with the “best” from the market.

The room is casual with an open kitchen.

Manny, our server, was wonderful. I didn’t see crudo 3 ways on the lunch menu and asked was it possible if the kitchen could do it? Minutes later, he returned beaming. Yes, not only could they do it, but the fish had just come from the farmer’s market and they were indeed fresh as fresh.

A word about the service – this is a casual restaurant, but the service is exceptional. Not only was Manny attentive and perfect, but everyone from the hostess on the phone to Susan Miller, the GM couldn’t have been more accommodating. We are not regulars; in fact this was our first time at Riva. When my husband made the reservation, the hostess thoughtfully mentioned that there is no valet parking at lunch. The first batch of rolls were served cold and my husband asked if they could be served warm. No problem. In fact that seems to be their modus operandi – no problem.

Crudo 3 ways
salmon trout with dill, seabass with red peppercorns and olive oil and tuna with capers and tonnato sauce

Wood-fired Molto Maiale Pizza – sausage, bacon, meatballs, pancetta, caramelized onions – absolutely delicious and a carnivore’s dream

Chicken Panini with bacon, avocado, gruyere – we asked to split this and the kitchen was nice enough to split it in the kitchen. Normally, I nibble at the greens, but they were definitely Farmer’s Market fresh and worth every bite. The panini was equally tasty and comforting food at its best.

Tiramisu – mascarpone zabaglione, expresso soaked ladyfingers – this was the only miss. For some reason the zabaglione was tasteless, the meringue “fingers” flat. To the restaurant’s credit, this was taken off the bill and substituted with:

I am not exactly sure what this was, but there was a citrus granite plus fresh fruit and berries – my husband ate every bite.

Pressed Coffee

Riva is definitely a keeper and we will return for dinner. The service, the food, the seasonality and freshness of the ingredients all make for a wonderful dining experience.

Pics here:

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  1. I was not a fan of Riva's pizza. They put dried herbs like oregano in the sauce which is a rookie mistake. It over powers everything else and makes it taste like a frozen pizza from Ralph's.

    1 Reply
    1. re: josh L

      Wow, that surprises me. The pizza we had was awesome, no dried herbs that we could detect.

      We enjoyed it as well, and want to go back. I will check out another pizza.

    2. Mme Zoe and I had a late meeting in Santa Monica and wanted a bite afterwards. Riva is the MOST fun at 10pm last Wednesday: sweet front desk for walkins, two waiters moving a table at the bar so we could sit down and a delightful waitperson who immediately changed my large sage carchia (sp its the Brazilian job) because I said it was too watery. Lovely buzz with the TV blasting the US soccer win and a great trick - everyone can watch the screen because there is a huge mirror which reflects the screen.
      After 10pm there is happy hour and we ordered the charcuterie plate for two - lots of meat and four dishes of tasty salads, lentil, fava bean, garbanzo and something else. Bread was so so like hockey pucks but the atmosphere so up beat its contagious. Then as we left, two people at the desk wished us goodnight and asked how our evening was. Oh, we ordered a pizza to go for breakfast and it was really good even reheated.

      3 Replies
      1. re: ZoeZ

        Didn't know about the TV screen - thanks from my husband.

        1. re: lizziee

          After our excellent lunch at Riva we decided to try Riva for dinner. According to Susan Miller, the gracious, knowledgeable and very competent GM, Jason Travi is spending most of his time at Riva.

          Seth, our excellent server, had the patience of a saint. One table had him describe almost every dish on the menu and he did so graciously and accurately.

          Rolls were warm and fresh.

          Crudo – 4 ways – Chef’s Choice – this was absolutely superb with sashimi grade fish plus incredible light saucing that were perfect matches to the fish.

          My husband’s crudo
          Tonna di Tonnato – Big Eye Tuna, Tonnato sauce, capers
          Hamachi Parfait – cucumber, avocado basil
          Sea Bass, Pink peppercorns, lemon oil
          Cured Ocean Trout, House Made Mustard, Dill

          My Crudo Order
          Albacore, Tomato, Black Olive, haricot vert
          Hokkaido Scallops, Santa Rosa plum, Basil Oil
          Sea Bass, Pink Peppercorns, lemon oil
          Tonna di Tonnato – Big Eye Tuna, Tonnato sauce, capers

          We just had to have a full order of the Hamachi Parfait. To be honest, I stole most of it from my husband’s plate so…….

          Wood Fired Tuna Meatballs, Chickpeas, Heirloom Tomatoes – this was incredible – a take on tuna tartare done as a meatball and cooked just enough, but not overcooked. The chickpea and tomato accompaniment was a plus addition instead of why add those ingredients addition. This is just such focused cuisine – each element adds to the whole.

