Restaurant Review #76: Lago, Santa Monica Farmer's Market

Parma Panini: Mozarella, tomato, and proscuitto

Lago, an Italian restaurant located on the Promenade, has a panini stand diagonally in front of their restaurant during the Santa Monica Farmer's Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays. They sell mostly panini, but also lasagne, polenta pancakes, and minestrone soup. All but one of the panini had meat, I believe. One may have been vegan, if the pesto spread did not contain cheese. They also sell $2 Italian bottled soft drinks, and less expensive cans of Coke, Diet Coke, and Sprite.

The stand has a short line most of the time, and a short wait for your food, which is all pre-made but needs to be heated and/or boxed. Unfortunately, they use large styrofoam boxes for everything. I wish more places would use Juliano's Raw/Real Food Daily style cardboard boxes. The service was smiley and appeared to speak Italian as a first language, rattling it off between customers and wishing me "buon apetito" when they handed me my food. Panini are $5-6 each for two medium sized triangles--about the perfect lunch portion to be full but not stuffed.

It took me about 15 minutes to get the panini from the stand back to my office where I ate it. By that time, it was only vaguely warm, so I popped it back into the toaster oven. The sandwich as a whole didn't taste like much and was a little too salty, and in my opinion, would have benefitted from some freshly ground black pepper and a basil spread. Cheese is not enough to moisten bread properly for a sandwich. The bread was very crunchy and covered me with crumbs, but this may have been due to its stint in the toaster oven. I prefer chewier, moister bread in general (a la Panera Bread, though I'm not a huge fan of the foccacia they use for their panini) and think that all sandwiches benefit from some sort of spread--just enough to moisten the bread without making it soggy.

I decided to take apart the second half of my sandwich and eat the ingredients individually. The tomatoes had a rich heirloom tomato flavor, but were ruined by a mealy consistency. The proscuitto was very thinly sliced and soft, not tough, and didn't have too strong of a flavor. I'd say the quality of it was pretty high, though I'm no expert, and my inner vegetarian couldn't eat all of it. The proscuitto had the effect of making the tomatoes and mozarella taste extra salty (or maybe they added salt to the sandwich?). The mozzarella was on the more flavorful side--not the best I've had (that was in Italy), but definitely above average. The proportions of ingredients were well-balanced, except that there was a bit too much bread.

The sandwich wasn't good enough to finish, and I doubt I'll return to try any of their other food. In generally, I'm not too quick to forgive a restaurant for a sub-par dish. Instead, I'll try the not-yet-opened Panini Grille on Wilshire at 6th in the old Mon Sushi spot (which, according to Tony Bourdain, means it's already destined to fail).

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