First impression: I remember being blown away by this place on my first visit a few years ago. Maybe that's what happens when you go with someone who knows the owner. What was once a very good wood-fired pizza spot with big dreams has become a serviceable neighborhood restaurant. What's great is that you can make a meal of Italian tapas, or go for one of the signature pizzas or pastas.
Ambience: A big step above Chianti bottles and checkered tablecloths, Sicilian Oven is a study in handsome browns with a granite bar and open kitchen with fieldstone walls. There's another dining room in the back that's hardly visible from the front.
Starters: The meal began with a homemade meatball ($5 each, or two for $9), served with tomato sauce. While this might be someone's version of a good meatball, it's not mine. The meat was too finely ground and far too lean, and there was little or no seasoning. The result was a hard meatball with the texture of a matzo ball. Many of the items on the special Sicilian combo ($12) were much better, including chunky Sicilian eggplant caponata served on crostini. The Stack of Sicily, breaded and fried eggplant, is topped with fresh mozzarella, tomato and a sprinkling of thick balsamic. Fire-roasted shrimp Palermo suffered from the same texture problem as the meatballs. The only thing that indicated these were shrimp were their shape. Perhaps freezing causes them to have a crumbly texture? Did the kitchen forget to put dressing on the Sicilian salad ($9.50, or $11 with gorgonzola)? I remembered this as a highlight of my earlier visit: romaine, roasted pepper, walnuts, olives, tomatoes, red onion, garbanzo beans, celery and shaved parmesan.
Entree excellence: Penne con funghi ($15) sounds to me like penne pasta with mushrooms — pure and simple. But what arrived was a salty concoction filled with Italian sausage and mushrooms. Why not tell diners that there's sausage in your mushroom pasta? Only after leaving did we notice that the restaurant serves two kinds of pizza: regular and Sicilian. We're still not sure what we received. The crust on the Philly steak pizza ($13 small) was neither crisp nor chewy. The Popeye ($15 small) — a blend of cheeses, spinach and mushrooms — was ordered on multigrain crust for an additional $2. It was the crispiest and thinnest crust of the three pies we ordered, but toppings were so skimpy that the pizza tasted dry.
Sweet!: We didn't get to cannoli or cheesecake, but it's here.
Service: While our server was excellent, management needs to realize that not everyone who walks in the door is a repeat neighborhood customer. Explain the menu. Talk about the differences between the crusts.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times