Terzo MdR sets a Mediterranean-style table with locally sourced ingredients and playful cocktails

By Angela Matano

Terzo MdR 13450 Maxella Ave., Marina Marketplace (310) 306-8204 terzomdr.com

Terzo’s tagliatelle is a pasta lover’s dream
Photo by Melissa Valladares

Pasta, pizza and other unfairly maligned carbohydrates get the star treatment at the new Terzo MdR. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, this iteration of the restaurant evolved from Settebello, a primarily pizza-focused eatery, into something a bit more sophisticated.

Executive Chef Brian Lavin moved all the way from Baltimore to revamp the menu with a focus on locally sourced ingredients. “Part of the reason I moved to California is for the produce,” he says. “It’s a chef’s dream.”

Looking north to Monterey and Santa Barbara, Lavin also incorporates fresh fish that will change with the seasons. His experience preparing fish dishes and Italian cuisine in Maryland made differences between East Coast and West Coast approaches very apparent.

One of the first things Lavin noticed about Los Angeles was that Italian food here tends to lean toward meat-focused dishes inspired by Southern Italy. That’s how he realized he could do something different at Terzo, dovetailing perfectly with its proximity to the Pacific.

One of Terzo’s standout antipasti dishes is seared sea scallops. Well-executed, with that perfect caramel exterior and tender interior, the mollusks come on a bed of sweet corn puree and marinated cherry tomatoes with a tarragon-infused oil, evoking summer at its finest. Another appetizer that brings the warmer months to mind is the fresh plum and fig salad, heavy on the fruits, layered with shaved lard, dandelion greens, vincotto (a wine reduction) and pistachio butter.

Perhaps the greatest challenge to making Terzo work with an expanded menu is the giant authentic Italian pizza oven that takes up most of the kitchen space, leaving little room for traditional stove burners. As a result, Lavin cooks a variety of items other than pizza in that oven. Lucky for us eaters, the oven still produces remarkable pizza with crust that is thin and deliciously toasty on the bottom, just as the Neopolitans would have it.

The pastas at Terzo continue the kitchen’s emphasis on fresh vegetables and fruits of the sea. Summer squash, anchovies, Monterey Bay calamari and tuscan kale rub elbows with the more common tomatoes and parmesan that customers are used to finding in Italian food. The rigatoni All’Amatriciana comes bursting with the traditional guanciale, or cured pig cheek, that makes the sauce so luscious you might just lick the plate.

Cocktails, playful and traditional, make a grand showing at Terzo. The Pisticci Sour — a blend of bourbon, amaro Lucano, lemon, egg white and sugar — comes frothed up, like a Pisco sour, and mixes sweet and sour to perfection. Another fun choice is the Hard Black Cherry Soda, a mix of fernet Jelinek, black cherry puree and bitters. The drink brings to mind a sophisticated rum and coke — or maybe rum and cherry coke, to be exact. But mmmm … it tastes like being on vacation.

If you still have room, indulge a little more with the ricotta doughnuts. Cozy like a cashmere blanket, these beauties come in a pool of honey, dusted with fennel pollen.

The word “terzo” in Italian signifies a third place in life — a space to enjoy yourself, beyond work and home. Really, do you need any further invitation?