But, don't overlook the restaurant's other dinner options, especially since there are many you probably won't find at any other eatery. Besides our choices, which were all utterly enjoyed and are highly recommended, additional entrée standouts are the Lasagna di Cinghiale (wild boar lasagna with Bechamel sauce); Ossobuco alla Milanese (veal shank with a saffron-parmesan risotto); and the Pesce in Crosta di Sale (salt baked wild Chilean sea bass baked and dressed tableside with baby artichokes and Yukon potatoes in a white wine sauce).
Interestingly, Chef Maggioni also prepares a special seasonal tasting menu of three courses ($45) or four courses ($59) that can be paired with a wine tasting ($22). Each tasting menu focuses on organic produce of the season as well as a theme that may incorporate a specific cooking method or traditional flavor. Alternatively, Lago recently introduced a three course "stimulus package" dinner menu ($29) with impressive options available for the starter, entrée and for dessert. The Tagliolini Lago e Monti (spinach tagliolini with tiger shrimp in a portabello, cherry tomato and white wine sauce) would be my pick for the main, which is also offered on the regular dinner menu.
Dessert at Lago is equally resplendent, priced on the night of my visit from $6 to $14. Like everything else, the desserts, including the gelatos and sorbettos, are conceptualized and created daily in-house using fresh, top-quality ingredients. Our party indulged in the Profiterole al Amaretto - home made baignés filled with an Amaretto cream and topped with a chocolate and caramel sauce. Enough said. We also savored the Senza Farina - warm flourless chocolate cake topped with a vin brulée sauce normally served with a hazelnut gelato, although we opted for the vanilla gelato instead. This heavenly cake is a must for those with a true appreciation for all things chocolate.
Other recommended desserts include the Tiramisu (lady fingers, espresso, vanilla-mascarpone cream in a cappuccino sauce); Tris di Cioccaolato (a trio of mousses that features brandy-dark, Bacardi-milk, and Amaretto-white); Crostata Rustica alle Ciliege (warm cherry pie with vanilla gelato); and, also for the chocolate-lovers, Salame di Cioccolato (rich chocolate fudge with sugar cookie crumbles and vanilla bean sauce).
As impressive as the food is Lago's wine and cocktail selection nearly 400 choices strong. In fact, for its range of premium California and Italian wines, the restaurant has earned Wine Spectator magazine's "Award of Excellence" every year since 1995, and Luigi Veronelli "Best Italian Restaurants" guide praised the restaurant for it "vast and intelligent selection." The restaurant's artisanal cocktail menu is equally compelling, with a variety of clever concoctions made with freshly squeezed and just-picked local produce and organic liquors. Among the more ambitious is the Caprese martini, made with cherry tomatoes, basil, tomato vodka and balsamic, while the mouthwatering Mojito features mint, lime, Papagayo rum and sugar cane.
If after dinner drinks and a show are your thing, be sure to order Lago's authentic Italian Grolla, which is a combination of espresso, grappa, brandy, sambuca, lemon peel and sugar. After being flamed tableside, it can be shared from a hand-carved wooden "friendship" bowl that has a drinking spout for each person. Tradition states that, as the drink is passed, each relationship it touches grows stronger. There are also numerous dessert martinis with such tantalizing flavors as apple pie, key lime pie, candied apple, thin mint and white or dark chocolate. For those who prefer a traditional after-dinner drink, there is grappa, dessert wines, port, sambuca, cognac and brandy.
All told based on my first-hand experience, Lago is an extraordinarily distinctive Italian restaurant likely to exceed any luxe diner's high expectations.
Lago is located at 231 Arizona Avenue, Santa Monica 90401. More information is available online at www.LagoSantaMonica.com
- Merilee Kern
JustLuxé.com's "The Luxe List" Executive Review Editor
The Luxe List product, service and travel review editor Merilee Kern scours the luxury marketplace for new and captivating "musts." Submissions accepted via e-mail at Merilee@JustLuxe.com.