There’s a dish from Nerano, Italy, that, like most regional Italian food, is transcendent in its simplicity. That dish is spaghetti alla Nerano (or spaghetti with zucchini) and, on paper, it isn’t always a head-turner. But at Nerano, a chic little ristorante in Beverly Hills, the classic dish—twirls of pasta with both fresh zucchini and crispy fried chips, plus squash blossoms and a delicious amount of Italian cheeses—is absolutely perfect. There’s a reason it’s on just about every linen-topped table.
Like the little town on the Amalfi Coast, Nerano is quite the hidden gem. Tucked into a relatively quiet block on South Santa Monica, it’s easy to miss—in fact, I did, several times, as I tried to find it one night. The two-story space is fronted by a few sidewalk tables, sure to be a hit in the spring and summer. Inside, the intimate space is chic but subtle: brick walls covered with William Wegman prints, white tablecloths, a big marble bar and a smattering of tables and booths. Even more clandestine is the upstairs bar, accessed only via elevator behind a big velvet curtain, that sports Ferrari-red sofas and chairs, and a sweet little cocktail lounge for pre-dinner drinks or late-night happy hour.
This is the latest from the group behind Toscana in Brentwood and SY Kitchen in Santa Ynez—owners Andy Brandon-Gordon and Carlo Brandon-Gordon are the second generation of the restaurant family—so there’s already a built-in clientele. But Nerano has quickly become a power lunch and dinner spot for those in the film and television biz, thanks to its close proximity to Century City and Beverly Hills. The Peninsula hotel guests have also found their way down the street, and few famous faces have discovered its charms too (Ryan Seacrest is a fan). But it’s more than just another industry hot spot.
First, there’s chef Michele Lisi, who has a light touch in the kitchen. Having cooked in Rome and, locally, at Vincenti in Brentwood, he is true to his Italian roots, but also has a California sensibility with ingredients. The menu is familiar but memorable: yellowtail crudo with crispy capers and Fresno chiles, a fresh start to any meal; grilled crostini with creamy burrata, beautiful Santa Barbara uni and salty bottarga; and beef carpaccio with a tangy mustard-citrus vinaigrette and aged Parmigiano. Lisi even found a way to make the ubiquitous beet and goat cheese salad taste new with his deconstructed version that marries golden beets and hazelnuts.
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