Saturday, November 05, 2005

Campagnola Trattoria Italiana

I love the neighborhood joints in my area—not the ones written up in the Times or the “in-the-know” foodie finds—but the places with the cheap house wine (or no corkage fee), cozy atmosphere, reliably satisfying main dishes, and a clientele that looks like they actually live in the surrounding blocks. In my vicinity, Il Capriccio, Madame Matisse and Michelangelo's fit this description, and I’ve enjoyed many a low-key Friday night dinner at each.

Yet when I leave my neighborhood to eat, my first instinct is that I must go to an Important Restaurant. Y’know—someplace with credentials. A few positive reviews from respectable media sources, praise from some Chowhounds, the place to try in [insert neighborhood name here]. This philosophy of course makes sense—how often do I make it to Santa Monica for dinner? Might-as-well get the goods while I can.

This is all to say, I was skeptical when J. first suggested Campagnola Trattoria Italiana for dinner in Westwood after hearing Joan Didion read at the Hammer on Saturday night. Where? What? On a list of CitySearch “cheap eats”? Was this really where you were supposed to eat your one night in Westwood????

Lucky for us, the more rational side of my brain took over and reminded me that it was only dinner, and when did I become such a snob?

Campagnola was an excellent reminder that satisfying neighborhood joints could be found west of Highland. It easily met my criteria: Wine--the Primativo we ordered was good and relatively cheap. Atmosphere—soft lights, mirrored walls, candles equaled cozy. Clientele—A combo of UCLA students out on dates and older westsiders (sample conversation: It’ll be fifteen years in December…no I can’t believe we’ve been together this long either…it’s just a miracle…he is my third husband after all).

And most importantly, the food: You start with delicious bread, including tomato and herb foccacia, served with a bright roughly chopped tapenade. J. got the bow tie pasta with peas, proscuitto and cream sauce, while I ordered the tagliatelle bolognese. Both sauces managed a balanced richness, without excess grease. The portions were just right, and the pasta was fresh. Both were the kind of comforting dishes we needed after listening to Ms. Didion’s harrowing reading from her new book about grief, "The Year of Magical Thinking."

Campagnola Trattoria Italiana
1553 Westwood Blvd.
Westwood, CA 90024
(310) 478-7376

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