          There were a number of items on the menu that intrigued me – lamb tartare and pork belly among them, but the menu will be changing shortly. Pizzas will only be offered on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. The focus will shift to small plates, more a tapas style menu. Given how incredible the crudo was as well as the tuna meatballs, I can’t wait. But we did have to bid a fond goodbye to pizza at Riva on Saturday:

          Molto Maiale – sausage, bacon, meatballs, pancetta, caramelized onion, tomato, cheese as an addition – always delicious

          Chocolate Hazelnut Purse (wrapped in filo), Flourless Chocolate cake, Chocolate Ganache, Hazelnut Puree, Nutella Ice Cream – to be honest, I was quite full and only nibbled at the dessert.

          The restaurant was packed; they are obviously doing it right. During these times, it is a credit to the restaurant that they are enthusiastically supported.

          We already have made our next reservation after the menu change.

          Pics here:

          1. re: lizziee

            Went to Riva for a second visit on Thursday night - again exceptional service and we sat at or rather by the bar in the seating area relaxing with a cucumber fizz - great summer drink with regular updates on our table in the big room at the back (we did not have reservations but the whole staff is so forthcoming and helpful and none of this well-you-didn't-have-reservations). Down side in the bar - no non alcolholic beers like O'Douls and one of our party doesn't drink and loves O'Douls - need to stock that guys. Dinner exceptional and fast - oysters, salad with asperagus and pea tips and pizza margherita - the others had the flat iron steak and garlic mashed potatoes. We all loved the pressed coffee (again). While the noise in the bar is deafening, the level in the back dining room is much much quieter and affords conversation.

      2. ate there a couple of weeks ago and was very disappointed. everyone was nice, the antipasto was very good but the pizzas dont even compare to Mozza, I was expecting close given the reviews but miles apart.

        15 Replies
        1. re: umich

          Mozza's crust and toppings are more substantial, that is for sure, but went to Riva last week and had a wonderful time. The staff was worlds warmer than at Mozza and found the food actually more inventive (The polenta fries were SPOT ON!!).

          The thing was, although we LOVE Mozza, we weren't expect it... we knew that Riva's toppings are incredibly minimalist and the crust SUPER thin and crunchy. And that is exactly what we got... we ordered the mushroom pie which as mushroom lovers captured PURE mushroom essence... They could have thrown truffle oil on... more cheese.. but it was just perfect the way it was.. mushroomy.... We also LOVED the crust which we likened more to the Greek Pizza's of P.'s Youth... it's so crisp and flavorful it's almost as if it were fried (Sitting in front of the pizza oven all night seeing how much care they took with the pies, we know that is not the case...) The only thing disappointing about it was the much food network hyped Noni's Purse. We found the nutella/ganache to be a bit understated and the Nutella ice cream to be the best part of the whole thing... but there was so little... ah well! :)


          1. re: Dommy

            To compare the one Mozza pie I had (the clam, of course) and the one Riva pie (maiale) I have to disagree. Mozza's crust was paper thin and toppings were not substantial in the least. Riva's pie blew it away.

            1. re: Phurstluv

              How funny about your experience with Mozza's crust... we've been several times over the years and each time found the crust bubbly, Naan like as someone here once described... I actually had this pie with an outting with Abby's group, my beloved Guanciale...


              Compared to the Mushroom Pizza I had at Riva this week which lies very flat. (sorry for the dark photo.... it's the best I could do with the lighting and an iPhone)


              Also, The Maile is unique among Riva's menu with more than three toppings.... watching countless pizzas being made, the most popular was in fact the potato one... crust, creme fraiche instead of sauce, sliced potato, olive oil and a sprinkle of rosemary... Most of the line up echos this in terms of simplicity...

              Hopefully those these comments won't be all MOOT! I just went to check the proper names of these items on the Riva site and it appears they are re-tooling! Argh!! I hope they don't get rid of the Pies!!



              1. re: Dommy

                Yes, it had a bubbly exterior and some chew, but no real flavor. I was not impressed by the toppings either, could make a way better clam pie from scratch, but I am super picky and spoiled, having grown up on New Haven clam pizza.

                That said, Riva's maiale reminded me of some of the old school so. Italian pies of my youth. And I guess it is an anomaly, like you said, their other pies are minimalistic. Guess I'll just have to go back and keep retesting for research purposes! Let's meet for a drink sometime!!

                1. re: Phurstluv

                  The new menu got emailed out to their mailing list a few days ago. Unfortunately, the pizza has been taken off the menu.

