What’s in a name?
One of my favorite moments in any day is when I’m going down a block I’ve traveled a thousand times and suddenly spot a new restaurant. It’s a moment of possibility; anything could be happening inside, and I mark it as a place for potential adventures.
The new sign for Macchi’s Bistro on Washington Boulevard in Venice obviously heralded an upscaling for what once was the Pasta Factory, and when we observed the subtly lit, stylish interior it seemed clear that we had an ambitious newcomer.
Those portents were wrong – when I asked about the new owners I was told that the place hadn’t changed hands, but that the old name was out of step with the experience they sought to provide, so they changed the name. We might have wandered on to another place I had had an eye on, if a server had not gone by with incredibly fragrant, freshly baked bread. That was enough of an inducement to sit down and give the menu some serious study.
We decided to start with a Caesar salad, a bowl of minestrone, and a spinach empanada – the latter an Argentine snack item, which was on the menu because the owners are Argentines.
They definitely know their Italian food, though, because that minestrone was first-rate. It is offered two ways – as the usual chunky soup, or ortolana, pureed with a little cream. I ordered it ortolana style and was delighted – it was thick, creamy and rich, a perfect cold-weather soup with vegetables subtly accented by garlic and herbs, possibly a whiff of nutmeg among the melange. The soup was terrific with the hot bread that was a constant temptation, since a server made the rounds with a large basket and replenished our supply whenever we ran low.
That bread also went famously with the salad, which had fresh, crisp croutons and a robust dressing with ample garlic and anchovy tang. I usually add a dash of pepper to Caesars, but this one didn’t need a thing – there were plenty of dimensions in the flavor without it. As for the empanada, it had a crisp crust, and the spinach and cheese filling made it a tasty start; even though we had over-ordered, I was happy that we tried it.
We paired our starters with wine from their modestly priced list –a Chateau Ste. Michelle Sauvignon Blanc for me and an unusual Argentine dry rosé for my wife. Both were served too cold, but as they came to appropriate drinking temperature the virtues of the rosé were apparent, and I’d happily have this again.
For main courses we selected eggplant Parmesan with a side of pasta, and the house special capellini – angel hair pasta with chicken, shrimp, spinach, mushrooms and onions in a garlic, white-wine cream sauce. I found the pasta slightly over-sauced but the flavor was spot-on – a traditional recipe perfectly done. The eggplant Parmesan looked like a modest portion but had a richness and density that made it ample – it was as meaty as a vegetarian item can be, and not fried to dry crunchiness as some chefs are wont. The blend of herbed marinara, mozzarella and eggplant was hearty and satisfying.
I paired my pasta with a glass of Cigarzin, a wine that was on special and reasonably priced at $7 a glass. This was excellent for a modestly priced zinfandel, and if it is offered when you visit, I recommend it.
We might not have had dessert had our server not mentioned that the tiramisu was homemade, but I have a weak spot for this when it’s done right. My wife thought it was perfect; I enjoyed it even though I prefer mine with a bit more bitter chocolate and coffee flavor. The meal for two, with three glasses of wine, was $86 – quite reasonable for the experience.
I liked that bread so much that I decided to return a few days later to see how that dough translated into a pizza, and selected a lunch special of a small pizza with salad for only $9. It did make excellent pizza dough, though the onions hadn’t been drained enough after frying so the topping made things a bit soggy. The portion was ample – a small pizza here is almost enough for two – and I’d return to experiment with other combinations.
Macchi’s Bistro isn’t trying to do anything daring, just to serve good Italian food in a pleasant environment. They’re doing it right, and if you’ve been passing by because the previous name was unpromising, you should drop in and give them a try.
Macchi’s is at 425 Washington Blvd. in Venice. Open Mo-Fri 11:30 a.m. – 10 p.m., Sa 5:30 p.m. – 10:30 p.m., Su 4 p.m. – 10 p.m. Parking in rear, wine and beer served, children welcome. 310-823-9838.