ITALY NEWS: I was going to take an elderly relative to Little Italy on one of our joyfully retro visits — most likely Mama D where red sauce rules and large portions of pasta , since this relative doesn’t like any new dishes or ingredients over the past 50 years. Truffles are for her a slightly elevated version of dirt. She likes her sauce to be red or at the very least rich in cream. I inform her that she shouldn’t eat like that, as it will not help her in her old age. She points out that she’s on the verge of 90, and will probably outlive me, and my love of raw fish.
And then, I noticed that Avenue Italy — an upscale Italian restaurant with an old-fashioned menu — had opened a new branch in Redondo Beach, just down the hill from the original Avenue Italy in Rancho Palos Verdes (31243 Palos Verdes Drive W, Rancho Palos Verdes; 310-377-3940). It is a restaurant that happily serves everyone. My carpaccio could be mine, and hers with fried calamari. My dish would include shaved Parmigiana, hers with spicy tomato sauce. Happiness would reign.
Where Rancho Palos Verdes’ predecessor was elegant enough to celebrate an anniversary or special birthday, Redondo Beach’s sibling restaurant is casual enough that you can stop by with your family for a pizza and lasagna Bolognese on Sunday nights. The new spinoff does not have the fountain burbling or the ducal decor that you would expect from the hills of Tuscany. Restaurants reflect the neighborhoods they are located in: Rancho Palos Verdes is more formal while Redondo Beach leans towards Surf City without actually being there.
The Italian food at Avenue Italy in Redondo Beach brings out the entire family, young and old alike. Merrill Shindler photo
It’s white tablecloth dining at Avenue Italy in Redondo Beach. Merrill Shindler took the photo
In both cases, the menu ensures a pleasant time in a moderately subdued setting. Around the corner, on Catalina Avenue, this being a Sunday night, every restaurant with a bar and big screen — or 10 — was running amok with the joys of Sunday night football. Avenue Italy isn’t where you can cheer on the Chargers or our Rams. It’s simple enough to have a good conversation and enjoy the almost forgotten pleasures of conversation. In my case, that meant I had to listen to my elderly relative tell us about her adventures playing Mahjong online.
“Mahj,” or as she refers to it, helped her get through the trials of COVID. She was forced to live in isolation for several months. Although I don’t know how it plays, I can listen to what could easily be an Elvish or Dothraki oration. They are just sounds, but in this instance they are the soundtrack to my bruschetta and burrata.
In between all the Mahj complications and the usual Mahj hand-wringing, the elderly relative enjoyed some perfectly crunchy calamari. This classic dish is more about the crunchiness and crackle than the squid bits.
My burrata, by contrast, was soft and tender, as indulgent as I can picture a long-aged Brie. It had a rubbery mozzarella shell filled with cream, barely held together with inertia. Freshly sliced tomatoes are served alongside roasted bell peppers. It’s a friendly competition for flavor and bite. My Mahj lesson was made easier by the combination of white wine and garlic clams, steamed mussels, and clams in garlic. The spaghetti with meatballs, polpette, slowed down my elderly relative’s dissertation enough to allow me to cheer from the bars.
The menu is quite large, but not overwhelming. You can bake eggplant long and slow with Parmigiana. It’s hard to tell the difference. Veal is breaded, chicken breasts are pounded, and fish is made into cioppino. This is an exercise in surprise with unexpected morsels in each spoonful.
Pizza is not topped with pineapple! Praise the Lord! Its many cheeses, sundry veggies, and, in one form, the meatballs made from the spaghetti are the main ingredients. They eat a lot of mozzarella and parmigiana here. Was there ever a time when Italian food was not cheeseless? I can’t imagine.
We emerged from the cold ocean as the sun set, feeling well-fed and nourished with plenty for everyone. My elderly relative went home to play Mahj. I went to my TV room to catch up on football. Red sauce was a common love between us. She was not a fan of red sauce, but I loved pongs. She was “building the wall”. I was cheering for a break. Although we spoke English well, apart from rigatoni, fettuccine and other words, neither one of us knew what they were talking about.
Rating: 3 stars
Address: 215 Ave. I, Redondo Beach
Information: 310-541-0013, www.avenueitaly.com
Cuisine: Old School Italian in a New School Setting
When: Lunch and dinner, every day
Details: On restaurant heavy Ave I, just off busy Catalina Avenue, this lively Italian offers a mix of both old school and new school Italian cooking, making this a restaurant with both spaghetti with meatballs, and beef carpaccio on a rucola salad. It is also a restaurant that can be enjoyed by a broad range of generations.
Prices: About $35 per person
Suggested dishes: 9 Antipasti ($15-$35), 4 Salads ($15-$17), 11 Pastas ($20-$27), 8 Chicken, Veal and Seafood Entrees ($31-$44), 12 Pizzas ($16-$20)
Credit cards: MC, V
What the stars mean: 4 (World class! Worth the trip from anywhere! ), 3 (Most excellent, even exceptional. Worth the trip from any part of Southern California. ), 2 (A great place to eat. Worth the trip from any part of the neighborhood. 1 (If you are hungry and there is food nearby, don’t be afraid to get in the car. 0 (Really, it’s not worth writing about. )