Vincenti Ristorante: In a word, swoon-worthy.

Vincenti Ristorante’s Facade- the door to Wine Geek Nirvana.

Vincenti Ristorante in Brentwood is a classic Italian staple in Los Angeles.     Angelina and Brad, Whitney Houston all eat (and drink) there.  John Cusack, Jamie lee Curtis, Christopher Guest– they’ve all been sighted here.  It may be where the stars go to be seen, but it’s where the ordinary people (AKA you and I) go to eat incredible food. You would never know from the streamlined, unassuming facade just how spectacular this place is.  From the extensive bar, well-cultivated wine list, and overwhelmingly good food, Vincenti Ristorante is quite simply one of the best restaurants I have ever experienced.  Vincenti needs no PR, no bells and whistles- this place is simply the Top.

I doubt this is what the Cusack sighting at Vincenti looked like.

After a long day working in the sweltering California sunshine, my colleague and I sat at the cool marble bar.  Being unable to control my Italian Wine Geek tendencies, I zeroed in on the most amazing wine on the wine list: Ca’ del Bosco Franciacorta Brut Millesimato 1997.  What!?  First of all, it’s hard enough to find a decent Franciacorta outside of Erbusco, but not only did Vincenti have a stunning version by Italy’s top pruducer, Ca’ del Bosco, they have a 14-year old bottle (1997!) … for $80!  These people know Italian wine.

Ca’ del Bosco: the Franciacorta of your favorite daydreams.

Franciacorta is a region in Lombardia where bubbles reign.  There is a very long tradition of sparkling wines made in the “Traditional Method”, very similar to Champagne.  The Ca’ del Bosco Brut Millesimato is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Nero (two white grapes, and one red), vinified completely in white.  The bubbles are created through a secondary fermentation in the bottle, which creates a complexity and extraordinary yeasty quality particular to these wines.  The Brut Millesimato from Ca’ del Bosco is allowed to stay on the lees for 4 years and three months.  This is spectacular and curious  geek-wine!  The current release of the wine is 2006- to be given the opportunity to taste a vintage almost 10 years older, and at a mind-blowingly reasonable price, is simply overwhelming.  The wine list at Vincenti Ristorante is cultivated by Jon Palevsky, who obviously knows his stuff.  Gems like this are studded throughout his list, all at reasonable prices.  When paired with Chef Nicola Matronardi’s genius in the kitchen, it’s easy to see why this restaurant is such an overall success.

To start, our handsome bartender offered us some of the house-made potato chips.  These patatine were perfectly salted, and laced with paprika and cayenne.  Amazingly crisp and the perfect start to accompany cocktails or a glass of bubbly.

Next we tried the grilled octopus and sepia “salad”.  This octopus was about as tender and toothsome as any I’ve ever had.  Paired with the perfectly melting texture of the sepia- it was ethereal.  Slices of artichoke and lovely al dente fava beans- I could have stopped here and been satisfied.  But we didn’t, of course!

Lobster Salad.  Perfectly seasoned lobster atop a bed of fresh greens, anchored to the plate with a few slices of summer peaches.  The plate was finished with toasted pistachios- does it get any better?

Do not leave, I repeat, DO NOT LEAVE Vincenti Ristorante without trying at least one of Chef Nicola’s pasta dishes.  This zucchini blossom ravioli was loaded with black truffles and was served drowning in a brothy, buttery sauce.  The texture of the pasta cannot be described- at once chewy and tender.  As my lovely sister would proclaim when she is at a loss for words, “OMG.”

It would be impossible to describe Vincenti Ristorante without mentioning its proprietress, Maureen Vincenti.  She is  light and life and laughter.  This woman was absolutely born to run a restaurant, as it is obvious she delights in her role as your hostess, mother, best friend.  She watched us as we took out first bites of the pasta above (which she had suggested we order), and a smile lit up her face when she saw the sheer happiness on ours. The atmosphere in Vincenti is jovial, celebratory and just plain fun- because Maureen wouldn’t have it any other way.

Chef Nicola Mastronardi and Maureen Vincenti