One of the occupational hazards of my profession is that no matter how much I like certain restaurants, I don’t get back to them often. When you have to dine at new restaurants all the time, you learn the breadth of your neighborhood very well but have to drive right past places you’d like to revisit.
I hadn’t dined at Lido di Manhattan Beach in almost five years, during which time they through some interesting changes. My most recent meal had been shortly after Gordon Ramsay had featured the place in his Kitchen Nightmares show, and the menu and décor were a sometimes clashing combination of his modern eclectic style with the traditional Italian ideas that had been their mainstay.
On a recent evening, we observed that the more flamboyant aspects have been toned down – there were no umbrellas hanging from the ceiling and abrasive music was not playing at high volume. There were some nice whimsical notes, such as the 1930’s film projected on one wall and the crystal chandeliers that looked doubly quaint when contrasted with the exposed ductwork and modern décor. The menu had retained several of Ramsay’s dishes but balanced them with rustic dishes and artisanal pastas, giving us a lot to think about when it came to choosing our meals.
Our party of four ordered a pair of starters – baked eggplant roll and seared scallops over sweet corn succotash – to be followed by pasta before our main courses. Eggplant rolls, called involtini di melanzane, are traditionally Sicilian, a hearty dish of vegetable rolled around cheese, topped with marinara and baked. The version here loses a few style points – it’s a deconstructed version that is less pretty and messier to eat – but the flavors were excellent, the marinara fresh with plenty of herbal bite. I used the fresh bread on the table to get as much of the marinara as I could, and the next time I eat here I might ask for a bit of that instead of the herbed olive oil dip.
The scallops over succotash had a more interesting presentation, a diagonal line of four medallions over the corn and roasted pepper bits looking like a flag made of seafood and vegetables. The flavors were delicious, a dash of tarragon oil subtly adding to the vegetables, perfectly seared scallops fragrant in the best way. We each had only one piece of scallop and could have happily eaten more, but the well-matched flavors did excite us for what was to come.
There were several pastas that we considered, among them pan-fried homemade gnocchi with pesto, but we settled on fettuccine with burrata cheese, pancetta, peas, and artichoke in a mascarpone cream sauce. I had my doubts about mascarpone, cream, and burrata together – it could easily have been overly rich – but the blend was very successful. No one element dominated, and they weren’t entirely melded – there were different flavors in each bite, all of them harmonious. I’d go back and have this as a main course in a heartbeat.
For main courses we selected oven roasted duck, lemon-herb salmon, rack of lamb, and a daily special of chicken picatta. The picatta was good enough that it should be a regular entrée – the blend of lemon butter, capers, and seasonings was spot on, the chicken itself perfectly cooked. It was served over mashed potatoes with green beans, both of which were capably handled.
The oven roasted duck had been sliced and splayed attractively over the mashed potatoes, and was particularly well done; this is one of the dishes Gordon Ramsay instituted here, and it was a sound decision to keep it on the menu. The port wine and beef stock sauce with roasted shallots had almost a sweet and sour character to it, and it was a fine companion to the rich, meaty duck breast. Like the other entrees, the portion was well-calibrated – what looked like a small amount was an ample meal. The rack of lamb had a particularly generous portion and also showed that somebody here really knows their way around an oven – it had been roasted medium-rare but was perfectly tender and very flavorful.
The lemon-herb salmon suffered slightly by comparison to the other dishes only because it’s such a simple dish – the only one that I could have easily made in my home kitchen. It was tasty and served over good roasted fingerling potatoes, the right choice if you appreciate expertly prepared seafood without culinary fireworks.
For dessert we had a semifreddo (like a cross between ice cream and custard), house-made tiramisu, a crème brulee, and a chocolate walnut tart. All were good, but the walnut tart stood out, an excellent biscuit-like crust with a layer of walnuts in in sugarcream, topped by bittersweet dark chocolate. It was something out of the ordinary, a standout way to finish a fine evening.
Our dinner had run about $42 per person without the wine cost, $63 sharing two bottles of good wine – a modest price for the quality of food and service. Lido is a fine restaurant hidden in a shopping center parking lot, one of the hidden jewels of the South Bay.
Lido di Manhattan Beach is at 1550-G Rosecrans, next to Houston’s. Open Mon-Fri 11 AM- 10 PM, Sa-Su 5 PM-10 PM. Parking in lot, full bar, children welcome, patio dining, corkage $15. Website lidodimanhattan.com, phone 310-536-0730.