Locanda del Lago in Santa Monica maintains a unique identity as perhaps the only restaurant in Los Angeles to focus on the cuisine of Bellagio and the lake region of Northern Italy. Although it is located near the Pacific Ocean, Lago provides the feeling of being in Bellagio on Lake Como north of Milan in Lombardy. With a comfortable, warm atmosphere and sidewalk patio, the restaurant evokes the charm of an Italian locanda (inn or trattoria) del lago (of the lake).
Featuring lunch, dinner and weekend brunch, Lago has attracted an eclectic crowd of celebrities, locals and travelers by offering exceptional food and service since opening in 1991. Plaudits from the press include this comment from one critic: "Locanda del Lago is a warm and welcome respite. As exotic as it is delicious, the food is among the city's very best." Movieline Magazine described Lago as "Casually classy... the authenticity of the place is clearly one of its assets." The Hollywood Reporter referred to it as a "chic, authentic Italian bistro," and Gourmet Magazine described it by saying,"Italy meets the Pacific -- authentic cuisine of Milano, Como and Stresa served up in the most California of settings. Don't miss the ossobuco alla Milanese."
Overseeing Lago's unique menu are co-owner West Hooker and Executive Chef Davide Vedovelli, both of whom were born in Milan and have lived in Bellagio. "Our selections are guided by Italian traditions and the changing seasons rather than American trends," says Hooker. "A diner at Lago will find dishes, particularly on our dinner menu, not often found at Italian restaurants in this country."
Among the menu's highlights are CARPACCIO DI STORIONE AFFUMICATO (thinly sliced, house-smoked sturgeon with crispy potatoes and baby mixed greens in lemon-yogurt), PIZZOCCHERI ALLA VALTELLINESE (house-made whole wheat pappardelle tossed with savoy cabbage, yukon potatoes and bitto cheese), RISOTTO DI ZUCCA E CAPESANTE (butternut squash risotto with seared scallops and balsamic glaze), LAVARELLO IN SALSA DI GAMBERI DI FIUME (grilled whitefish with crawfish reduction, served with sautéed baby carrots, pearl onions and spinach spaetzle), and OSSOBUCO ALLA MILANESE (veal shank slow-cooked in white wine and vegetables, topped with traditional gremolata, served with saffron risotto - Milanese style). The menu also includes special soups, distinctive salad and antipasti selections, both classic and unusual pasta and risotto dishes, designer pizzas, exceptional meat, fowl and fish selections, and tempting desserts including Lago's signature tiramisú.
Lago's wine list features choices from California and Italy, and for the connoisseur, there is also a range of superior Italian wines selected because of their remarkable qualities and the outstanding reputation of their producers. The wine list has received Wine Spectator Magazine's "Award of Excellence" every year since 1995, and Luigi Veronelli's The Best Italian Restaurants applauded its "vast and intelligent selection." Lago also offers a humidor with a variety of cigars.
A broad menu of after-dinner drinks is available, including Lago's authentic Italian GROLLA, made of espresso, grappa, brandy, sambuca, lemon peel and sugar. After being flamed tableside, this concoction is shared by friends from a hand-carved wooden bowl imported from Italy with one drinking spout for each person. According to Italian custom, as the "friendship cup" is passed from person to person, each relationship it touches grows stronger.
The charm of Lago's ambiance complements its fine cuisine and spirits. Shades of amber, burgundy, saffron and green contrast with vivid white tablecloths, while the walls are decorated with brightly colored china, paintings and artifacts depicting scenes of Bellagio. The dining area is surrounded almost completely by tall windows and is always beautifully lit, daytime or evening. Lago's popular patio fronts the restaurant's exterior, providing a lively view of the passing Third Street Promenade scene.