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A Slice of Tuscany: Skylight Gardens in Westwood

By Jill Weinlein, 3/15/2012

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It has been a family affair for the Clinco clan restoring the 1933 red-brick building to an iconic restaurant. Located in the heart of Westwood Village on the corner of Glendon Ave. and Lindbrook Drive, Skylight Gardens is the new “date-night” place for UCLA students, residents and professionals living and working in the community.

The proscuitto and melon is a refreshing starter. (photo by Jill Weinlein)

Owners and brothers, Peter and Michael Clinco remember coming here with their parents over 50 years ago to get ice cream when the space was Will Wright’s Ice Cream Parlor.

Later, Peter Clinco, a prominent real estate attorney, represented the Lewis family to secure a lease on the property to open Hamlet Gardens and then Gardens on Glendon over 20 years ago. The restaurant was known for its beauty, elegant dining and delicious table-side guacamole.

When the Lewis family decided to close the Gardens, the Clinco family needed to act quickly. “I couldn’t let this beautiful brick building wrapped around a huge skylight be turned into a nightclub,” said Peter Clinco with a big smile.

With the help of restaurant designer, Osvaldo Maiozzi, they kept the rotunda and renovated the building to look like a Tuscan estate. Skylight Gardens has one of the largest kitchens in Los Angeles with one upstairs and one downstairs.

Peter Clinco’s wife and sons are very involved in the project. Peter’s son David is in charge of ordering the beers. He is graduating from USC this year.

Save room for one of Chef Bracco’s tantalizing desserts. (photo by Jill Weinlein)

“I had the job of tasting over 200 beers to select some favorites for our menu,” David said. “We offer an extra cold Guinness that is served at 37 degrees,” boasted David. “It tastes as light as air when it’s that cold.”

The Clincos adore Italian food. They travel to Italy annually to sightsee and experience various authentic dishes. When a friend recommended Executive Chef Sebastian Gonzalez Bracco from Argentina, the Clincos found him a perfect fit for the family enterprise. Bracco’s experience includes working at elBulli, a Michelin 3-star restaurant in Spain.

The General Manager and sommelier, Oz Kolar, led my group on a tour to a private dining room off the bar area with a hanging antler chandelier and cozy fireplace. Next, we ventured into the library room with its hidden big-screen television behind cabinet doors. It’s an ideal spot to watch UCLA football and basketball games with a group of friends.

I commented about the great background music selection and was informed that Peter’s brother, Michael, created the eclectic music list.

The Clincos developed a Los Angeles based cocktail list with creative libations named The Bruin, The Hammer (Skylight Gardens is located across the street from the Armand Hammer Museum), The Getty, 10 Fwy, 405 Fwy and The Federal.

The wine list includes local Moraga Vineyards from the hills of Bel Air. Owners of the winery, Tom and Ruth Jones, produce some outstanding red and white wines in a microclimate similar to the Bordeaux region in France. Moraga has a Cabernet Sauvignon that sells for $225 a bottle at Skylight Gardens.

The first dish that arrived made a great initial impression. It was flash-fried coconut-crusted shrimp that rested on a bed of guacamole and served with a honey mustard dipping sauce. Wow, when the plate was gone, I wanted more.

Next, arrived a plate of fried rice balls filled with saffron risotto, peas and a meat ragu followed by a refreshing prosciutto salad with fresh melon and pineapple. The crab cakes were filling and would have been better with some greens, perhaps served atop the tri-colore salad with baby arugula, radicchio, endive, shaved parmigiano and dressed lightly with a balsamic vinaigrette.

After tasting various antipasti dishes, we moved on to two pasta favorites. Hands down, the best was the pappardelle al telefono. The freshly handmade pasta is prepared daily with the help of a pasta machine imported from Italy. The fresh pasta just melted in my mouth. The decadent pink tomato sauce was so exquisite that I went back for seconds and then thirds with this dish.

The Strozzapreti agnello is also made fresh daily upstairs in the pasta kitchen.

I got a giggle when Peter Clinco shared with us the definition of Strozzapreti. “In Italy it means Choke the Priest. Priests enjoyed the dish so much that they ate it too fast and would choke,” Peter said. It’s an elongated pasta that is lightly twisted and served with a lamb ragu.

The chicken marsala is served scaloppini style with a little thinly sliced proscuitto, fresh mushrooms, fontina cheese, sautéed spinach and marsala wine sauce. Next, the sea bass had a caper tapanade, celery root purée and flash fried artichokes. It was excellent. The menu offers ahi tuna, grilled salmon and lightly breaded branzino under the pesce dishes.

Save room for desserts, because Bracco makes a divine cheesecake and tiramisu. He was once the pastry chef at elBulli.

Parking is great. Two hours are free during the day and 5 hours in the evening at the parking structure across the street. Skylight Gardens offers valet parking for just $4.

Experience the authentic flavors of Italy in a non-intimidating environment. Open Mon. through Thurs. 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Fri. And Sat. 11 a.m. to 12 a.m. and Sun. 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. $$-$$$ – 1139 Glendon Ave. (310)824-1818.

 

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