It’s 7 p.m. on a Saturday evening. Armando Pucci is standing at the entrance of La Cava in Sherman Oaks, where he routinely juggles answering the phone and greeting guests. As a couple enters, the place is buzzing. Armando flashes a big smile and warmly shakes the man’s hand while briskly kissing the woman on the cheek.
With slicked-back, salt-and-pepper hair—dressed in a crisp, tailored shirt and perfectly pressed slacks—Armando graciously guides the couple to a table. Out of the corner of his eye he notes a server flagging him over to the kitchen, where he disappears. He resurfaces moments later to welcome more guests—many of whom are “regulars.”
This is just a few minutes in the life of the Florence, Italy native who runs a tight ship at his nearly 4-year-old, 60-seat restaurant with hands-on attention to every detail.
The menu is surprisingly varied for such a small venue; a list of daily specials is handwritten on a large, red chalkboard. Entrees are not fussy. Instead they consist of simple, flavorful dishes reminiscent of osterie in Italy.
Meat, seafood and pasta dishes are served with sauces made from scratch with an emphasis on olive oil, tomatoes and fresh herbs. Soups are primarily sans cream, and pizza is thin-crust. The wine menu is small but choice and includes both Italian and California varietals by the bottle and a few by the glass. There are also special “cellar” selections for the discerning oenophile.
A standout appetizer: the insalata di carciofi—thinly sliced fresh baby artichoke hearts, fennel, walnuts and sliced pecorino cheese with a light drizzle of lemon and olive oil. Unlike similar dishes found around town, there are no green-leaf fillers on the plate. Another is frittura di calamari—tender, lightly battered calamari and zucchini served with zesty tomato sauce for dipping.
Favorite dishes include: taglia-telle alla Bolognese—delicate homemade noodles with a rich tomato meat sauce that adheres beautifully to the long, flat strands; and cioppino—for anyone who loves seafood stew. This version is chock-full of fresh seafood in a thick, tomato base with thin, garlic croutons. Find it on the daily special menu.
Dine at a table inside or sit on the tree-lined patio along the Boulevard. With its lack of pretension, La Cava is the perfect neighborhood spot to enjoy a full meal or just a glass of wine and a Margherita pizza.
But either way, don’t forget about dessert. The tiramisu and crème caramel are sublime. Open for lunch Tuesday to Saturday and for dinner seven days a week.