Right of the District racks:
PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES
From the most exact angles, La Vine-ria Italiana can seem fully futuristic. Behind the wine bar, for example, bottles are hooked up to a tap-like contraption of simple stainless-steel grace—liquids are chilled with automated precision, dispensed in measured mechanical pours. Judged only at this high end, La Vineria doesn’t show a single sign of economic unease.
And yet the credit crunch isn’t entirely out of mind here—a bound-to-be-rebranded branch of Wachovia bank makes sure of this, sharing some of the same strip-mall space as La Vineria. But it’s easy to become occupied elsewhere with the restaurant’s wall of windows, an entire façade forming a single glass eye, opening right onto Atlantic Avenue. And when the restaurant’s lights dip down low enough to forget the uptown traffic, there’s the sights from the exposed kitchen—the burnt orange glow blooming from the pizza oven and an occasional flare firing up from the back of the range. Follow these sights straight to the plate, and you’ll find what’s most important at La Vineria—a refined focus on the food that makes the modern space such a perfect escape.
It’s a standard start, but the most even meals at La Vineria begin with the insalata Caprese. Every accepted version of the dish is composed of the ideal Italian trio: slices of moist mozzarella, hunks of tender tomato and leaves of sweet basil. But La Vineria swaps out the usual floppy blocks of mozzarella for a mound of soft burrata, a stringy, creamy cousin of mozzarella. It’s because of the burrata that the dish is such a pleasure—the cheese doesn’t mask a single ingredient, allowing you to taste every grain of pepper, every distinct drop of olive oil.
Some of La Vineria’s other entry-level plates aren’t quite as solid, however. The polenta crostini is but a riff on the actual dish, one that takes the toast completely out of the crostini equation and adds in a firm slab of polenta instead. The restaurant then completes the crostini by topping it with fresh porcini mushrooms. It makes for a playful twist, but it doesn’t stick close enough to the crostini concept to make it wholly successful.
Pasta at La Vineria is dominated almost entirely by house-made tagliolini—quick-cooking egg noodles found in everything from a chunky Bolognese to a pancetta-punched Amatriciana. A plate of pappardelle is the only non-tagliolini preparation. But even though the tagliolini nearly achieves pasta exclusivity here, every plate is supremely successful. None more so than the tagliolini with cherry tomatoes and basil, a terrifically light dish that forgoes the beefy blanketing of some sauces and instead lets the fresh tomatoes serve a more natural purpose.
For those with fuller appetites, the restaurant also offers a number of more substantial selections. There’s a plate of grilled giant shrimp (complete crustaceans served whole with even the distant extremities blackened by the grill) and a catfish filet in a tomato and rosemary sauce. Most satisfying among all the heartier helpings, though, is a flank stank stewed with Barolo wine. The steak is cut down into bite-size blocks, little cubes loaded with enough red wine to turn every sinewy shred completely tender. The restaurant is smart with the side, too, serving the steak with grilled polenta, solid squares that help sop up the residual wine.
Out of the aforementioned pizza oven come even more excellent options, thin-crust pies that all eat with the airy simplicity expected at a place like La Vineria. The veneta pizza is a guiltless choice, topped with smoked salmon and white mushrooms, while the pizza bianca takes on a tart-like taste, offering a classic combination of gorgonzola and pears.
Back at the wine bar, plates are paired with glasses of deep, ruby reds and bold, sparkling golds, colors vibrant enough to draw eyes away from the beautiful kitchen. But while you may be able to finally send your sights elsewhere, there’s no forgetting what La Vineria sends out of its space—fine-tuned Italian finds that all come together for a much-needed modern mix.
LA VINERIA ITALIANA 4020 ATLANTIC AVE | LONG BEACH 90807 | 562.988.9500 | LAVINERIAITALIANA.COM | OPEN TUES-SUN 5:30-10:30PM | FOOD FOR TWO $25-50 | WINE