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DineLA 2009: Locanda del Lago

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Locanda del Lago sits on a prime piece of Santa Monica real estate, at the corner of 3rd and Arizona, with a patio and floor to ceiling windows looking into the heart of the eternally bustling Third Street Promenade. And just as shoppers and looky-loos alike keep the street humming with vibrancy, the atmosphere inside the cozy and inviting Locanda del Lago is just as vibrant, and even more welcoming. LAist was invited to try their DineLA menu a few days before the event began, and to experience their hospitality and the cuisine of Bellagio and the Northern Lakes region of Italy.

"Buona sera!" is the warm welcome at the door, and we were led to our window-side table. Their DineLA dinner menu features some of their signature dishes, and our server pointed out her favorite options, as well as the ones that truly showcase the flavors of the region and the restaurant's specialties. They also offer a wine tasting pairing, which we opted to sample as well. Their staff is trained about the wines they carry--the wine list is an impressive tome bearing hundreds of selections, so knowing you can count on your server to help wade through it and find a glass or bottle to your liking is an immense benefit. But, if you'd rather BYO, Locanda del Lago also offers corkage for $20.

After snacking on the delicate but rich fried parmesan that arrived at the table, as well as the bread and a seafood spread (which, alas, went unexplained, but certainly not unappreciated), we selected our starters: Vitello Tonnato (chilled veal tenderloin, sliced thinly and topped with a creamy tuna-caper aioli) and Gamberi al Prosciutto (Tiger shrimp in Parma prosciutto with argula, shallot, and orange). The shrimp were plump, cooked nicely, and wrapped in the most irresistable of garnishes--salty pork, in this case in the form of prosciutto. The vitello tonnato--a dish not seen on many menus--was a treat. The veal was tender, and tucked beneath a blanket of the creamy, hearty, tangy aioli. It is a rich starter, but the coolness of the chilled meat and the thin spread of aioli add an unexpected sense of lightness to the dish.