For as long as I can remember, the free-standing building at the corner of the shopping center at Aviation Boulevard and Prospect Avenue in Hermosa Beach has been home to an Indian restaurant.
Far as I can recall, many years ago, it was Invitation to India, followed for a long time by Akbar Cuisine of India, and then for a brief time by Kochi South Indian Cuisine. It seemed as if it would always be a destination for curry and tandoori. And then, along came Spumoni Trattoria & Pizzeria — and it’s as if the South Bay has never tasted Italian food before.
The place is, far as I can tell, packed every night, with large groups, families, and tables piled high with a pasta-heavy assortment of dishes. (I thought we were all off carbs. I guess that was last week. Now we’re back on carbs — with gusto.)
The place even offers 10 gnocchi variations — small, housemade potato dumplings, flavored with meat sauce, pesto cream sauce, shrimp, wild mushrooms and many, many melted cheeses. Gnocchi is a wonderful dish. But it also smacks of many hours at the gym.
Spumoni the dessert is not understated — this is not a scoop of sorbeto, eating with delicacy. Spumoni the dessert, and spumoni the restaurant, are both rooted in very tasty indulgence. This is where you go to celebrate, where you don’t push your dish away after a couple of bites, complaining you couldn’t possibly have more.
At Spumoni, having more is the name of the game.
It’s a pleasure to indulge in so much happy eating. To watch as the rugrats at an adjacent table dive into their thin-crust cheese and tomato pizza, which could have a crispier crust (but then, for me, it could always be crispier!), before hitting the spaghetti Bolognese hard enough to leave the table looking like a spontaneous Jackson Pollock.
Many, if not all, of the pastas at Spumoni are made by hand on a heavy duty pasta machine, for which the restaurant “sent our chef to Chiavari in Genova, Italy, to take an intensive course on pasta making which was taught by an artisan ‘master pastaio.’”
“Strozzapretti” translates as “choke the priest.” And these long cavatelli in a sauce of pancetta bacon, egg yolk, Parmigiano, Pecorino and black pepper, needs to be eaten slowly, and savored. You might indeed choke on…all that intensity of flavor.
But then, to experience the heavy-duty tastes at Spumoni, you can go almost anywhere on the menu, beginning with the large selection of eight oversized salads.
I was especially taken with the Matteo Salad (named, perhaps, from the venerable Matteo’s Italian Restaurant in West Hollywood?), a happy toss of greens, grilled chicken breast, sliced pears, caramelized walnuts, Roma tomatoes, bleu cheese crumbles and balsamic dressing. It sounds perhaps a bit too much. But it pulls together just great. Should you be off pasta at the moment, it’s a good light entree. It’s big.
But then, so is the platter of of calamari fritti, properly crisp, with a nice spicy arrabbiata sauce. And how about the antipasti of prosciutto and burrata mozzarella, two of my favorite things in the world, together on one plate.
Even the minestrone, usually served as an afterthought — the Italian restaurant equivalent of miso soup in a sushi bar — is one done, nicely prepared, flavorful, with lots of still-crispy veggies.
And should you want to kick it old school, there are lots of familiar names on the menu — cacciatore, Milanese, marsala, limone, Fra Diavolo.
Spumoni is a restaurant both new and old, something for everyone, without a curry in sight. And yes, there is spumoni for dessert. There has to be. But there’s also tiramisu and cannoli. And photos of New York’s Little Italy (I think) on the walls.
Like the cement company motto goes: “Find a need, and fill it!” Which Spumoni does with abbondanza!
Spumoni Trattoria & Pizzeria is located at 1101 Aviation Blvd. in Hermosa Beach. They are open daily for dinner. For more information, visit www.spumonirestaurants.com
Merrill Shindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance dining critic. Send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.