HomeFashionItalian food in Torrance is ‘crave-worthy’ at North Italia

Italian food in Torrance is ‘crave-worthy’ at North Italia

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There are restaurants scattered all over Del Amo Fashion Center: Din Tai Fung upstairs; an Outdoor Village with branches of BJ’s, PF Chang’s, Lucille’s Smokehouse, Vegas Seafood Buffet and Lazy Dog; and, on the Hawthorne Boulevard side, Frida Mexican Cuisine, MB Grille and a sprawling, indoor-and-outdoor branch of North Italia.

That last one also is one of the anchor restaurants at The Point in El Segundo, but has opted to up the ante in a larger space at Del Amo. It’s a restaurant with, of all things, an outdoor patio with a bar and a big screen. You can sit in the sun, watching the Lakers collapse. What fun! The bar stretches from the inside to the outside. It’s a Möbius strip of a bar. It seemingly never ends.

North Italia is a Modern Italian concept – impressive for a chain operation with branches in Arizona, Colorado, Kansas and Texas, along with California. Sadly, when we think of chain Italian eateries, it’s Olive Garden that generally comes to mind. Think a little harder, and you get to joints where the food is, at least, edible – Carrabba’s, Maggiano’s, Romano’s, Buca di Beppo.

But North Italia takes the notion of chain Italian to an impressive new level. If anything, the restaurant is closer in style to the Il Fornaio chain. Which is to say, it may be a chain – but it’s easy to pretend it’s not a chain.

And that’s what their original mission statement told us: “We’ve turned a modern lens on traditional Italian cooking. North Italia is our love letter to Italy – a place that makes you feel like you’ve stepped off a charming side street to discover a culinary gem.”

Well, not exactly. I’ve been to “culinary gems” on side streets in Italy. They’re defined by a lack of spaciousness. North Italia, by contrast, has regionalized artwork (surfers!), a glass-fronted kitchen – and lots of big screens in the bar.

But their current mission statement still runs true: “We’re passionate about more than just our crave-worthy Italian food. We put our all into every detail, creating an environment that lets you know you’re in for something special. From the moment you walk through our doors, to your last scoop of budino at the end of a satisfying meal, you’ll know you’re in good hands.”

And those “good hands” serve a lot of families with sundry children of various ages during brunch on Saturdays and Sundays, when the young ones are tucking into find orders of cannoli French toast, banana coffee cake and lemon doughnuts – while their parents dug into more grown-up breakfast dishes like breakfast carbonara pasta, short rib hash, and grilled beef tenderloin & eggs. Along with, of course, the occasional bite of that banana coffee cake – which the menu points out is “perfect to share.”

Come brunch time, there’s a full lunch menu as well, along with most of the dishes served for dinner. Also, there are cocktails – The Breakfast Mule, Amalfi Sunrise, Sicilian Margarita, Tuscan Bloody Mary and others – for those who work up a thirst looking for sales at Macy’s and Nordstrom’s. This is a neighborhood Italian restaurant with a mall as the neighborhood – a bit of solace is needed.

The choices of dishes are well curated – 13 small plates, seven salads, seven pizzas, 10 pastas and entrées. Though the menu isn’t massive, it’s big enough, and what what you’ll is more than good enough, and even better than that. The braised Italian meatballs – served with a super creamy pile of polenta, in a bath of red tomato none of which you want to leave on the plate – is a fine opener; heck, if it were served as an entrée, it would work well there, too.

 

There’s crispy calamari that really is crispy, even after being dashed across the length of the restaurant. There’s wonderful arancini, rice balls made from mushroom risotto. There’s also tuna crudo – a pretty fancy dish for a chain Italian – with pine nuts, avocado and espelette peppers; it’s just fine.

Be sure to order the grilled bread with “good” olive oil. Yes, the menu really says “good” olive oil. A bit pretentious, perhaps. But it works.

Of course there’s a Tuscan kale salad, tossed with crispy pancetta and charred grapes, apples and herbed breadcrumbs. I don’t love kale, but at least it ain’t the same old same old. And they make a big point of their pizzas, and fairly so – they’re unexpectedly crispy and light, and largely rational. That said, the Mission fig and goat cheese model, and the one called The Pig do push the edge.

I’m not sure entrées are really needed; as ever, the pasta will do. But if you insist, short ribs are there, along with grilled chicken strozzapretti, squid ink tonnarelli, butternut squash anolini. Good chicken parmesan and roasted salmon, too, along with a grilled branzino, roast chicken and chicken parmesan.

And it’s good to see so many local draft beers. One of them is called Food Fight Hazy IPA – a cute name, I guess. But the kids brunching were all very well behaved. They were too busy with their French toast and crispy hash potatoes to get into any sort of to-do. And pasta always calms the nerves of anxious parents.

Merrill Shindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance dining critic. Email mreats@aol.com.

North Italia

  • Rating: 3 stars
  • Address: Del Amo Fashion Center, 21532 Hawthorne Blvd., Torrance
  • Information: 310-214-0235; www.northitalia.com
  • Cuisine: Modern Italian
  • When: Lunch and dinner, every day
  • Details: Full bar; reservations important
  • Atmosphere: Spacious, joyous Italian on the west side of Del Amo, in the midst of what’s becoming a very fine restaurant row, with a glass-fronted kitchen, and a sizable outdoor patio with seats at the bar and a big screen to watch.
  • Prices: About $35 per person
  • Suggested dishes: 11 Breakfast Dishes ($13-$21), 13 Small Plates ($6.50-$17.50), 2 Chef’s Boards ($18-$21), 7 Salads ($14-$17), 7 Pizzas ($18-$20), 10 Pastas & Entrees ($20-$25)
  • Credit cards: MC, V
  • What the stars mean: 4 (World class! Worth a trip from anywhere!), 3 (Most excellent, even exceptional. Worth a trip from anywhere in Southern California.), 2 (A good place to go for a meal. Worth a trip from anywhere in the neighborhood.) 1 (If you’re hungry, and it’s nearby, but don’t get stuck in traffic going.) 0 (Honestly, not worth writing about.)

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