This Italian restaurant on the Third Street Promenade has set a blackboard outside advertising its stimulus menu--two courses for $15. This would be a high price for "poor" food prepared in massive quantities, as if Lago were a trendy soup kitchen.
But there's no economizing here. "Stimulate your cravings, not your wallet," the menu says.
Instead of bulky, grainy dishes and tough, gristly meats, you get high end food such as vitello tonnato (chilled veal tenderloin with creamy tuna-caper aioli), tiger shrimp wrapped with Parma prosciutto, a salad of grilled chicken breast with warm Gorgonzola dressing and toasted walnuts, and a "Euro" burger blanketed with Robiola cheese on a good bun.
These are four out of nine main dishes. The three starters are similarly ambitious. Well, there is a green salad, but, judging by the rest of the food, it must be quite good. The soup is an unusual cream of Savoy cabbage with fried Brussels sprouts, topped with long thin ciabatta croutons.
There were so many choices that I had to leave several behind. My plate was already handsomely filled with grilled eggplant, marinated mushrooms, sliced sweet peppers, tomato slices with fresh mozzarella and basil, a frittata wedge, a tomato half stuffed with risotto and several slices of bresaola--dark red, air-dried salted beef accompanied by arugula and shaved Parmesan.
After this I ordered pizzoccheri alla Valtellinese, or pappardelle (made at the restaurant with buckwheat flour) combined with fried fresh sage sprigs, finely diced Yukon gold potatoes, garlic and a Bitto cheese sauce. The pasta arrived covered with a single leaf of braised Savoy cabbage, like a pretty green, edible dome.
There was no skimping, no eliminating of extras. The waiter brought a basket of good, warm bread, butter and a container of olive oil.
Like other shoppers, my friends and I had dropped in because we liked the look of the restaurant and the menu. And we stayed for a long time, enjoying the pleasant, open space.
The challenge to our stimulus savings was the dessert menu. We simply couldn't resist a semifreddo di zabaglione, a small cake of frozen hazelnut ice cream topped with a bright yellow slice of star fruit and a mint sprig and surrounded by swirls of caramel sauce.
Economizing on calories and budgets, we split the semifreddo four ways, adding $2.25 to each of our stimulus lunches, a small sum for such a beautiful creamy dessert.
Locanda del Lago, 231 Arizona Ave. in the Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica, CA 90401. Tel: (310) 451-3525.