714 Montana Ave.
Santa Monica, CA 90403
By Michael Aushenker | Contributing Writer
Photos by Rich Schmitt | Staff Photographer
Osteria Bigoli represents more than just the opening of another Italian artisan restaurant: It is the next chapter in the ongoing narrative that is the storied career of Executive Chef Claudio Marchesan.
His newly opened Montana Avenue restaurant is a hands-on reflection of his northeast Italian roots (with some selections culled from other regions).
Marchesan helmed E’Angelo, Ezio Rastelli’s famed San Francisco trattoria: a 36-seater that he and Bay Area restaurateur Larry Mindel took over in 2003 and ran until 2014. It was, in fact, in San Francisco last summer, while sitting at a restaurant bar, when Marchesan overheard a waiter from Santa Monica talking about a Montana Avenue business opportunity.
“My antenna went up,” Marchesan said. “I always wanted to be in Santa Monica, especially on Montana Avenue.”
Marchesan and his wife returned to Los Angeles (Marina del Rey, specifically) earlier this year in order for the chef to follow through on this ambition.
Occupying what was previously Vincenzo, Bigoli shimmers on an avenue that is no stranger to Italian cuisine. Bigoli embraces cozy and intimate—the
entire restaurant, at capacity, comfortably accommodates about 30 people.
The space is so small, said Marchesan, that Bigoli’s kitchen doesn’t even have a pizza oven. Marchesan had grown accustomed to producing pies out of a wood-fired oven at his past restaurants. While he admitted that he’ll probably lose family business, it also comes as a relief for him to focus more on creating pasta from scratch, with the able assist of Sous Chef Jose Solis.
Our appetizers kicked off with Burrata, which has been trending of late in Santa Monica. Here, a better-than-average plate indulges burrata in a pesto and blister grape tomatoes with garlic crostini and the fresh pancetta (salt-cured bacon made of pork belly) that is one of Bigoli’s signature running threads from course to course.
The Grilled Octopus truly melts in your mouth. Marchesan shared that he is not overly fussy when cooking his Spain-derived cephalopods, bringing it to a quick boil without employing salt. Served here with fingerling potatoes, arugula, tomatoes coulis and mint, the octopus is tender, supple and flavorful.
Also tasty: Carpaccio, a generous starter plate piled high with thin-sliced beef filet, arugula, capers, mustard sauce, extra virgin olive oil and big shards of fresh Parmesan.
Via the insalata, Little Gems Caesar arrived as a yummy twist on the staple Caesar salad, with Asiago slices and crunchy garlic croutons. For a different direction, try Arugola & Roasted Beets, a sweeter, more gelatinous affair, with beets counter-textured by crumbled chevre, candied walnuts and sweet onions, doused with raspberry vinaigrette.
Pasta and risotto is primarily what Marchesan came back to LA to strut, and here is where this little gem of a restaurant really sparkles. The epic Risotto Al Frutti Di Mare is a formidable mélange of creamy Italian rice with assorted shellfish, including calamari, and a light tomato sauce. (The squid here, like all Bigoli seafood, is prepared fresh and not fried or buried in batter.)
Angolotti Dal Plin, a ravioli-type pasta specialty, filled with roasted meats (beef, pork and pancetta bits), is served in a sugo d’arrosto with Parmesan. Given the sauce, this dish has a sweet patina to it (almost like a Mexican mole), which deftly counterbalances with the savory stuffing. I preferred Rigatoni Carbonara, its short-tube-pasta cousin, lathered with white wine, Pecorino Romano and chunky, savory morsels of guanciale.
Marchesan also makes Bigoli All’Anatra, a Venetian-style spaghetti with slow-cooked duck ragout and Pecorino Romano, and Gamberoni alla Griglia, large grilled prawns with mild Shishito peppers in lemon sauce.
The Saltimbocca Alla Romana entrée—veal loin medallions with prosciutto, roasted potatoes and sage—became my meal’s relative low point. Admittedly, I’m not a big veal connoisseur, but I found this version slight and dry.
Conversely, Lamb Chops “Scottadito” is a must-try; a triumphant pyramid of quickly grilled lamb, flanked by roasted potatoes and Tuscan kale, that could not have been better executed. Perfection on a plate—I could eat this dish all week long and not tire of it.
Naturally, Bigoli has no shortage of Italian wine pairings to match the best reds and whites with your orders.
With Bigoli, Marchesan brings more than just another Italian spot to an already ristorante-saturated Westside. What Marchesan brings with his new Montana Avenue destination is his experience, his history, his legend. Even after having helmed some of California’s most storied establishments in decades past, this jovial chef appears engaged at Bigoli, kibitzing with regulars and sharing many great anecdotes with a gregariousness that quickly makes friends out of strangers. You can feel that Bigoli is his baby, his labor of love.
Tasteful and ambient, Osteria Bigoli is a cozy nook possessing many charms. And no, I did not at all miss the pizza oven.