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May 2, 2011 06:06 PM

O Sotto mio!

So we went to Sotto last week for an early dinner to get a taste of the pizzas coming out of these very hot ovens. I was also curious to see how the place was doing being open just a couple of weeks. Their small plate appetizers and pastas also sounded really interesting.

First, my wife and I had 3 smallish kids with us (6-8 yrs) and we were all pretty hungry when we showed up at 6PM. There were only a few parties already there when we arrived, but it was nearly full when we left.

We started with bread (yummy!) which you can order with either olive oil ($3), burrata ($8) and another option I don't recall. Yes, bread costs here - it was definitely great, rustic and wheaty, toasted large slices from what seemed like a large loaf. We ordered with oil and were happy.

The roasted (or fried?) peppers were also good - they are italian but very similar to shishito in that every so often you get a hot one, which is a kick and we enjoyed. The kids, not so much, they aren't fans of hot surprises (yet!). This dish had some really great, salty fried capers strewn in the mix.

Salads were fair - the shaved beet/farro simple salad was a bit bland and didn't get a lot of love. The blistered gem salad which is essentially their take on Ceasar was better, with bolder garlic/lemony flavor and disappeared pretty quickly. It might be grilled quickly, b/c it was a bit warm, which served to bring out the flavors in the dressing more. They serve it with a strong hard cheese shaved on top, probably pecorino, which gave it an interesting note and some lift.

Pastas were also just fair for us. We got a fairly boring offering with tomato sauce which had cheese on it too strong for the kids and was an overall package not interesting enough to grab the attention of us grown ups. Bust on this one. We also had a lamb ragu wheat/country pasta which was definitely better and more captivating. I pretty much killed this one and was more happy here. Given the kids, we couldn't get more adventurous with these, but again, one out of two was a hit.

The pizza was really excellent - we had margarita x 2 - and they disappeared quickly. Crust is spotted with small blisters, has outside crisp and inside chewy that is really marvelous and totally toothsome. Major satisfaction here. Just the crust gives me confidence that their more adventurous pizzas (with ingredients beyond those totally kid friendly) are worth the trip. They had a lot of pork-based options which looked good but didn't work for us that night.

And last, a fantastic signature daquiri with pineapple juice disappeared quickly. Great drink, and I'm sure they have others which are as compelling - the drink list looked great. Service was great, kids were treated well, as were we, and everyone left really happy. Definitely recommended - I'm interested in what others find and to get some suggestions for more grown up, porky outings to come in the future.

(clears throat, prepares to sing.... OK, probably better not. Sorry for the title of the post - couldn't help myself)

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  1. Nice review, CJ. We aim to get there, hopefully sooner rather than later. What was you calculated per person costs (without tip) for your meal?

    2 Replies
    1. re: Servorg

      We were at ~$110 for 2 adults and a smattering of kids, probably equals 3 and a half people. But this was a light alcohol night, with no large plates and no dessert. I'd peg it at $40-$60 pp depending on how free flowing you choose to be.

      1. The other bread option is lard for $7. Had to ask for extra salt though, the lardo was pretty bland on its own, and I never thought I'd say that about lardo! Thought the bread was a little over charred as well, though the flavor and thickness is great.

        We also really enjoyed the margherita pizza. Really incredible tomato sauce and great crust that was alternately chewy and crispy in various spots. Gotta eat it fast!

        Favorite dish of the night was the white bean salad with calf tendon and assorted shaved vegetables on top. The dressing was so simple, just lemon and oil, which really highlighted all the various veggies (fennel, pickled artichoke, carrot). The beans had a luxurious creamy consistency and combined so nicely with the fatty pops of flavor from the calf tendon.

        The Sunday porchetta was very good, you get a nice thick slice with roasted carrots for $25. Very happy to see 2 menu items from their Test Kitchen run back on the menu here - glazed lamb ribs with agrodolce and a grilled mackeral with crunchy farro - both winners!

        For dessert we had the panna cotta with honey and fruits, you really have to love that strong Sardinian honey to like this dish, I found it too sweet, though the texture of the panna cotta is perfection.

        Interesting to hear from you, CulverJack, and other friends that the pastas are the weak point here, hope they improve in that department as everything else is very tasty. Farmer's market cocktails are only $9 and change regularly.

        1. Went back last night for another visit and to venture out into more of the menu. No problam at all walking in at 6:30, though again pretty full by the time we left. We were Mozza bound, but heading east on a Friday evening was no fun at all, so we hit Sotto instead as we had all had enough sitting in traffic. It made me glad we have this option now!

          This time we veered away from pasta and went more toward meat. In a word, the pork meatballs are AWESOME. A booming, yummy dish with crispy bits of char on the outside of these little buggers that was just flat out swell.

          Lamb ribs were immediately interesting, and had some excellent bits, but the kids were turned off the fatty texture and had enough after a few bites each. After I went off on the virtues of fat for flavor and to moderate the texture and blah, blah, blah after 5 or 6 bites I had to agree with them. A bit would've been ok and worked to bolster flaver, but there was a bit too much fat for me, in the end, too. So much for that lecture, which the kids weren't really buying anyway. Next time, triple meatballs, please.

