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Exploring the Tastes of Northern Italy at Locanda del Lago

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By Esther Tseng of e*starLA/Special to LAist

There's an elegance to Locanda del Lago's cuisine that makes it a solid spot to experience Northern Italian. They do it so well that it's a beautiful representation should you be conducting a study in The Differences Between Northern and Southern Italian. Sure, it's easy to dismiss the place based purely on the fact that it's on The Promenade, only one of the most highly tourist-trafficked area in L.A., but it's also hard to know why a restaurant with a 20 year history could survive there until you've actually dined.

Well, it's also hard to know even after you have. I haven't figured out why, either.

The dining, in spite of its location, is serious. The clientele is eclectic, whether it be the destination of a middle-aged Santa Monica couple or the lucky landing spot of perusing visitors. Lago is one of the few Italian restaurants in the city that has received the Ospitalita Italiana Q award by the Italian Chamber of Commerce for upholding the quality of traditional Italian cuisine.

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That, of course, is just icing on the cake. Or, Burrata sauce on the Borage Tortellini - you choose. Expect subtler flavors than those of the South. There are some braised meats here, as well as fish and whiter sauces. The octopus carpaccio came out barely yet perfectly seasoned and topped with shishito peppers, perfect for a tiny little kick to the thin sheets. One of the other starters, the Burrata Primavera, could have doubled as a dessert - and I say this as a good thing. If you can argue with a potent basil gelato scoop atop a heap of - yes, more burrata - and tomatoes, the problem may indeed lie with you.

The real gem at Locanda del Lago, however, has to be the Pesce in Crosta di Sale. Imagine Wild Chilean Sea Bass prepared in a sea salt crust, enabling the filet to retain all its juices until it's broken open by your server just before plating a mere foot away from your table. The results are a deliciously tender, moist and yet flavorful white fish.

To the Angeleno, Locanda del Lago's setting is a bit deceiving, but one shouldn't be so quick to judge. It's a beautiful and surprisingly quaint air in that space. Most importantly, the food is impeccable and not dependently approachable. It's a window into less-explored realm of Northern Italian.

*Ed. note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the restaurant had been open 25 years.