Restaurant Review: Capo, Gwen, Officine Brera, Tower Bar

Restaurants with unique Hollywood backdrops and new spins on Italian dining kick off a festive Fall for foodies

Santa Monica

Capo captures much of what people dream of when they think of an Italian vacation. The tiny, rustic house on Ocean Avenue containing this gem of an eatery is concealed by thick, velvety curtains shielding it from the outside world. And like many gems, a reservation here is as coveted now as it was when it first opened in 1999. Capo’s treasure trove includes 1,500 bottles of wine, as well as a seasonally inspired menu boasting some of the best pastas and vegetables L.A. has to offer. Its wood oven is the highlight, and the focus of the warm room as well as the place where incredible cuts of meat and fish are roasted. White corn ravioli with black truffles and Santa Barbara spot prawns are recommended choices for the perfect meal, especially when you end the experience with the hot apple tart topped with caramel ice cream. Alternatively, you can cuddle up at the bar on a cooler evening, or sit along the art-lined walls.


European Style Butcher Shop

Gwen, restaurateur Curtis Stone’s latest endeavor, is a butcher shop and restaurant located on Sunset Blvd in the heart of Hollywood. Like Trois Mec, Gwen is not just a meal out, but a show that requires the advance purchase of tickets. This presents diners the advantage of not needing to worry about what to order, as they are in the hands of an expert.


The dazzling art deco dining room gives way to an open kitchen and flames roaring in the background. It sets the stage for a five-course menu centered around fire-based cooking techniques. The opening act was a charcuterie plate followed by two salads, a pasta (the night’s breakout star), a lamb course, and dessert. The selection of a knife for the meat course was a nice touch, arriving at the table in a fancy cigar box containing a unique selection of steak knives. Although opened in late summer, high demand for reservations ensures a long run among selective, adventurous diners.


Officine Brera

The owners of the wildly popular Factory Kitchen are now raising curtain on Officine Brera, carved out from the shell of a century-old power plant. While the new venue could be described as an arty, downtown-chic destination like its sibling, it has its own distinctive personality contrasting with Factory Kitchen’s polished minimalism. On a canvas of exposed brick walls and rustic wood floors, Northern Italian Chef Angelo Auriana and owner Matteo Ferdinandi create a beautiful and complex picture of the regional cuisine. Indeed, a quick glance at the menu may having you wishing you could sign up for a guided tour. Once you get your bearings, the menu’s delicious detail presents an even larger problem—you’re likely to want everything. Thankfully, the  professional servers and staff will lead you in the right direction through both the menu and a wine list that’s mostly Italian with a dabbling of some wines from the U.S., Germany and France.


The dinner menu is divided into three main sections: Fried, raw, cured & cultured to start; Rice wheat and grains for a middle course; and wood-grilled, spit-roasted, and slow-braised for mains. Highlights among the starters include fresh market finds like heirloom tomatoes with sun kiss melon, golden beets, red onions, and arugula as well as grilled mediterranean octopus with watercress, frisee salad, and sunchoke puree. The homemade Gnocchi Piemontesi is a standout among the secondi course. It’s a work of art composted of fonduta (the creamiest melted cheese imaginable), black summer truffle, and chives. Other winners include the Bassa Padana risotto, served with sausage and grana padano, and the meaty Nastrini Del Miracolo pasta served with braised butcher’s table ragu and and a touch of herbs atop a thicker noodle. The wood oven roasted pork shank, accompanied with swiss chard and polenta, is fork tender and coated in a slightly sweet reduction. While the dessert selections range from biscotti to mousse to baked meringue, the Italian terrone, a honey and nut nougatine semifreddo with warm fudge sauce and amarena cherries, is both sublime and unusual.


Tower Bar

Few restaurants in L.A. have a maitre d’ as well known as Dimitri Dimitrov, who treats the dining room as his stage on a nightly basis. Live jazz music and soaring views of the city add to the warmth and buzz of the animated space. Celebrities rub elbows and seating can be tight in the main room, but no one seems to mind as they sip on strong martinis and nibble on crudite. The deviled eggs a la Russe and zucchini chips are always a great way to start. Entrees are simple, from roasted chicken to rack of lamb with mashed potatoes. Order light and save room for the build-your-own ice cream sundae.