Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Venice Cucina - Authentic Italian In The Heart Of Venice

If you haven't been to Venice Cucina, you've at least walked past it. Located in the very heart of Venice on the Windward Circle, Venice Cucina has been serving up authentic Italian food to locals and tourists since 2012, right there in the shadow of the Venice sign. 

Owner Sasha Tohidi and I finally sat down to talk about his life and business in Venice after being friends and neighbors for years, and it was great to hear his story after hearing so much of his philosophy in small bites. Whenever I walk by and see Tohidi, he always has something deep and meaningful to say, usually perfectly timed as well - whether he knows it or not. He's fond of Tolstoy (once telling me on a bad day, "The chief thing is not to think ... If you don't think, it is nothing much. It mostly all comes from thinking."- from the amputee in Sevastapol Sketches.) and spends each morning for reading his philosophy books over coffee, so he always has something interesting to say.

Tohidi is from Shiraz, Iran, and came to the U.S. to study Biochemistry and Economics (he's a smartie), and then, because he always liked Venice, he moved here in 1988 and opened a printing business with his ex-wife. Lincoln Stationers was located on Lincoln Boulevard at California Avenue, where he served the Venice community's printing needs for 18 years. He moved the printing business to the current location of Venice Cucina, where they did printing work in back and Hama Cafe and Sushi school was in front.

Tiring of the printing business, Tohidi decided he'd like to open a restaurant in the wonderful space, and as his Grandmother was a great Italian cook, that is the kind of place it would be. "I wanted it to be a family business, where I could bring high quality, authentic Italian food to our locals and tourists, and give them a notion of Venice's originality," explained Tohidi. "I wanted it to be like a little house in Italy, with your friends cooking for you in the kitchen." Well, he has succeeded at that for sure. I always feel like I'm dropping in at my friend's house for a great meal - because I am.

I've been told by multiple neighbors that Venice Cucina's pizza is the best in town, but I'd never had it because I'm pretty partial to their delicious penne vodka with grilled chicken. That finally changed this last weekend after the Art Block when I stopped in to say hi to Sasha with my brother, and he insisted on going in back and making us a pizza himself. It was half margherita (me) and half "Carne Amore" (the house specialty pie for Paul). Yes, we were starving and a little buzzed, but this pizza truly was one of the best I've had in a long time. The dough is made fresh right there (as is their awesome bread), and when we dipped the crust in their perfect olive oil dipping sauce, Paul's eyes literally rolled back in his head like I've only ever seen him do at his favorite Sugarfish. It was SO good. And super appreciated.

The reason they're extra good is because pretty much the entire kitchen staff is from the now closed Antica Pizzeria in Marina Del Rey! Which was not only one of my favorite places, but the only certified Neopolitan pizzeria in Southern California. It's all making sense now. Everything is really good, honestly -and they have about everything. Chicken Parm, you are so good, to great salads, I mean, just get something and you'll dig it. Tohidi told me that sometimes he has tourists staying nearby and they come in every night of their visit. He recently had a group in from Italy, and Venice Cucina was pretty much their headquarters. That's nice because Venice itself has Italian roots, obviously. Tourists are a major source of revenue in Venice, and Tohidi does his very best to make sure they all leave with good memories of Venice. They always do, but it's important to have locals to keep your business going, and there's a bit of a herd mentality there, where they seem to all want to go to one or two hot spots, and sometimes forget about the ones who have been there all along. It's very easy to get a table at Venice Cucina right now - but it shouldn't be.

It's always so pleasant to walk by Venice Cucina because there is always classical music coming from their speakers, and it's lovely ("You have to have music!" - S. Tohidi). As is the patio, where you can sit and people watch all day, AND have your dogs with you. It's very dog friendly, and they'll get their own water bowl, and maybe even a treat if they're lucky. You can bring your own wine and beer (just zip over to Windward Farms up the street if you forget your own) for now, while they wait for their license to be approved to sell their own. It's so nice to sit on the patio with a glass of wine, great food, and watch the skies change as you enjoy another perfect Venice evening, waving to all the people you know walking by.

The roomy dining room inside is warm and cozy, enhanced by wood paneling that Tohidi bought from a church, lending it all a historical building vibe. It's big enough for your whole big family to all sit together and break that delicious bread. The adjacent room was opened up two years ago to sell the "Sweet Stuff". Cakes, pastries, gelato ... all of that wonderful Italian dessert business, and coming soon (like in a week) will be the excellent McConnell's Ice Cream from Santa Barbara. Take that, Salt and Straw! Your meal must conclude with a cappuccino made with Danesi coffee - and love.

"Venice has seen a lot of changes ... I don't hear gunshots from Oakwood anymore, but now the Yuppies are here. It's a very diverse community, no two people are alike ... no other community has such dynamic inhabitants as Venice, where you are able to be yourself without fitting into any mold," said Tohidi, echoing what basically we all love about it here. "It's also a community in flux. We should all work together as a whole to make Venice even better. We have all the diversity and beauty and infrastructure for everyone to prosper as a tourist destination, but that is also our responsibility to make it so." Not helping is the big empty "Dead Zone" across the Circle in the form of the seemingly abandoned old Post Office that Joel Silver seems to have ditched. The whole area put up with all the noise and disturbance from them taking over the building, and now there's nothing there. No workers to lunch at the businesses, happy hour after work, pick up food to take home ... just nothing. It's pretty maddening, and a massive waste of space. Not such good foresight on the part of our city planners  - if there even are any.

When I was getting all riled up talking about that, Tohidi calmed me back down a bit by saying, "Listen. They can't take the artists away. They'll always find a way to be here." I sure hope that's true. Tohidi told me that some people think the food is so good that the place should get all poshed up to match, but "We want it to be funky!" And there again is why I dig Venice Cucina. They get it. They get Venice. They've been serving Venice from behind various counters since 1988. Let's all return the favor.

Venice Cucina
209 Windward Avenue
10am-10 pm (Closed on Mondays)
Patio Brunch on the weekends!

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