It’s hard to miss the entrance to the new “it” restaurant in West Hollywood. The cars in line for the valet stretch for blocks down Santa Monica Boulevard. The wait for a table inside the restaurant is more than an hour.
It’s called Mercato di Vetro, and it’s an Italian food lover’s heaven.
A project of famous L.A. hospitality group sbe (known for Katsuya and Gladstones), Mercato di Vetro opened its doors Oct. 3 and has been packed ever since.
The contemporary-looking restaurant spans two levels and includes four kitchens — one for antipasti, cheese and charcuterie, another with a wood-burning oven for pizza and a pasta-making station, another for cocktails and a final traditional restaurant kitchen for composed dishes.
The design feels rustic yet modern, with plenty of dark cherry wood and crisp white marble. Though the space is large, it’s divided into sections by walls of wine bottles that stretch from floor to ceiling.
With an eager staff, service is prompt and attentive. Once seated, an iPad to be used as a drink menu is brought to the table. Patrons are able to flick through a wide array of wines and an assortment of unusual cocktails, including pomegranate martinis and Sex on the Beach.
The vast menu has a range of Italian classics, from the Margherita pizza to a less traditional raw fish bar. With a wide variety, it’s safe to assume every diner can find a dish they’ll like. Servers suggest you read the menu in a clockwise motion, starting with the antipasti selection and moving toward the raw bar, salads, meat, fish, pasta and pizza. The idea behind the menu is to encourage groups to order a variety of dishes from each section to share among one another.
Starters include hen of the woods with aioli and parmesan, squash blossoms, farro salad and prosciutto with burrata. Contrary to its name, hen of the woods does not include any element of poultry. In fact, the dish presents a wild mushroom commonly found in the woods — hence the creative name. The mushroom dish is the most memorable starter. Served with a garlicky-mayonnaise sauce and topped with fresh Parmesan cheese, the appetizer literally melts in your mouth.
The squash blossoms resemble vegetables as much as french fries do. The battered and deep fried squash tastes nothing like a healthy vegetable, and is served with a tangy yogurt sauce — it’s sure to surprise anyone.
The Farro salad is the least impressive of the bunch. The farro salad is served cold over roasted vegetables and sits on top of a bed of lettuce soaked in oil.
The final appetizer is the prosciutto with burrata. From the small plates menu, the dish is tiny, but packed with full flavors. Though the dish isn’t overly complex, the prosciutto is delicious. The creamy burrata serves as the perfect balance to the salty meat.
With four kitchens, the food tends to arrive at haphazard moments rather than as regularly timed courses, and the extensive dinner menu might be overwhelming to some, but the restaurant’s standout dishes — tomato ricotta pizza, a four-cheese pizza and scallops with risotto — make everything worthwhile.
All three meals are classic Italian dishes with no surprises. The scallops are perfectly cooked and cut like butter, far from the all-too-common rubber consistency. They are served over creamy ricotta cheese and topped with brown butter. Though not the largest of portions (a mere three scallops), all of the varying flavors mesh perfectly, creating a delicious entrée.
The pizzas come directly from the wood-burning oven with their cheeses still bubbling. Both pizzas, although very different from one another, do not disappoint. The four-cheese pizza consists of valdeon, mozzarella, talegglo and parmesan, combining four distinct flavors into one delicious concoction.
The tomato ricotta pizza is topped with huge slices of fresh tomato, parmesan cheese and balsamic vinegar. The rectangular pizzas are perfect for sharing — with large portions and rich ingredients, they are nearly impossible to finish alone.
The dessert menu finishes with a few traditional Italian delicacies, including gelato and cannolis, paired with American favorites, such as hot fudge brownies served with vanilla ice cream.
For those with a soft spot for sweets, the best dessert dish is the bombolone. The Tuscan treasure consists of fried dough filled with warm custard.
Mercato di Vetro has managed to combine affordable prices with delicious food — something uncommon in Los Angeles. And with its additional retail area, which showcases extra-virgin olive oil, jarred pasta sauces, handmade pasta and various cured products, customers are able to enjoy Mercato di Vetro’s flavors at home.
Mercato di Vetro is located at 9077 Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood.