By MICHAEL AUSHENKER | Contributing Writer
A so-small-you-might-miss-it spot just west of Third Street Promenade, Uovo is one of those culinary gems that shines bright amid Santa Monica’s ample epicurean treasure bounty. This is no overlooked jewel—judging from the turnout on the Monday night we explored the menu here, word of mouth has already caught fire.
Uovo’s owners are Sushi Nozawa and Sugarfish co-founders Lele Massimini and Jerry Greenberg, who also own KazuNori: The Original Hand Roll Bar and Nozawa Bar.
The Uovo concept started in 2011. After a decade of eating and traveling through Italy (including Rome and Bologna) on a pasta-eating tour, Massimini and Greenberg teamed with Massimini’s brother, Carlo Massimini of Rome, and Lowell Sharon to open the classy, subdued Santa Monica pasta bar. A second branch just opened this month at 6245 Wilshire Blvd., near the Fairfax District.
According to the owners, Uovo is the first and only restaurant in the U.S. to make handmade fresh pasta in Italy and overnight it to Los Angeles. What that ensures is that the pasta will be made with Italian eggs, which are not available in the U.S., to create a deep yellow noodle that perfectly complements the sauces and cheese.
Every tortellini here is hand-rolled, every noodle handmade by sfoglina in a kitchen back in Bologna. The sfoglina in Uovo’s Bologna kitchen use the age-old technique of sheeting and cutting pasta, and while it is more labor-intensive than the modern extrusion method, the results lend the noodle a superior texture.
After the pasta is created, it rests in a temperature-controlled compartment of a commercial passenger plane en-route to LA, where it will become the foundation for Uovo’s generous portions.
“Being from Rome, it makes me so happy that guests recognize the difference of handmade fresh pasta from Italy,” Carlo told the Palisadian-Post. “For us, it really came down to ingredients and expertise, which together are only available in Bologna and Modena.”
The flagship restaurant is an inviting haunt—dimly lit yet buzzy and animated and, truth be told, as perfect for a romantic date as it is for some casual hangtime with friends.
Sure enough, the evening’s courses became a parade of pasta plates of the highest quality. Let’s start with the Tagliatelle al Ragú, made from the original Bolognese recipe—without any dairy or cream and to stunning effect. The ground beef employed here is flavorable and formidable, while the flat noodles just melt in your mouth; a combustion of cross-flavors you won’t soon forget.
Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe delivers an exciting take on this classic favorite, Roman-style, this dish is served up with percorino, black pepper and a sprinkle of salt. It’s also adequately cheesy in flavor but never overbearing.
Another salt-forward dish, Tonnarelli all’ Amatriciana, with its medley of imported tomatoes, percorino, onion, guanciale and red chili pepper, also hits the spot, but the highlight for me is, no doubt, Tortellini in Brodo, which comes in a broth of vegetable, chicken and beef and is truly sublime. This entrée is a must-order; a light mélange of chicken/veal-filled pasta pouches swimming in something of a soup. Thanks to its simple charms, this irresistible delight may have walked away with my cuore.
In a different direction, try Ravioli di Ricotta, pasta pouches pregnant with the titular Italian cheese and swimming in pomodoro sauce. But if you’re not in the mood for tonnarelli or tagliatelle, the house also makes a mean meat lasagna (Lasagna Verde).
Even the sides at Uovo are stellar. All three of them arrive roasted, including Broccolini al Forno. We enjoyed Funghi al Forno, a mélange of roasted portabello, shitaki and white button mushrooms; and we also enjoyed an order of Cavolfiori al Forno, roasted cauliflower with red chili pepper, which not only tasted pitch-perfect alongside the pasta but, as easily surmised, packs a spicy kick.
Given the core pasta program, a beer and wine list is available. But because of its central open-kitchen format and the specificity of its noodle-centric focus, Uovo does not serve coffee or dessert.
It’s no surprise that the bustling Santa Monica location has spun off another Uovo mid-city. The perfect storm of quality and direct Italian fare, flourish and atmosphere, Uovo is more than just another Italian restaurant (of which LA already has plenty), it’s an experience that will transport your palate to Bologna. Or rather, an experience that will transport Bologna to you … quite literally, as it turns out.