As outdoor restaurants reopen and local eateries begin the road to recovery, the Daily Press is highlighting one great restaurant a week.
This week, the spotlight is on Piccolo: a new neighborhood Italian restaurant focused on homemade pasta and high-quality meat and fish dishes that play with spices, texture and sweet and savory flavors.
The story behind Piccolo
While many restaurateurs have struggled, reduced service or closed doors during the pandemic, chef Antonio Mure miraculously launched two Piccolo restaurants this year – one in Sunset Park and a second on Abbot Kinney.
His secret? An eternal passion for welcoming diners, the experience of navigating through turbulent times and its “infinite atomic energy”.
“The most important ingredient in a restaurant is passionate love,” Mure said. “The sound of people laughing, glasses clinking, pots and pans clanking — that’s something I love in my ears. It drives me crazy, it’s just amazing.
So far in his career, Mure has opened 11 restaurants, including the Michelin-starred La Botte, which operated for nine years in downtown Santa Monica. This year, Mure has returned to his roots, redeveloping his original Piccolo restaurant, which he opened in Venice in 2004.
Both Piccolo locations are managed by Mure and his partner Tony Black, who are the team behind Barrique on Main Street. The updated Piccolo menu blends an array of farmer’s market fresh produce and premium Italian ingredients into savory pasta packets, slow-cooked game meats and fragrant fish dishes.
On launching and surviving during the pandemic
Family, neighborhood and community are at the center of the Black and Mure restaurant philosophy.
For the first 60 days of the pandemic, they ran Barrique as a family team of four with help from Black’s brother and Mure’s daughter. It was a difficult transition and a necessary decision to keep the lights on and ensure furloughed staff would have a restaurant to return to.
“Every day the chef and I, his daughter and my brother washed the dishes, mopped the floors, prepared the food, cooked the food and even did our own shopping,” Black said.
This tenacity allowed them to stay afloat and continue to serve local residents, who in turn provided dedicated patronage.
“The people who came out to support us were members of the community who had become incredibly close to us,” Black said. “That’s basically what we’re trying to replicate with Piccolo: this idea of having a little corner of the neighborhood that can really accommodate the community.”
Piccolo Santa Monica has been under construction since December 2019, but its permit and renovation process has been significantly delayed by the pandemic. Conversely, the Venice location was a pandemic-induced opportunity, as the team took prime location in a recently vacated Abbot Kinney restaurant space.
What to order now
Owner and Executive Chef Antonio Mure has carefully cultivated the menu to incorporate dishes and styles from across Italy, drawing inspiration from his Sicilian roots, his family in Parma and his time working in the Dolomites. He is assisted by chef de cuisine Victorino Balbino, who has been at his side since the opening of the first Piccolo in 2004.
Mure assures diners that every dish is divine, but recommends starting with the jamon serrano, which is served with a poached pear, sweetened with vanilla canella and topped off with a creamy burrata.
For pasta lovers, Mure recommends ordering the beetroot and poppy seed ravioli or the potato and fig tortelloni.
“We serve the tortelloni in a bed of Parmesan fondue, so it’s a cream that’s reduced and caramelized, which gives it a bit of sweetness while the Parmesan gives incredible flavor,” Mure said. “When you bite into it, you get the crunch of fig seeds with a little brown butter fried sage on top.”
For a touch of sweetness, Mure directs diners to the three-layered trombotto chocolate mousse or pastry cream.
“My pastry cream is special because it reduces the cream to create a thickness like a soft cheese, so you have that lovely French vanilla bean flavor and soft cheese consistency topped with crispy pistachios,” Mure said. .
Piccolo Santa Monica is open for dinner seven days a week at 2127 Lincoln Blvd and Piccolo Venice is open Tuesday through Saturday at 1616 Abbot Kinney Blvd. Both locations plan to expand lunch and brunch options soon.