Restaurant Review #91: Fritto Misto, Santa Monica

Sweet potato ravioli with wild mushrooms in a sage cream sauce

across the street from the Big Blue Bus barn at the busy but unnoticeable corner of 6th and Colorado lies Fritto Misto, a highly rated but somewhat unknown Italian cafe that I discovered by accident one day while looking for a parking space. It looked quiet and peaceful, popular but not overcrowded. Though I rarely go out for Italian food, something told me I should make an exception.

I went with the expectation that I was about to be let in on a hidden secret.

The interior didn't look like I'd anticipated--it's very casual. There is a refrigerated display case to your left when you walk in (yet I had faith that it had no connection with what I was about to eat). The decor is scarce--three walls are taken up by large windows and the kitchen, leaving only one wall to be adorned with large, brightly painted plates. Two fans turn overhead, their rhythm making the track lighting flicker across the glossy wooden table tops. There are about fifteen tables in the main room, and I think there may have been another room in back, though I didn't investigate.

Dining room

Some of the tables are much too close together, but since I arrived for an early dinner on a weekday, I got to take the more secluded table for four in the back corner by the window. Several other tables filled around the time we arrived, and by the time we left an hour later, the restaurant was almost full. Even when it was full, it still wasn't too loud.

Fritto Misto

My friend and I ordered the fritto misto appetizer, jumbo ravioli, pasta puttanesca, and creme brulee. The fritto misto appetizer was described on the menu as "Shrimp, calamari, artichoke hearts and seasonal vegetables in a light spicy batter, quick fried in vegetable oil and served with pineapple cocktail sauce and roasted garlic mayonnaise." I was surprised to get a heaping plate of food that would have been enough for four meals for me (or two or three for someone with a larger appetite). I was also pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of a few whole baby calamari, although they didn't have as much flavor as the calamari rings. The flavor of the calamari took me back to Spain, where the food is fresh and flavorful. According to my friend, the shrimp were his favorite part of the dish, and the broccoli was quite good, considering that he doesn't like broccoli (I still wouldn't touch it).

The artichoke hearts didn't live up to my hopes of what a fried artichoke could taste like--I think they should use bigger chunks to lock in more moisture and artichoke flavor. The other vegetables were broccoli, carrots, eggplant, zuchinni, and button mushrooms. The calamari and the eggplant had the best flavor, so next time I'll get the calamari appetizer and maybe ask them to throw in some eggplant. If there was pineapple in the cocktail sauce, I couldn't tell, though it sounds like a good idea. What sounds like a better idea to me though is to forgo the red cocktail sauce altogether in favor of something more pinappley, but still tart. The flavor of the roasted garlic mayonnaise complemented the batter nicely. There are a few cajun items on this otherwise Italian menu: cajun seared chicken and pasta New Orleans. Hmm. Quirky.

Make your own pasta

In addition to its excellent food, large portions, and very reasonable prices, another of Fritto Misto's strengths is the large variety of menu options. Fritto Misto has plenty of ingredients to choose from if you want to make your own pasta, making it a great choice for kids and other picky eaters. You can choose your own pasta, sauce, and toppings in whatever combination you want. Even without this option, the menu has plenty of variety and accomodates vegetarians and others with dietary restrictions.

Jumbo ravioli

The jumbo ravioli was the clear winner of the night. It was my friend's dish, but it smelled so good that I beat him to the first bite (and snagged the leftovers). The jumbo ravioli are "stuffed with prosciutto, mortadella, and chicken, tossed with garlic cream, carmelized onions, pancetta (bacon) and sundried bacon." In case you were wondering what mortadella is, it's a very large smoked sausage--real Italian bologna, which is very different from the rubbery slices you see in the supermarket. Though I don't really care for meat, I didn't mind it in this dish, since it was all either in small bits or well-disguised, and lent the ravioli and cream sauce a very rich, smokey flavor. The dish was also very colorful, though I thought the actual arrangement on the plate was a bit sloppy.

Pasta puttanesca

This was my first experience with pasta puttanesca: "kalamata olives, capers, fresh roma tomatoes, anchovy, red pepper flakes on lemon pepper fettuccini in a cabernet butter sauce (spicy)." I was in the mood for something nice and salty. The dish tasted like Christmas trees, and though that may sound highly unappetizing, what I mean is that the flavors somehow captured the essensce of Christmas for me, maybe because that's usually the only time of year that I eat real Italian food. It paled in comparison to how good the ravioli was, but my addiction to the leftovers confirmed that it is indeed a very flavorful dish. I especially liked the cabernet butter sauce. In case you're scared of anchovies, don't worry--they're cut up into bits so tiny that you barely notice them.

Creme brulee

The creme brulee had a pleasantly thick carmelized crust and a slightly thicker consistency than usual. The dessert had a rich, eggy flavor, and overall I really liked it, though it was served just a tad cold, indicating that it had been stored in the fridge (or perhaps that display case) and not heated well enough before it was served.

Our friendly, unpretentious waitress stopped by frequently to check on us, our food came quickly, and our water glasses never got more than 1/3 empty. There is a small parking lot behind the restaurant which fills up quickly and may have a hard time accomodating large vehicles, but when we went, street parking was plentiful.

I think this is one of my new
favorite restaurants..

Fritto Misto Italian Cafe
601 Colorado Ave.
Santa Monica, CA
Fritto Misto Menu

Second location:
316 Pier Ave.
Hermosa Beach, CA


L1 said...

I'm glad to see that I am not the only freak who commands everyone to wait to taste their food until I snap a few pictures.

Your photos are amazing.

Food Porn, indeed.

chee said...

me and my bf went here per your recommendation. yes, the food is quite reasonably priced and he liked his pasta pancetta, and I liked my ricotta-stuffed chicken breast. man, the pesto was garlicky (but good!) and it wasn't overly salty like some other pestos I've had. plus, the server gave us a free flourless chocolate cake since it was our first visit there! what a boon! :D