SINCE opening in modest Silver Lake digs more than a decade ago, Michelangelo Ristorante has been one of the neighborhood's best-kept secrets. Now that it has moved to a larger location on Rowena Avenue, the cannoli is out of the bag. It isn't uncommon to see a line out front, and prime-time weekend reservations are harder to come by.
This may not please its regulars, but it's a welcome development for the genial Italian brothers who own the place and run it with the help of several family members.
"It was very hard for us" when Michelangelo opened in 1997, says Antonio Stifano, who handles the business side of things while his brother Giuseppe cooks with the help, and recipes, of their mother, Domenica Simone. "We were just happy to have food and a job. We were dragging people in saying, 'Try our pizza.' "
The brothers were born to Italian immigrant parents in Caracas, Venezuela, where their aunt and uncle ran an Italian restaurant that employed their mother. "She was always feeding us with the dishes that people are craving now," says Antonio Stifano, who speaks Italian, Spanish and English fluently. His linguistic skills serve him well. Part of Michelangelo's allure is the brothers' penchant for chatting with the customers. "This is where we live," he says. "This dining room is where people come to visit us."
The new Michelangelo is indeed a homey destination. It occupies the spot that once housed Flor Morena, and Antonio Stifano designed and decorated it himself. An exposed concrete ceiling and pillars complement elaborate glass-crystal chandeliers; slender rectangular windows with wooden shutters look out on a bustling patio; polished nut-brown wood tables sit astride plush banquettes; and thoughtful flourishes -- a gilded mirror here, a vase of flowers there -- are everywhere.
However, the food -- traditional, made-from-scratch Italian cuisine -- is the draw. Start off your meal with the creamy homemade burrata mozzarella on toasted bread with roasted red peppers or the crisp bresaola salad made with fresh dark greens and salty, thin slices of cured beef.
Pappardelle alla Domenica, a rich mixture of Italian sausage sautéed with garlic, fresh tomato, spinach and olive oil tossed with fettuccine, is one such dish, as is the light linguini vongole, with sautéed Manila clams in a tangy garlic and white wine sauce; and the flaky filet of sole. For meat you'll find filling portions of buttery, grilled rib-eye steak, pounded veal Florentina with lemon and caper and pollo alla carciofi, which pairs chicken breast with a white wine and artichoke-heart sauce.
The brothers are already planning weekend brunch and have started serving lunch.
"Before we used to have days off," says Antonio Stifano. "Now we're going all the time, but I can't wait to do more."
Michelangelo, 2742 Rowena Ave., L.A. Noon-10 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, noon-9 p.m. Sundays. Pasta, $12-$19; meat, $16-$24; appetizers, $5-$14. BYOB; wine and beer coming soon. (323) 660-4843, www.michelangelopizzeriaristorante.com.