It worries me when I see a signed photograph of Frank Sinatra on the wall of a restaurant. On a Friday night at Milano II West, no one else seemed bothered by one. The restaurant was packed and people poured in the whole time we were there. This, I thought, is either a wonderful restaurant or there isn't much else happening in Agoura Hills.
The restaurant fits my idea of a New Jersey supper club: dressed-up coziness with lace curtains, brocade-covered chairs and Tiffany-style lighting that casts a warm, yellow glow over the large room. A piano player in the bar added to the festive atmosphere. This is a multi-generation place, the kind that appeals to couples going out to dine with the in-laws.
Some restaurants try to make patrons feel that they got in by the skin of their teeth and are lucky to be there. Milano II makes its customers feel that they have given the owners a particular pleasure by showing up. How can you resist a place where they love you? They also want you to feel that you've had a special occasion meal and, by and large, they succeed.
The menu is huge (too huge, perhaps) with dozens of pastas and many veal dishes. The standard tomato sauce is simple but fresh and good. You could make an excellent meal out of the bread and Caesar salad alone, which may be the reason so many people leave with takeout containers in hand. The bread comes in warm, chewy flat squares, and the Caesar salad is garlicky and delicious. The croutons weren't remarkable, but the lettuce was a fine crisp Romaine. Too bad they didn't use it for the dinner salads.
Slices of fresh mozzarella cheese with tomato were as fresh as promised. And if the prosciutto was a little salty and tough, the melon it came with was firm and sweet. Another appetizer, pepperoni arrostici ($7.95 for a small portion), was worth the trip to the restaurant. A plate of roasted peppers--looking like sliced smoked salmon--came with anchovies and capers. It was superb.
Mushroom risotto ($10.95) was also excellent, full of flavor without being too rich. A fresh piece of salmon came in a clear lemon sauce with just a hint of Marsala. The petto di pollo diavolo --chicken in a tomato sauce--had a good spiky flavor. It came with a sweet lasagna with layers of spinach and ricotta and a pleasant aroma of sage. This proved to be an especially good dish to take home.
A very well-done veal roll contained a bread and mushroom stuffing, strongly flavored with Marsala. Risotto con frutta di mare was topped with squid, salmon, clams, mussels and shrimp. It resembled a tomato-flavored paella .
Desserts, brought to the table on a platter, were sweet and pleasing, but you may not have room for more than a bite. The cappuccino was a sad disappointment, arriving with mounds of whipped cream and a little red straw--cappuccino for sissies. And when the whipped cream melted, it tasted like coffee with too much cream in it.
We had one of those remarkable waitresses who took our order with a mere nod of her head. She then stopped to check on three other tables before heading off to the kitchen. She didn't forget a thing, however, or show up a second late throughout the meal.
According to her, Milano II West had its origins in a Los Angeles restaurant (Milano) that migrated to the Valley (Milano II) and subsequently ended up in Agoura Hills. Don't mistake this restaurant for one in the Ventura Harbor with the same name. These restaurants have absolutely nothing else in common. Wild horses couldn't drag me back to the one in Ventura. As for Milano II West, I'd go back in a minute. And I'd love to take my in-laws.
* WHERE AND WHEN
Milano II West, 30315 Canwood St. (Plaza Reyes Adobe), Agoura Hills, (818) 991-2170, (805) 373-1570. Lunch and dinner, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Dinner 3 to 11 p.m. (or later) Saturdays, 3-10 p.m. Sundays. Full bar, parking lot, all major credit cards. Dinner for two, food only, $28-$60.