By Jill Weinlein, 8/02/2012
Known as the “unofficial” Paramount Studios commissary for 23 years, Marino Ristorante is just blocks away from some of the top television and motion picture production offices. Many movie deals were likely made at this vereable restaurant – the Marino family is no stranger to Hollywood.
The family patriarch, Ciro “Mario” Marino came to Los Angeles in the 1950s and went to work at Villa Capri, where he rubbed elbows with Frank Sinatra and the rest of the “Rat Pack”.
A few years later, Ciro opened his first of several restaurants, Via Veneto, then Martoni’s on Cahuenga and Martoni’s Marquis on the Sunset Strip. Celebrities like Liz Taylor, John Wayne and Elvis Presley followed Ciro around Hollywood. He fed the likes of The Beatles, Jackson 5 and Nat King Cole.
After raising three children Ciro and his wife Maria opened Marino’s on Melrose. Mario Jr. is now the co-owner.
He walked out of the kitchen and welcomed my friend and I. As we drank a glass of sparkling Italian Prosecco, he shared with us the family history. We nibbled on an exquisite antipasto with organic grilled and marinated eggplant, sautéed cipollini onions, cannellini beans and grilled zucchini.
This is not a dark, red leather booth type of Italian restaurant with Chianti bottles hanging from the ceiling. Instead, there are walls of windows, crescent shaped chocolate leather booths and French vanilla colored linen tablecloths.
The menu is traditional Italian, including authentic Italian meatballs. At Marino’s they’re served in a Napoletano ragu. “It’s my momma’s recipe,” Mario Jr. said. They use Niman’s beef and pork and sear it with extra-virgin olive oil and add onions and a splash of red wine to add more flavor. “We throw in fresh tomatoes and turn the flame down low to let it simmer for 4 to 5 hours,” he said. “A true ragu doesn’t boil, it blurps.”
These fantastic Polpette Al Ragu Della Nonna Rose meatballs topped a plate of spaghetti. The bread is an old Roman secret with its natural yeast, extra- virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, perfect for dipping in the exquisite ragu sauce.
Chef Salvadore picks seasonal produce from his own garden and local farmers’ markets. The Tagliolini Al Funghi is made with homemade fettuccine pasta, Tafliolini chanterelle, hedgehog and black trumpet mushrooms, fresh fava beans, spring garlic, ramps with a light cream and mushroom stock.
Whole Branzino is served tableside. We each had a small portion of the fish with an elegant mint, garlic, basil and extra-virgin olive oil sauce. This dish paired nicely with a crisp and golden Chardonnay from Lincourt Santa Rita Hills. With aromas of vanilla and ripe golden pear, its silky mouthfeel went nicely with the sautéed European seabass.
We finished with a slice of Nicole Conti’s homemade cheesecake. She is Marino’s pastry chef and daughter of American film music composer, Bill Conti. One bite and I recognized the slight flavor of a fresh orange. Veins of orange rind are baked into the fluffy ricotta cheesecake.
Ciro unfortunately passed away three years ago. His wife, daughter and two sons, Sal and Mario Jr., are making sure that his wonderful legacy lives on at Marino Ristorante.
Open for lunch at noon on Mon. through Fri. Dinner begins at 6 p.m. Mon. through Sat. Closed on Sunday. $$. 6001 Melrose Ave. (323)466-8812.