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The Pasta Principle

Eighteen months ago, I wrote about Buona Vita, an Italian restaurant in Hermosa Beach that had just opened. It was a Friday night. The place had 20 seats. And aside from one couple and the staff, I was the only one there. Last week, during the near-torrential rains that overwhelmed many South Bay neighborhoods, I visited Buona Vita again. The restaurant had more than doubled in size and despite the deluge that stranded many people--not only in their homes but in their cars--all but four of the 50 seats were taken by early evening.

Buona Vita is thriving with the tried and true formula: Fresh Italian food at reasonable prices equals good business.

When owner Allan Galeano decided to expand in June last year, his sous chef, Sidney Nastari, became his partner. The two have much in common: both are from South America, both took cooking classes in Europe, and both trained in New York restaurants. They met by chance in Hermosa Beach and now their joint venture is so successful that they plan to open a second Buona Vita in West Hollywood.

Some people come here for a simple plate of spaghetti with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, fresh basil and tomatoes ($5.95). The most popular dish, though, remains the penne al funghi ($7.95), cylinders of pasta with shiitake , oyster and crimini mushrooms in a pink-tinged tomato and cream sauce.

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Ravioli fans have four choices, including green spinach ravioli stuffed with Gorgonzola and tossed in a lively puttanesca sauce of sun-dried tomatoes, black olives, and capers ($10.50). A more luxurious version is ravioli di aragosta ($11.95), pasta pillows stuffed with lobster and napped with a saffron cream sauce.

The colorful Scampi bello ($11.95) features six jumbo shrimp sauteed with olive oil, garlic, basil, mushrooms, carrots, tomatoes and capers.

However, on a rainy day, what most appeals is a brick-size portion of that good old Italian comfort food, lasagna ($7.95).

Buona Vita is at 439 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach. Open 5 to 10 p.m. daily . (310) 379-7626.

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