Our Winemaker Dinner with the Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards was a huge success and fun event! Thank you for everyone who was able to join us!
LIVE OAK — Some restaurants seem to turn over constantly, prompting the dreaded “jinxed spot” label. But that’s not the case with Lago di Como, which opened in mid-December on East Cliff.
This charming Northern Italian restaurant took the place of Nuevo Southwestern Grill, which had operated at the site for nearly a decade following a 12-year run by the popular Black’s Beach Cafe in the same location.
Lago di Como Ristorante (Italian for Lake Como) may have some big kitchen shoes to fill — but it doesn’t have a jinx to combat.
The new owners, husband and wife Giovanni Spanu and Mary Ellen Salciccia-Spanu, have made some interesting changes. In addition to removing the former
two-level seating arrangement, they’ve added elegant touches such as slate-tile floors, a granite counter and window treatments with wine-colored curtains and white sheers. Walls formerly painted turquoise and terracotta are now dark gray and creamy ivory; well-placed mirrors expand the room.
Tom and I chose a table along the far wall, giving us a view of the open kitchen and the central seating area with its gray, shelved dividers. A mini-bouquet adorned each wooden table, setting off the earth-toned woven placemats and white linen napkins.
The amiable busser brought housemade ciabatta, warm and soft, with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Our cheery server, Alicia, told us about the evening’s specials and let us know — alas! — that the seafood-filled housemade ravioli with saffron sauce wasn’t available that night.
Taking our drink orders, Alicia returned immediately with my lightly frizzante Venetian Prosecco DOC Cantina Pizzolato 2011 (glass, $8) and Tom’s dark, spicy Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Bosco Nestore 2006 (glass, $8).
We started with Polenta Uncia ($8.75), a bowl of soft polenta enriched with Manchego cheese and butter-sage sauce. The roasted garlic shavings and fried sage leaves decorating this dish were delightful — I love the way fried sage crumbles in the mouth — although the polenta could have been a little creamier. We ate only a few bites of this very rich appetizer, saving room for the rest of our meal.
I switched to Tom’s voluptuous red wine when our entrees arrived, the better to complement my Polli di Papa’ Mario ($16.25), named in honor of chef Giovanni’s late father. The butterflied half-chicken was marinated in balsamic, garlic and rosemary and served with roasted potatoes, green beans and carrot strips.
Beautifully grilled, the flavorful chicken was moist and tender. My sweet, still-crisp carrots outshone the slightly overcooked beans but we both loved the flawlessly roasted potato pieces, which were soft and floury under their crisp jackets.
Tom’s dish, Trancio di Salmone al Limone ($19.95) featured a pretty salmon filet drizzled with lightly tangy lemon glaze and propped on a bed of nicely cooked fresh spinach. His entrée included the same yummy roasted potatoes that graced my dish; both of our white plates were decorated with vividly colored (and flavored) streaks of yellow bell pepper puree.
“This salmon is perfectly cooked,” said Tom appreciatively; inside his filet’s crisply seared exterior, the rosy flesh was delicate, moist and flaky.
Alicia described the evening’s housemade desserts, including mascarpone cream, tiramisu, chocolate souffle and fruit cobbler. We chose Tiramisu ($5) and were charmed with its presentation: the creamy Italian sweet arrived in an oversized coffee cup, chocolate shavings decorating the surface. We made short work of this velvety dessert, its subtle sweetness edged with the flavors of espresso and liquor-soaked cake.
Summer should bring the addition of a dual-fired pizza oven to Lago di Como, although traditional Neapolitan pizzas are already offered as daily specials. Judging from the numerous full tables on a weeknight, it looks as if this spot is already establishing itself once again as a popular Live Oak destination.
Ann Parker welcomes comments, feedback and suggestions about reviews for area restaurants. Contact her at email@example.com.
More about Lago di Como
Lago di Como chef and co-owner Giovanni Spanu comes from Bellagio, Italy, a town on Lake Como; his cooking background includes experience in Italy, Sardinia and England. In the U.S., Giovanni worked as a chef at Il Fornaio in San Jose and assisted in opening A Bellagio and La Pizzeria, his brother Giuseppe
Spanu’s restaurants in Campbell.
‘Giovanni has been cooking since he was 14,’ says his wife, co-owner Mary Ellen Salciccia-Spanu, who runs front-of-house operations and oversees the California/Italian wine list. The two met in Campbell, married in Italy and have two young daughters. They opened Lago di Como on Dec. 12.
