Melrose’s dining scene has grown in fits and spurts over the past few years, adding destination eateries to the avenue’s vintage clothing stores and sneaker emporiums with sudden darlings like Maré, smoke.oil.salt and Kali. Add to that list: Spartina, which replaced the former Melgard gastropub and now offers beautiful Italian food and wine in a place where trivia nights once took place. Chef Stephen Kalt runs the open kitchen here, and it’s a bit of a nostalgic project for him; he first opened a Spartina in NYC in 1993. But while Kalt’s Gotham restaurant focused more on Mediterranean and Spanish flavors, the LA iteration is decidedly more Italian.
You could curate an entire meal around appetizers at Spartina, which range from a scrambled egg and sea urchin panini to a wood grilled duck heart spiedini. The pork meatballs are fantastic, a shallow bowl of four crispy spheres that will make you re-think any kind of spaghetti and beef meatballs commitment you may have had. Resting in a pool of salsa verde genovese, they’re surprisingly delicate and well-spiced, an upgrade from most overly dry pork meatballs I’ve had in the past.
Vegetarians shouldn’t feel shunned with all this talk of meat—a light cucumber salad with strawberries, feta and mint is quite filling (though that could also be the buttermilk dressing), and roasted acorn squash with hazelnuts and honey is a certifiable meal on its own. But it would be a shame to miss out on the tuna tartare: hand cut pieces of tuna tossed in chillies, capers and a spray of lime. It’s a light dish that leaves room for the burrata raviolo, my favorite part of the meal. You can choose from the roasted plum and tomatoes or the sea urchin version, but again, you’d be wise to embrace the sea here. There is nothing overpowering about the uni in this dish, a creamy sauce mixed with chives, basil and shiso. My only issue with it was that, with three ravioli on the plate, sharing is a brutal task.
It’s easy to end a meal at a place like Spartina with tiramisu, but there is also the bongo cioccolato, a sort-of Italian sandwich of puff pastry holding together rich chocolate gelato. A stream of chocolate sauce cascades down each teetering tower of bread and cream, and you’d be tempted to pick it up with two hands if it weren’t for the fact that Spartina isn’t really an eat-with-your-hands kind of place. Not that I’m complaining— Melgard was a fine spot for beer and brushing up on pop culture knowledge, but this Melrose newcomer is a definite upgrade.
What to Eat: The pork meatballs ($12). The tuna tartare ($27). The burrata raviolo ($25). The bongo cioccolato ($10).
What to Drink: Wine, without a doubt. There’s a robust list of reds, whites and bubbly, with subcategories that include “medium body and aromatics,” “on the lighter side and with bubbles,” and “full body, deep richness, and long finish.” From the “medium body, some spice” category: a bold Nero d’Avola, with a rich mouthfeel that pairs beautifully with the ravioli.
Where to Sit: Inside, a warm dining room shares space with an open kitchen, so if you want to see your order in action, head indoors. But the outdoor patio is beautiful—twinkling lights hang overhead as the hum of Melrose serves as a backdrop.