Santa Cruz Sentinel Review

Lago di Como Ristorante & Pizzeria, Restaurant Review: Popular eatery lands in lucky Live Oak spot

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

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 2 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; dinner 5-9:30 p.m. Sunday and Tuesday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Closed Monday.
FOOD: ***
VALUE: ***
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,

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