There is a reason Italian food is perennially the most popular restaurant cuisine in the United States. It is simple, comforting and, when done right, delicious. Il Posto Ristorante, a cozy neighborhood spot in Hollywood run by a charming Italian couple, does it right. Il Posto isn't a red-sauce joint. The food, service and setting are refined, but you also will feel as if you are in chef-owner Manuela Maffezzoli's home.
Maffezzoli, from Milan, often roams the dining room, checking up on patrons and their meals. So does her husband, Lino Canzio, from Puglia.
"We treat everyone like family," Maffezzoli says. "We're not trying to be fancy."
The presentation and flavors, however, are definitely upscale. A grilled whole Mediterranean branzino special ($38) is rolled out on a cart and deboned tableside. After the plate is presented by the server, Canzio swoops in and asks if he could drizzle on some extra-virgin olive oil. You nod, squeeze some lemon over the perfectly cooked fish and eat. Simple. Comforting. Delicious.
Canzio and Maffezzoli met at an Italian hospitality and culinary school. They worked at hotels, he as a manager and she as a bartender, before moving in 2002 to Michigan, where they worked at a relative's restaurant. They migrated to Lakeland, where they owned a pizzeria for six years. They came to South Florida and opened Il Posto in November 2013. The location is challenging, a Hollywood Boulevard storefront that's easy to overlook, near the Hollywood Hills neighborhood. The early months were lean, but they have steadily built a loyal clientele through word of mouth and lunch specials. Maffezzoli says the business crowd who came for lunch began returning for dinner with family and friends.
Now, the 100-seat dining room is often full on weekends, with reservations recommended. The place is bigger than it seems, with a full bar and tables and booths spaced comfortably. The kitchen can be seen through an oval window in the back, where Maffezzoli and a staff of five, including visiting workers from Italy, make nearly everything from scratch, including pastas, sauces and desserts. Portions are big. The value is good.
The trickiest part is parking. There's a big free lot in the back that can be hard to find (you have to pull around a side street), and some of it belongs to a nearby competitor. If you're not careful you could get towed. Make sure to check signs for the spots belonging to Il Posto. Things get easier once inside. The tables are covered in white linen. There's a good list of reasonably priced Italian wines. The bread basket is bountiful.
When the food starts coming, you'll be sated. The burrata with prosciutto appetizer ($16) featured smooth and creamy mozzarella surrounded by thinly sliced, dry-cured imported ham from Parma and a mound of roasted peppers and arugula. The grilled eggplant ($8) was a bit firm and undercooked, but the caramelized onion and crumbled goat cheese topping with balsamic glaze hit the sweet spot. An octopus carpaccio special ($10) had thin circular slices of octopus, tenderized by boiling in water with corks (Canzio says there's a special enzyme in cork that softens the meat) and then served chilled. A beet salad with goat cheese and sliced orange was basic, but good.
Housemade pastas shine. Pappardelle Il Posto ($21) is a more elegant, amped-up variant of spaghetti and meatballs, wide ribbons of al dente flat noodles tossed with baby meatballs, prosciutto, mushrooms and peas in tomato sauce. And the bis de pasta ($15) is a tasty combination platter, half cavatelli with mushroom cream sauce and half strozzapreti with crumbled sausage and shaved black truffle in creamy tomato sauce. It's a gorgeous plate.
There's a good variety of veal, chicken and fish dishes. Besides the branzino (sea bass) flown in from Europe, we also had a veal chop ($40), a good-to-the-bone special served with a mushroom cream sauce, chunky mashed potatoes and roast vegetables. The veal chop, requested medium, was a shade undercooked, but the quality of the meat was good enough to brave not sending it back.
An impressive dessert cart was wheeled to the table featuring plastic samples, but the real stuff that followed was stellar. All cost $6, including a creamy ricotta cheesecake and a limoncello sponge cake that weren't too sweet, panna cotta custard that was light and airy, and a Nutella cake that had the whipped chocolate hazelnut spread interspersed with moist chocolate cake.
After the meal, Maffezzoli returned and told us how all her relatives in Italy were calling her, worrying and wondering about the U.S. presidential election. The returns from Il Posto left no partisan divide. This is a meal that you can seal with a kiss.
Il Posto Ristorante
4525 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood
Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Closed Sunday.
Reservations: Recommended on weekends
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full bar and good, reasonable wine list
Sound level: Intimate, quiet
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Confusing free lot in rear, be careful not to park in spots for a neighboring restaurant.