Southern California landmark Italian restaurant Valentino is no longer on the market. In fact, says owner Piero Selvaggio, it's at a new beginning.
Starting in September, Selvaggio says, the restaurant will unveil a new menu, focusing on the cooking of Sicily and Sardinia, the home islands of himself and his chef Nicola Chessa. And after that? Who knows? Almost certainly a celebration of the region of Piemonte and truffles in November and December. And maybe even an exploration of traditional Italian-American dishes updated, starting in 2014.
In May, Selvaggio had announced that he was putting his 40-year-old restaurant on the market, listing it with Conroy Commercial Realtors with an asking price of almost $5 million.
Not only did he not get the price he was looking for, the shoppers who did come around and kick the tires so infuriated him that he changed his mind about selling at all.
"In a moment of frustration I was going to test the market and see what I could get," he confessed. "But in three months, not only have I not gotten an offer, I was so offended when I saw people who didn't have any business buying it coming in and telling me the restaurant was too big and etc. and etc.
"They were wasting my time. I told my Realtor, 'This is not what I had in mind.' This place has history. It's special, it's not someplace just to try and spin some plates out of or whatever.
"So after going through a lot of reflecting and soul-searching, I decided it's probably destiny. It's fate telling me it's time for us to reinvent ourselves. And so that's what we're going to do.
"Let's be honest," he said, "the idea of putting the restaurant on the market was mostly for the land. I was seeing if I could speculate for personal reasons. But instead, let's reinvent ourselves and continue."
Selvaggio, who has helped introduce so many of the fine Italian ingredients we now almost take for granted -- prosciutto, extra-virgin olive oils, white truffles and so much more -- gets so excited about doing the same for Southern Italian food that he almost shouts over the phone.
"In the new menu of Sicily and Sardinia, we'll be exploring so many of those tremendous ingredients that most people don't know anything about," he says. "We will start with our roots, start with our journey, start with what Nico and I know best.
"We want to present elegant Sicilian food. There will be the tremendous use of bottarga, the tremendous use of malloreddus, a fabulous pasta that almost nobody knows about.
"There will be all these things. This is the way I detach myself from being compared with every stupid trattoria in town. It hurts me when I hear that. I want to say, 'Do they have our knowledge? Do they have our wine list? Do they have our legacy?' There is more to this than just what Yelp says."
Valentino, 3115 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 829-4313.