They’ve seen the best of times; they’ve seen the worst of times. This is a tale of two restaurants that are enjoying their heyday after weathering the worst economic climate since the Great Depression. Despite the Dickensian motif, this is an Italian story. In actuality, it’s about as Italian as Romeo and Juliet, another Anglican yarn, in that the subjects of this opus are a pair of Italian restaurants — one in West Hollywood, the other in Long Beach — which have survived long enough to work their way the culinary literature (which is to say, this here blog post, in the common parlance).
Like a peninsular lighthouse, Cheebo has occupied its Sunset Boulevard corner sentry-like continuously throughout the Post-9/11 era, feeding a contingent of regulars and strangers alike. The warm palette of the space bespeaks a congeniality indicative of a neighborhood Italian stalwart, with co-owner David Weiss dishing out additional hospitality. Art adorns the walls along with colorful windows stained like my napkin after a pair of stuffed-to-the-gills calzones.
Sandro Reinhardt‘s menu is replete with classic staples of Southern Italian cuisine fused with modern dishes reminiscent of the finest West Hollywood establishments. What ties it all together is a commitment to seasonal organic ingredients, which inform every item on the plate — an incomparable Brisketwich sandwich, flatbread-style goat cheese-and-artichoke pizza, a ridiculously delicious rigatoni with sausage and mushroom (a recommendation from a server named David, a 10-year-veteran of the joint who says he’s enjoyed watching his guests grow up over the years and who is so sick of orange walls, he might snap).
Soju cocktails are available and beer on tap, but unless you’re allergic — and we’re talking hives or hospitals — indulge your palate in the bold red wines of California, France and Italy. A bottle Caymus is available at a reasonable rate, while the Franciscan is the Cabernet aficionado’s choice in the glass. Or for the more adventurous, might I suggest the ‘11 Wild Hog Pinot Noir (please send thanks in bottle form).
Meanwhile, far to the south, Michael’s on Naples has over the course of the last nine years, established itself as Long Beach’s signature restaurant. The elegant dining room and covered patio upstairs play host to both local residents and destination diners. Those in the know begin the evening at the intimate bar, sipping a cocktail — a negroni, for those in the really-know.
On the topic of libations, the wine selection here is first-rate and worthy of its sommelier. Curated by GM Massimo Aronne, it is features Old World gems designed to pair with Exec Chef David Coleman’s from-scratch pasta and ingredient-driven dishes, such as the Ravioli di Funghi, encasing forest mushrooms and Ricotta cheese in a sauce of brown butter and lemon. The chef’s octopus, massaged like a tailback after a late-season game, is nearly as tender as those mushrooms, adding flavor and texture to a seasonal salad.
In true Italian form, polish it all off with one of several varieties of grappa while listening to live music by the fireplace under a moonlit sky on the upstairs patio. Or don’t, and just regret your mistakes in life.
7533 Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90046
5620 East 2nd Street
Long Beach, CA 90803.
Scott Bridges is an L.A.-based journalist who has worked as a police-beat reporter, a community newspaper editor, and a food and travel writer. He currently works as a freelance writer, contributing to The Huffington Post and Bizjournals.com, among other sites. He is a native Californian who lives on the Westside.