Dining Review: Far Niente still has that special vibe

When I was a little kid, my father was an executive with Pan American Airways. I would sometimes get to tag along on his business lunches in Manhattan. I remember linen tablecloths, waiters in neat clothes and a table full of men's hands holding amber-colored liquid in short glasses. I knew it was elegant and special and important that I behave. There is something of that feeling at Glendale's venerable Far Niente.

These days, it's easy to get caught up in the latest food trend. Places like Far Niente with their old-school service and time-tested menu items might get forgotten by the cognoscenti. This restaurant certainly has not been forgotten. Loyal customers return here for anniversaries, birthdays and graduations. Local executives bring clients here to close deals in high-backed booths. Regulars know the food will be consistently good and the experience will be as comforting as on their last visit.

Far Niente has been on Brand Boulevard for 27 years and gratefully little has changed in that time. There is a great new loft upstairs with comfy leather couches, a huge TV, party games and a gorgeous aquarium but the bar below is as classic as ever. While we waited for friends to arrive, we sipped a cocktail there. The Manhattans are straight out of the 212 area code with the charming tradition of putting the cherry on top of the strainer of your personal tin. A piece of complimentary pizza arrived unannounced and was very welcome.

At the table we chose more appetizers, carpaccio and fritto misto, something my dad probably would've ordered. The raw beef was razor thin and tender as a caress. The fried mixed seafood was piping hot and light as a feather. The bread at Far Niente is memorable. Puffy rounds like pizza crust are drizzled with olive oil and rosemary, fresh out of the oven, with more oil and balsamic for dipping. The house salad hasn't changed in years. No reason to. Everybody loves it. Gently torn pieces of chilled red leaf lettuce are tossed in a dressing of oil, vinegar, emulsified anchovy and egg similar to Caesar dressing but reminiscent of the Green Goddess of days gone by.

There are neatly dressed waiters and busboys constantly circling the dining room, actively looking for waters to refill, bread to replenish, plates to spoon Parmesan over. Not shaved, young Parmesan. This is the finely grated, powdery, aged Parmesan of your youth. Our primary waiter knew the menu well but was a little too bouncy, too full of personal anecdotes to fit the dignified ambience. Also he was sometimes hard to track down but the many well-trained assistants picked up the slack.

Our pastas did not fail to satisfy. Farfalle al Pesto is bright and delicious, the Fusilli Ruffino with rapini and cherry tomatoes, light and flavorful. For those wanting a rich, decadent experience, trust a longtime Glendale patron and order the Tortelloni alla Jerry Khol. Large twists of homemade pasta are filled with chicken and veal and come drenched in a creamy red meat sauce. The Risotto ai Frutti di Mar is also rich but not monotonous like risottos can be, with a variety of textures and flavors, including saffron. The prices are on the high side, and there's no break at lunchtime, but the price does include the house salad. For dessert, I'll simply say homemade tiramisu.

FYI, currently on Wednesdays they offer all their pastas and risottos for only $15. On Sundays, all wines are 50% off. The wine menu favors classic Italian, French and Northern California vintners. The restaurant will be offering a prix fixe Valentine's Day menu (check the website). But really any day can be a special day at Far Niente.

What: Far Niente Ristorante

Where: 204-1/2 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale.

When: Monday to Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Friday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday 5 to 10 p.m. and Sunday 5 to 9 p.m. Reservations recommended.

Prices: Appetizers $8.50 to $17.50; Pastas & risottos $17 to $27.50; Secondi $17.50 to $36; Desserts $8

More info: (818) 242-3835, farnienteglendale.com


LISA DUPUY has reviewed over 200 local restaurants for the Los Angeles Times Community News. She can be reached at LDupuy@aol.com.

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