‘It was nice to open in the winter and make a connection with the community,’ comments Mary Ellen. ‘We love the location. This side of town is so nice: we have regulars from all the neighborhoods around here.’
One of the restaurant’s most popular dishes is the fried calamari appetizer, she says. ‘It’s so crispy and light. The osso buco is also really good, my kids love that. And the gnocchi, we make it ourselves.’
Mary Ellen admits a personal fondness for the Polli Papa chicken entree and the fish of the day — ‘Guiseppe buys it fresh’ — cooked with olive oil, garlic, capers, anchovies and tomato sauce.
Lago di Como recently added lunch and a Sunday brunch that includes Italian crepes, frittatas and eggs Florentine.
– Ann Parker
WHERE: 2-1490 E.Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz
HOURS: Brunch 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday; lunch 11 a.m.to 2 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; dinner 5-9:30 p.m. Sunday and Tuesday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Closed Monday.
AMBIANCE: Casually elegant with tasteful decor and small outdoor patio; family-friendly. Can be noisy.
COST: Reasonable to moderate (pasta and main dishes, $12.95-$25.25)
DETAILS: 454-8257, www.lagodicomoristorante.com
Read more Sentinel dining reviews at www.santacruzsentinel.com/food.
We will be having a Mother’s Day Brunch Special to honor all you mothers out there. Thank you! Menu details to come soon.
Looking for some sexy wine to drink over Valentine’s weekend? Then I would recommend Silver Mountain’s full-bodied Syrah.
This gorgeous rich wine has the classic meaty quality of Syrah with an abundance of dried blueberries, pepper and a touch of prosciutto. With juniper and allspice on the palate, and fennel, blackberry and blueberry on the nose, this is a delicious wine to simply enjoy. Syrah is also a very easy wine to pair with a variety of different foods—especially with all the decadent stuff you might want to eat this Valentine’s weekend—chocolate, oysters, voluptuous desserts, titillating delicacies, and so on.
I took some of Silver Mountain’s Syrah ($28) to the new Lago di Como restaurant to share with friends. Six of us polished off a couple of bottles and everybody loved it. And the wine went so well with all the marvelous food prepared by chef and owner Giovanni Spanu. My husband really appreciates a good spaghetti Bolognese so he was thrilled with this perfectly prepared Italian specialty. Spanu says that he uses only fresh food—and my fish tasted like it just jumped out of the ocean. With Silver Mountain’s delicious ruby-red Syrah and Spanu’s beautifully prepared temptations, we all had what I can only describe as a delicious evening filled with complex flavors.
Why not enjoy Valentine’s weekend to the max and indulge in Bacchanalian delights for four whole days. Wear red, eat red food and drink red wine.
I have heard nothing but praise for Lago di Como since it opened in December, so I made time to visit before its grand opening on Jan. 28 (5 to 9 p.m.). Once the word gets out about the authentic Italian cuisine, courtesy of Italian-born Chef Giovanni Spanu, reservations may become scarce.
Lago di Lake Como is located in the Lombardy region of Italy. The shores of this three-armed lake boast majestic villas, some built by the Romans.
The restaurant’s interior looks nothing like that of its predecessor, Nuevo Southwest Grill. The single level of tables sit on a stone tile floor lit by contemporary wrought-iron-style chandeliers and sconces. Dark wood tables, shutters and a bookcase create a classic, warm ambiance.
Soft pillows of house-made bread were presented by our friendly and helpful server Toby, the brother of Spanu’s wife, Mary Ellen, who is also of Italian descent and a co-owner.
There are numerous courses to choose from. Antipasti ($8.75 to $10.95) ranges from cheesy soft polenta with garlic-sage sauce to a platter of assorted imported salumi and marinated olives. Vegan Minestrone soup ($3.95 to $5.95) is served by the cup or bowl.
I had yearned for a pizza, but there were none listed. Apparently, the pizza menu wouldn’t be available until the pizza oven was installed. But the kitchen had the capacity to handle an occasional order. Toby rattled off a few possible toppings and we settled on salami.
The pizza ($11.95) was served Italian-style, uncut, and was an exact replica of one photographed in my “Pizza Napoletana” cookbook. The thin, tender crust was surrounded by a puffed and toasted rim. Bubbles of melted cheese covered the thin slices of meaty salami. The overly serrated steak knife however, tore rather than cut the crust. Salads ($6.75 to $8.75) include Caesar, Spinach with raisins and caramelized walnuts in a balsamic reduction, and warm Insalata Caprese with fresh mozzarella.
