Radici might be the restaurant Hermosa Beach has been waiting for.
The lighting is bright enough to read the menu, but soft enough that you don't feel like you could perform surgery. The decor is sophisticated, but not fussy. Sure, you could bring the kids, but maybe get a sitter instead, and enjoy being an adult.
Located a couple blocks south of the bustle of the pier, in the Sandcastle plaza mini-mall, Radici means roots in Italian, and the family who owns and operates has deep roots in Italy, in the restaurant industry and in the South Bay.
Lucia Gaspari rules the kitchen. Hailing from Pacentro, Italy, a small village in the Abruzzo district known for its simple approach to Italian cuisine, using few ingredients, prepared perfectly.
"As soon as Italian people finish a meal, they begin thinking about what they are going to eat next," Gaspari said.
Despite her decades of cooking, she is still evolving, making small changes in the search for mastery.
Gaspari and her late husband, Bruno, owned and operated several restaurants over the years. The most famous of these, Massimo Ristorante, was considered the premiere Italian fine dining spot in Palm Desert during the 1990s. That restaurant has long since shut its doors, and Papa Bruno has passed on, but a beautiful mural of his home in the tiny village of Pacentro Italy adorns the rear wall of Radici, an homage to the beloved patriarch.
Daughter Laura Francisco raised her own family in the South Bay and when her children graduated school she decided it was time to return to her restaurant roots.
She oversaw the design and runs the front of the house. The night I visited, her daughter Arianna was in the kitchen helping on desserts, making it three generations.
The room is a warm but modern mix of chairs and cozy booths in subdued shades of mushroom, with windows overlooking Hermosa Boulevard.
Upon seating we are brought a shot of house-made sangria, a fun and friendly touch. Followed by an amuse bouche of minestrone, the classic Italian vegetable soup that hints at the complex but homey flavors to come.
A manageable list of mostly Italian wines are available by the bottle or glass. But given the sleek and sexy bar we passed by the entry, I wanted to try one of their craft cocktails—all variations on classics. My spouse ordered an Italian greyhound, much like the traditional with the addition of rosemary syrup, and I had a hickory old-fashioned, in which the bourbon had been smoked, in-house, through some mysterious (and delicious) process.
Starters, or Primi, run from $8-$14 and include a couple salads, stuffed Portobello, scampi, buratta and a salami board. The spouse and I went with the calamari fritti, a light crispy batter on the rings and tentacles of tender squid accompanied by a tangy sugo, or red sauce.
We also tried the involtini di melanzane, a specialty, thin slices of baked eggplant rolled around a filling of house ricotta smothered in a savory red sauce. Several years ago I lived near an Italian deli in LA that sold trays of involtini on the weekends, and with that first bite, I realized how much I'd missed them. The individual flavors are delicate and come together in a comforting whole. My husband, who insists he doesn't like eggplant, inhaled his before I could tell him what it was.
Lucia has a light touch with seasoning, but a slim condiment tray of salt, pepper and chili flakes arrived so we could adjust for ourselves if we wished. There is also a nice young woman who circulates the room grating fresh Parmesan on anything upon request.
There are several pastas in the "secondi" section of the menu running from $19-$28. We chose the gnocchi bicolore gratinati and the pappardelle Bolognese.
The gnocchi were soft white and green dumplings of potato or spinach swimming in a stunningly rich gorgonzola cream al gratin. The funk and tang of the cheese was accentuated by the golden toasted bits on top. The homemade pappardelle, a wide, flat noodle, is springy and chewy, very al dente, and the Bolognese, a hearty meat, dairy, and tomato ragu, clings and coats each bite.
The portions are generous enough that neither of us finished, enjoying the leftovers for lunch the following day. I will have to return to sample the Terzi portion of the menu, six proteins including salmon, lamb and priced from $28 for chicken to $45 for a 14 oz. prime ribeye.
We did save the smallest bit of room for dessert, and sampled the housemade tiramisu. It was delicate with delineated layers of ladyfingers and mascarpone flavored with coffee and chocolate, as a proper tiramisu should be—light enough that despite being 'full,' we ate every bite.
We enjoyed ourselves so much we made a reservation for next week. We are bringing a neighbor couple. They got a sitter.