          We also had a fava bean and ramp bruschetta which was nicely chewy and well balanced - the egg with a runny yolk added some richness along with the favas and this was also a really nice find. It's one big piece of bread with the toppings, but its fine to share as it is really a fork and knife dish, anyway.

          A good outing, once again, and thanks to the investors in this joint for staying west, but not all the way Santa Monica west.. That definitely works for us, especially on a Friday evening...

          1. First visit tonight on Father's Day, loved it, can't wait to go back & branch out a bit.

            Margarita Pizza = outstanding
            Pork Meatballs = outstanding
            Homemade bread w/Olive Oil & burrata = outstanding
            Blistered Little Gems = Tasty, but not memorable

            Only point I didn't like, they only had one beer to offer!
            Waiter mentioned they are having a hard time "importing Italian beers".
            I like the idea of staying true to the Italian craft, but what about something besides a Peroni?
            Maybe even a local beer to round out a bit...

            6 Replies
            1. re: MahiMahiFish

              Finally made it to Sotto and I have to disagree with you on the Blistered Little Gems being tasty, but not memorable. When they first brought out the salad, I was a bit disappointed because it looked like they had just placed some lettuce heads on the plate and I was expecting more of a composed salad. But one bite and I was sold. I think this is now my favorite salad in the entire universe. It is slightly charred lettuce dressed in wonderful olive oil with a touch of garlic and anchovy and scattered with some thin slices of aged Caprino Sardo cheese. The flavors were perfectly balanced. I just can't imagine a more perfect salad. A definite A+ and I can't wait to have it again.

              The Margarita Pizza was a solid B. The toppings were good and the outer crust was niced charred, but, alas, the center of the pizza was soggy, keeping it from reaching superlative status.

              For dessert, we ordered the bittersweet chocolate crostata, with hazlenuts and salted rosemary caramel. This looks like a fudgy dense brownie topped with nuts. At first bite, I didn't like it much. I don't like desserts that are overly sweet, but at first bite at the edge, I thought this wasn't quite sweet enough. However on the plate beneath the center is olive oil and rosemary and once that mixed in your mouth with the crostata, it was wonderful. Unlike other desserts which can be fatiguing after the first bite, the more I ate of this, the more I loved it. In the end, another A+.

              They use tea bags rather than serve loose leaf tea (as do most Italian restaurants), but the tea bag brand (forget which one) was very high quality so I was happier than I usually am when ordering tea at a restaurant that does not brew with loose leaves.

              For me, the only downside of Sotto was the ambiance. It was about 75% full at lunch and the noise was deafening. I can only imagine what it must be like when it is completely full. People complain about Mozza being loud, but to me, Mozza seems like a Zen monastery compared to this place. Also, it is in a sort of a basement, so it is dark and feels claustrophobic.. (Although I guess at night, as opposed to at lunch, that could feel cozy). So for me, ambiance rated a C -. Nevertheless I will be back for the Blistered Little Gems.

              1. re: omotosando

                @omotosando...what you and so many continue to complain about, i.e. the soggy center of Neapolitan influenced pizzas, is like criticizing the zebra for its stripes...All Neapolitan style pies are to some degree, wet in the center...this is (mostly) due to the use of fresh mozzarella which is moister than the aged mozzarella normally used on American pizza. im afraid that's not going to change at Sotto....Check out Stella Rossa on Main St in SM for a "drier" pizza.

                1. re: lapizzamaven

                  Actually, I have been reading a bit about Neapolitan influenced pizza and read exactly what you say -- that the "style" is for a soft center. I like the way you put it -- "criticizing the zebra for its stripes." Perhaps I am just used to a drier-style pizza and with more exposure could get used to the Neopolitan style. I did like the fresh mozzarella on the Sotto pizza.

                  1. re: omotosando

                    @omotosando...everyone is used to a "drier" center unless you grew up and live in Naples....Im betting that if you really dig great pizza, you will incorporate the Neapolitan style into your pizza rotation...Try Mother Dough, maybe a little bit better than Sotto but it's so subjective and variable barometric conditions can impact the dough...

                  2. re: lapizzamaven

                    agreed, i LOVE a soggy center. Having lived in Italy, I dream of soggy-centered authentic Italian pizza. I cried when Pizzeria Mozza opened and did not live up to my expectations. I will check out Sotto.

                    1. re: sarahbeths

                      Try 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizza in Westwood.

              2. I don't get this restaurant. I'd like to - the people running it are very nice and making a sincere effort to be interesting. Nothing stands out for me. Especially the pizza which I find to be exceptionally disappointing. Specifically the dough - too bread-y, too dough-y, nowhere near enough chew. Hate to say it, and maybe it was an off night - but it was just bad.

                The toppings were interesting - The Guanciale - house-cured pork cheek, ricotta, scallions, fennel pollen. Good idea! But there wasn't enough guanciale. Need to double it up, at least.

                Wonder if anyone else had the same issue with the pizza (I see someone mentioned the soggy center - which goes with a bread-y pizza.)