Ever wondered what happened to Chris O’Donnell? Heartthrob of the early aughts, Robin to George Clooney’s Batman. Well, he’s been filming episodes of “NCIS: Los Angeles”…and in between, opening Pizzana, quite a fab new Italophile destination in Brentwood.
As much as it would please us all, O’Donnell isn’t actually slinging dough or greeting customers at the counter. At least not when we visited. No, he and his wife, Caroline, partnered with Candace and Charles Nelson, the couple behind Sprinkles Cupcakes, to open this Neapolitan-inspired hotspot.
It came about because they all shared a passion for pizza (okay, who doesn’t?) and a fascination with the science behind baking. The Nelsons’ first savory venture features handcrafted neo-Neapolitan pies from Naples-born Daniele Uditi. (Now say that 10 times really fast.) To make them, Uditi uses “slow-dough,” which is easier to digest but still sturdy enough to pick up with one hand.
We just had to try these pies for ourselves, of course. Arriving on a typically sunny L.A. evening, we took our seats amidst the sleekly designed interior – all black and taupe with cushioned leather banquettes. Etta James played overhead, and the crowd (full house on a Tuesday – good sign) looked happily buzzed on vino and carbs. A marble countertop near the back of the restaurant offered bar seating overlooking a glass enclosed kitchen. Always trust an open kitchen. Did Al Pacino say that to O’Donnell in Scent of a Woman? Probably not.
After poring over the wine menu, designed beautifully by local stylist Amanda Crawford, our server brought us a glass of Idlewild rosé – which included “river rocks” in its list of descriptors. We were genuinely enthralled by its smooth body and smoky finish. River rocks – tasty!
Before the main event, we started with the pate di fegatini – a house-made chicken liver pate with San Marzano jam and wood-fired bread. Much to our delight, the dish excited the tastebuds of even those who didn’t usually have a taste for the stuff. Rich and creamy – it paired perfectly with sweet jam.
Other glorious antipasti: the seasonal veggies, roasted in the wood-fired oven, and the chopped insalata, a modern twist on a traditional Italian salad. The pizzas were thin-crust but, living up to Uditi’s standards, sturdy enough to hold. We indulged in the Agnello, made with San Marzano dop, fior di latte, lamb sausage, and oregano; plus the Corbarina, which boasts a huge dollop of fresh burrata and tasty pieces of squash blossom – who could resist?
Considering Ms. Nelson is responsible for the dessert menu, it is worth saving room. She lends a light yet decadent touch to Italian-inspired sweets – you must, must try the salted caramel panna cotta with pretzel crunch. Like we did.
After another glass of rosé, we started reminiscing on all of our O’Donnell favorites – from Fried Green Tomatoes (with Cathy Bates) to Mad Love (as the love interest of Drew Barrymore). Just as with films, the best restaurants take an ensemble to really make the magic happen – and the Pizzana cast gets two thumbs up…for both plot and special effects.