My friend and I came here after screening Bottle Shock at a nearby theater for the very obvious reasons of wanting sip some vino with our food after the movie. Nevermind we opted for Italian instead of Californian or French. It's not like we can get our hands on anything from The Judgment of Paris anyways.
We were stunned by the romantic gem-in-the-rough atmosphere of the restaurant when we walked in: intimately spaced tables (only 4 of them in the front dining area), the dim lights and candles and the simple-yet-elegant table decorations. Definitely not the typical Sunset Strip business, which tends to be polarized between uber-trendy expensive establishments and cheap-trashy tourist traps (and occasionally, both at the same time!) But the rustic-romantic look of the restaurant during dinnertime did make us feel guilty for being just friends. Perhaps in the afternoon with sunlight flooding in the feel of the restaurant would be much more casual.
Service was very pleasant, our waiter definitely knew his way around the menu and winelist, yet was very approachable and talked to us like we were friends. Since it was a weekday and we both had light appetites, we opted for a pasta dish, a glass of wine and dessert.
The meal started off on a pretty good note with an amuse of cheese-filled zucchini blossom fried in tempura batter with a roasted tomato. It was a bit heavier than Mozza's version of the dish, likely because of the thicker batter, but eating it with the tomato made it just right and the tanginess cuts wonderfully into the crisp flower and the warm, gooey cheese.
I ordered their specialty of the day gnocchi with cherry tomatoes in a tomato sauce, easily one of the best gnocchi I've had. Meltingly tender with a light, zesty sauce, fresh tomatoes and a little nutty zing from the parmigiano-reggiano cheese, I'd wish this was on the menu all year long so I can come here whenever I have a craving for delicious dumplings! The glass of pinot noir I ordered was decent but, alas, didn't pair particularly well with this dish (the wine was too acidic).
The gnocchi did pair much better with the fuller-bodied red my friend ordered; didn't catch which varietal, since my friend let the waiter choose the best red for his entree: strozzapreti ai gamberi, a pasta dish with shrimp and zucchini strips in a brandy sauce. It's curious tasting and hard to describe, a little rich and a little zingy, but the pasta was definitely al dente.
For dessert, my friend wanted the panna cotta but the restaurant ran out, so we were treated to two glasses of sparkling wine. A decent, slightly sweet wine with lychee aromas, but an even nicer gesture of service.
So instead of panna cotta, he got the tiramisu and I got the ricotta cheesecake. Unlike the other courses of the meal, the desserts didn't impress. The cheesecake had nice ricotta-almond flavors but was dry and grainy. The tiramisu had the right texture, but a bit heavy handed on the coffee and lacking in liquor flavor. So overall, the sweets were just OK.
Despite the lackluster final dish, in general it's a nice spot for a memorable, special occasion dinner with a little rustic charm, friendly staff and delightful pasta dishes and decent wines. The price-point is a bit upscale (an app, 2 wines, 2 pasta dishes and 2 desserts came out to around $95 after tax/tip) but not gotta-save-up exorbitant.
What do others say?
Yelpers give it 4.5 stars, overall -- but reviews run the entire gamut with quite a few 1 & 2 star reviews.
LA Times' Susan LaTempa considers it an"Old World oasis" on the Sunset Strip
Amarone Kitchen and Wine
8868 W Sunset Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069