One of the toughest prime time reservations of the moment, RivaBella, is an easy restaurant to like. The West Hollywood eatery’s Tuscan-inspired stone dining patio is comfortable—the light-filled space is surrounded with greenery—and the menu is user-friendly, albeit a bit pricey, with solid, modernized versions of Italian plates from chef Gino Angelini. Eggplant Parmesan ($14) looks pretty on the plate—thick rounds fried in a light cover of breadcrumbs, glued together with a deeply umami tomato sauce—but feels too safe for a chef that has earned a reputation as one of the godfathers of Italian cuisine in Los Angeles. At his original restaurant, Angelini Osteria, you’ll find tripe with tomatoes and cuttlefish, but at RivaBella, there’s lobster salad. This is definitely an Innovative Dining Group (Boa Steakhouse, Katana, Sushi Roku) restaurant, which translates to scene, expense accounts and women who don’t eat on account of vocation.
But not every plate is so ordinary. A special one night was freshly cured Mangalitsa pancetta. The unctuous but pleasingly silky fat from the special breed (think: Kobe of pork, prized for its high, marbled fat content) melted onto my tongue. Angelini also prepares Mangalista guanciale cooked and curled around shrimp, and the fondest recollection of the night, over a crisp slice of toasted baguette graced with chilled, quivering scoops of sea urchin. In one word: perfection.
Where to sit: A brick bunker of a private dining room sits off to one side, but the main dining room is on the alfresco patio. Ask for one of the oversized round booths, or one of the two-tops in the middle of the room.
What to eat: Dive into any of the housemade pastas like the linguine in a creamy tomato sea urchin sauce ($22) or “Nonna Elvira” lasagna ($16), a staple from Angelini Osteria that had to make its way to RivaBella. For secondi, try the scallops ($28), plump, perfectly cooked and atop a sweet heirloom carrot purée, drizzled with aged balsamic.
What to drink: An extensive wine list heavy on Italian and California varietals accompanies the restaurant’s wine cave, but the buzzy bar serves top-notch cocktails.