Chez Mimi was a Brentwood fixture for over a decade, a charming French restaurant in a Spanish colonial building just across from the Country Mart, with one of the nicest patios in town. Then, like all good things, it came to an end an it resurfaced as La Villetta, yet another Italian restaurant in Brentwood (at least it’s not on that stretch of San Vicente where they all seem to be).
The building, a historical landmark, underwent an extensive renovation but it managed to retain the charm of Chez Mimi combined with much contemporary features. The patio is still where one wants to be and, even on a chilly evening, this indoor courtyard is kept warm by amazing conical heat lamps that give you the impression of being inside.
Antonio De Cicco, who was manager at Toscana just down the road, for many years, ably manages the room. On a Saturday night, he is a welcome and warm presence, touching every table, chatting with regular and new clients alike, making everybody feel special. When La Villetta opened, the head chef was Pippa Calland, of “Chopped” fame, who has now been replaced by Dylan Hallas.
The menu is not particularly innovative but does stray somewhat from the typical Italian fare: the artichoke salad features pine nuts and manchego and the beet salad is complimented by endive, candied walnuts and apples – they are nothing to write home about but pleasant enough. The pizzas are probably one of the best choices – two brothers from Naples are back in the kitchen stretching the dough and sliding it into the wood burning oven and the end result is an excellent pizza, Neapolitan style, with a slightly soft dough, charred edges and fresh buffalo mozzarella on top. Delicious!
The fish dishes such as the cod with olives and tomatoes or the grilled salmon, if not extremely creative, are fresh and well executed. The short ribs are tender but the pasta falls short. The special ravioli with eggplant, ricotta and walnuts are gooey, the sheets of pasta too thick and the tomato reduction far too similar to any canned tomato paste.
Desserts veer from the ubiquitous tiramisu to a rum baba, heavy on the rum and filled with whipped cream. The fruit tart is uninspired and the mille feuilles a touch too heavy. Still, the place is so charming that everyone seems to have a good time and I could go back just for a pizza and a beer. And a pretend it was another Sunday night back in Milan..