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A renaissance of Italian food

You have to know tradition to break with it. Which is why Fabrizio Di Gianni and Enzo Sanseverino, two old-world Italians full of New World bravado, are turning out such deliciously rebellious food at their new restaurant, 81/2 Taverna in Studio City. Angus beef and foie gras burger, anyone?

Born and raised in Turin and Naples, respectively, Di Gianni, 35, and Sanseverino, 34, met in Los Angeles and bonded over a passion for cooking. Di Gianni revered his grandmother’s hearth and her intricate sauces, while Sanseverino began serving coffee and pastries at 10 and entered culinary school at 15.

“At 13, Enzo started working as a pastry chef, and he ate a lot of pizza,” Di Gianni says of his friend’s formative years in Naples. Later, he met an American woman, fell in love and moved to Los Angeles, working in the kitchens of various Japanese and Italian restaurants, including a stint as pizza chef at Angelino Pizzeria.

Di Gianni moved to London in his 20s, where he worked his way up the restaurant chain of command before heading to L.A. and working at a slew of high profile restaurants, including Giorgio Baldi, Celestino, Terroni and Riva. “I feel very privileged to be in California and the U.S.,” says Di Gianni. “Because there is a certain awareness that Americans are experiencing -- a renaissance of food and wine.”

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The two men hope to help fuel that renaissance with their menu at 81/2 Taverna. There is a heavy Italian influence on everything that comes out of the kitchen, but some of the dishes are touched with a sense of play that shakes up the traditional flavor profiles and sends them in a very gastropub direction.

The Patatona pizza, for example, is layered with smoked mozzarella cheese but drizzled with bechamel sauce and topped with fresh sweet corn and hunks of potato. Another pizza, the decadent Tartufona, mixes mozzarella with a creamy mascarpone fondue and comes scattered with chewy shitake mushrooms and slender truffle shavings. The Hottie is slicked with chili oil and covered in thick, flavorful slices of spiced salami that taste fresh from the butcher shop.

Other offerings include salads, pasta and piada -- sandwiches made using Sanseverino’s classic Napolitano pizza crust as bread and stuffed with fresh meats and cheeses: smoked prosciutto, Italian blue cheese and eggplant, say, or mortadella, Manchego and aioli sauce.

New specials are offered each day, as the men spend their mornings at the farmers market and play with ingredients and combinations until they are satisfied. “We are constantly cooking, eating and drinking,” says Di Gianni, who is also a sommelier and has put together a lovely list of modestly priced, mostly Italian wines and Belgian beers.

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Then there is the restaurant itself, with its bustling bar; arched, raftered ceilings; rows of tables along the wall; and benches topped with throw pillows. It’s very modern Milan, with discotheque-style music and not a red-checkered tablecloth in sight.

“We don’t want to be thought of as an Italian restaurant,” says Di Gianni. “The food is us just letting it all out. We experiment a lot.”

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jessica.gelt@latimes.com

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81/2 Taverna

Where: 11334 Moorpark St., Studio City

When: Noon to midnight, daily

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Prices: Beer and wine, $5 to $23; pizzas, salads and piadas, $8 to $25

Contact: (818) 308-1100; www.8andahalf.com


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