Primi Piatti ($12.95 to $15.75) includes house-made gnocchi in a creamy four-cheese sauce, fresh house-made seafood ravioli in saffron cream sauce, seafood risotto, and penne pasta with marinara, beef Bolognese or chili-garlic-olive oil sauces.
Secondi ($15.25 to $25.25) presents an assortment of fish and meat dishes such as lemon-glazed fresh salmon and chicken scaloppini topped with spinach and mozzarella with a white wine lemon sauce served with couscous salad.
The night’s special was a 14-ounce rib-eye steak ($23.95) in a light rosemary-sage butter sauce with roasted garlic and fried sage leaves. Expertly cooked, it was served with soft roasted potatoes and still-crisp carrots and green beans.
I equated the Spezzattino di Pollo ($21.95) with minimalist-style comfort food. With a stocky stew-like flavor, soft tiny peas, diced carrots and potatoes were mixed with chunks of chicken breast, and served on a bed of soft, coarse polenta.
To complete the evening, a dense chocolate soufflé ($5), ringed with cream and dusted with powdered sugar, was served with thick blackberry coulis and tart green apple slices.
Lago di Como Ristorante Pizzeria, 2-1490 East Cliff Drive, 454- 8257. Beer and wine. Serving dinner Sundays 5 to 9:30 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday 5 to 9:30 p.m., and Friday to Saturday 5 to 10 p.m. Closed Mondays. Visit lagodicomoristorante.com.
The new Santa Cruz restaurant Lago di Como Ristorante & Pizzeria is having its grand opening celebration Monday, and this event includes delicious complimentary appetizers. Owners Mary Ellen and Giovanni Spanu invite you to attend the party on Monday, January 28 from 5-9 p.m. Wine and beer will be available for purchase.
Husband and wife Mary Ellen and Giovanni opened Lago di Como Ristorante & Pizzeria in mid-December; Giovanni is the restaurant’s chef. While Mary Ellen is a California native with Italian roots, Giovanni is from Bellagio, an Italian small town on Lago di Como (Lake Como). Giovanni’s diverse cooking experience includes working as a chef in various areas of Italy plus London, Santa Monica, Campbell, and San Jose. It has always been his dream to have a restaurant of his own where he can plan his own menu, make authentic Italian dishes and pizzas, and be part of the local community.
I dined at Lago di Como in late December, and enjoyed it tremendously. I tried a few dishes during my visit. Standouts included an appetizer with soft polenta, Manchego cheese, butter and garlic; a seafood ravioli entrée (it rotates and highlights a fish of the day in a light cream saffron sauce), and absolutely amazing tiramisu that’s served in a coffee cup for a fun twist. Note that while Lago di Como doesn’t yet offer pizza on its regular menu, there are occasional pizza specials. When the restaurant gains a pizza oven in the future, customers can be assured that pizza will always be available,
The restaurant is at the former site of Nuevo Southwestern Grill (which closed in Summer 2012). It’s undergone quite a transformation and has a sophisticated yet down to earth atmosphere. Former Nuevo customers might not recognize the interior; for example, the upper level separated by a divider has been removed and now the venue feels much more spacious.
“I am excited to be a part of Lago di Como Ristorante because (all biases aside) Giovanni is an excellent chef and makes some amazing Italian dishes,” Mary Ellen shares. “I also know that Giovanni takes pride in the food he prepares and has high standards in the kitchen. I enjoy seeing customers enjoying their food, relaxing and having a good time in our restaurant.”
“We love living in Santa Cruz and wanted to open a restaurant of our own right here in town,” adds Mary Ellen. “We both grew up in Italian families where mealtimes were social events. Italian families get together and have long multi-course meals and talk, eat, drink wine, and are in no hurry to get up from the table. It wasn’t a matter of waiting for a special occasion to have a nice meal — because having the nice meal became the special occasion. It was what brought everyone together.” Lago di Como definitely has the ability to bring people together for good Italian food in a pleasant environment – I recommend visiting soon, and going to the grand opening party if you can.
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Lago di Como Ristorante, 2-1490 East Cliff Dr., Santa Cruz
Hours: Tue-Thurs and Sun 5 – 9:30 p.m., Fri-Sat 5 – 10:00 p.m.
Phone: (831) 454-8257