As a young boy, Chef Steve Vernetti learned how to cook from watching his mother and reading Julia Child cookbooks. At the age of 8, he made a tray of éclairs while his parents went out for the afternoon. When they returned, the kitchen was a disaster with bowls and pots cluttering the countertops. However, when his parents tried Steve’s creative confection, they were so impressed and they encouraged him to continue cooking.
Before his father passed away, he told Steve that he was a talented chef and that he should open his own Italian restaurant and call it Vernetti.
In 2013, Steve and his wife Joanna bought the popular Larchmont Village restaurant Girasole and completely renovated the interior and kitchen. They worked closely with their architect and friend David Thompson, founder and principal at Assembledge+, to make the space their own.
Vernetti’s menu features both traditional and inventive dishes made with seasonal ingredients sourced from local purveyors and family farms. Upstairs, Vernetti displays his shiny Rosito Bisani TR95 Pasta Extruder machine next to drying racks strewn with freshly made spaghetti, tagliatelle, rigatoni, pappardelle and scalloped sheets of pasta for Vernetti’s homemade ravioli.
The front of the restaurant space features a retail section offering gourmet products that are California grown or sourced from Italian food importers. The storefront includes L’Ultimo Forno pastas and biscotti, Majani chocolates, Romanengo fruit fondants, Bianco Dinapoli tomatoes and Pasolivo olive oils.
“To own a restaurant right here in Larchmont Village, in the same neighborhood where we are raising our family, is pretty amazing,” Steve said. “Joanna worked closely with David on the restaurant’s design evoking a modernized European bistro interior.”
The tables, bar top and large mirror frames are made locally by Treeline Woodworks with white oak reclaimed wood. The restaurant’s large interior mirrors provide a space-expanding illusion for the 45-seat restaurant.
Steve kept many Girasole staff members to help him in the kitchen and in the dining room. Chef Maria works side by side with Steve, specializing in pastries. The affable servers Bob and John, a Dylan McDermott look-alike, deliver plates of Italian fare to guests in the dining room. “The hour before the doors open and the servers greet a diner is critical. How I set the tone in the kitchen is how the mood is set for the dining room,” Steve said.
The night I dined at Vernetti with a friend, the dining room was loudly abuzz as guests were excited to try various dishes on the menu. Steve and Joanna were consummate hosts, floating to each table introducing themselves and answering any questions.
We started with house made giardiniera, which is an Italian favorite of colorful julienned and pickled vegetables in vinegar and oil. Next we tried the crostini trio which included a crostini topped with roasted beet, house ricotta, chopped basil and pistachios; a deviled egg crostini topped with anchovy; and a Ceci bean crostini topped with a vibrant green mint blended with Pecorino cheese.
Vernetti’s salumi platter is comprised of flavorful prosciutto, porchetta, bresaola and a spicy calabrese salumi with a few pickled vegetables.
We also enjoyed the tasting plate of three of his pasta specialties. The first was a pappardelle with sautéed wild mushrooms, cream and parmigiano. The trio also included a rigatoni with a tender braised short rib ragú and a linguine with Manila clams, white wine, garlic and crushed red pepper.
An entrée of octopus is served with creamy white beans and a fennel and cabbage slaw.Chef Steve rests in wine corks before being grilled. The cork has natural enzymes that help tenderize the octopus.
We enjoyed the dry-aged prime sliced porterhouse steak served with peppery baby arugula and shaved parmigiano.
For dessert, we shared one of Chef Maria’s fresh strawberry panna cottas, a cannoli filled with house ricotta cream and candied citrus peel and a delectable pistachio tiramisu.
The restaurant is open seven days a week for dinner from 5:30 to 11 p.m. Soon they will add lunch from 12 to 3 p.m., breakfast Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., and eventually weekend brunch will be served from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. 225 N. Larchmont Blvd. (323)798-5886.
This review was also published in the June 25 edition of the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea Newspapers.