                  1. re: BruinGal

                    They say they will continue to have a pizza or two available on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights.

                    I hope they keep their reverse happy hour.

                    1. re: joshekg

                      Incredible!! That darn Pizza oven takes over half the kitchen! And those pies can't cost much to make... there is not even a whole potato on the pie mentioned above... I knew the location wasn't the best for the concept... but this is a real shame... :(


                    2. re: BruinGal

                      What a bummer! Too bad, I liked their pie. Hope it doesn't end up like Il Carpaccio - same thing, oven took up half the kitchen and they stopped making pies. Then they were gone within a year.

                      1. re: Phurstluv

                        as i stated previously, the pizza was simply not very good. make a good product and people will find you.

                        1. re: josh L

                          Apparently there are those of us who disagree with you.

                          1. re: Phurstluv

                            "Mozza's crust was paper thin."
                            "It had a bubbly exterior and some chew."

                            Which one is it?

                            1. re: Wolfgang

                              You can't have a crust that is all three? It has to be thick to have bubbles and a chewy texture? Try going to NY or CT for a real treat in decent thin crusted pizza that has bubbles, is chewy in texture and has FLAVOR.

                              1. re: Phurstluv

                                Riva has a new menu!!! No more pizza is served on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at dinner. Jason Travi and his team have introduced Stuzzichini or Italian tapas – meant for sharing.

                                Black Olive Puree, fresh herbs, anchovy with crostini – my husband ate every bite, but be forewarned you must be a lover of black olives and anchovies

                                Crudo – Sea Bass, pink peppercorns, lemon oil – sushi quality fish, lightly dressed

                                Crudo – Tonno di tonnato – Big Eye tuna with tonnato sauce – outstanding and a must order crudo. What makes this absolutely delicious is the tonnato sauce

                                Crudo – Hokkaido Scallop, Santa Rosa Plums, Basil Oil – Superb Hokkaido scallops with Farmer’s market plums, but the balance was off with way too much basil oil. My husband came up with ingenious method of deep-sixing most of the basil oil; he used the bread as a blotter so we had wonderful fresh scallops with plums minus a lot of the basil oil. Our general feeling was why mask a quality ingredient with so much oil. (We didn’t eat the bread; it was just a blotter).

                                Crudo – Cured Ocean Trout, House Made Mustard, Dill – the ocean trout was very similar in taste and texture to gravlax

                                Deep-fried Squash Blossoms, ricotta, orange zest, almonds with a tomato based puree – I liked this better than my husband. The batter on the squash blossoms was tempura-like – not at all greasy. John found it too “safe” and boring. I enjoyed the transition between the crudo and then the fried squash blossoms.

                                Potato, Summer Green Fig, Gruyere Cheese Gratin – very thinly sliced potatoes served gratin style with the cheese and topped with the sliced green figs served bubbling hot.

                                Hand Cut Beef Tartare, Chives, Bacon Sabayon – usually I tend to like beef tartare finely minced served the traditional way with capers, parsley, mustard, worcestershire and a raw egg. However, this was excellent and Jason could package the bacon sabayon as THE accompaniment to anything. The tartare was served with Crostini – I ate mine minus Crostini with lots of sabayon.

                                Mint Basil Puree, Watermelon Dice, Cantaloupe Soup, Lemon Sorbet – a light refreshing palate cleanser

                                Milk Chocolate Cremux, Coconut sorbet, Candied Pecans, Brown Butter Ganache – for me the pecans and the coconut were decadent enough – my husband went for the chocolate.

                                Riva is just a fun neighborhood restaurant with excellent food. There are many items on the menu that I want to try and as the menu changes with what is available at the farmer’s market, this is truly seasonal cuisine. Let’s just say I didn’t miss the pizza at all.

                                Current menu here:

                                pics here:

                                1. re: lizziee

                                  Did you know that you can get $50 worth of food at Riva for only $25 ?


                                  1. re: lizziee

                                    I thought he had the crudo on the original menu??? Not new?

            2. Sad to say, Riva closed after about a year of staying in business. Too bad. There were a lot of poseurs and tourists who clogged up the place, but the pizza was pretty good for the westside of L.A., especially for those of us who couldn't bear to drive to (or wait at) the much better Mozza. Still, after years of horrible restaurants in that location -- including one stuffy joint that wouldn't let me in on July 4th because I was wearing a Polo shirt (!), it's sad to see Riva bite the dust.

              1 Reply
              1. re: JBRJBR

                It has morphed into an offshoot of Fraiche (original location in Culver City) and has been discussed on at least one other thread here on the LA board.