When I first met Piero Selvaggio, back in the 1960s, he was a young Sicilian immigrant to Los Angeles, working his way through L.A. City College waiting tables in red-checked-tablecloth Italian joints around town. We lost touch for a while, and the next time I saw him, he had opened a modest restaurant of his own in a storefront on an unglamorous strip of Pico Boulevard, about as far as you could get from the beach and still be in Santa Monica, naming it after one of Hollywood's most famous Italians, Valentino (as in Rudolph).
Over the years, Valentino has introduced Southern Californians to now-common ingredients that were once pretty much unknown in America (radicchio, aceto balsamico, sun-dried tomatoes, and the like), amassed one of the largest and (the two things don't always go together) intelligently chosen wine lists in the country, brought L.A. some of the best Italian chefs it has ever seen — many of whom have gone on to open their own restaurants — and just in general immeasurably improved the quality and authenticity of Italian dining in the area, and in the nation as a whole. It has also grown, in successive expansions and remodelings, from a casually furnished storefront to a elegant monument to fine dining.
This fall marks Valentino's 40th anniversary, and Selvaggio and his team and friends will celebrate the occasion with two major events: On November 14, the restaurant presents "Forty Years, Forty Dishes and Forty Wines at Valentino," to feature small bites of some 40 Sicilian-inspired specialties and two-ounce pours of 40 unique wines, some of them from obscure grape varieties grown biodynamically. Such noted L.A.-based Italian chefs as Celestino Drago, Angelo Auriana, and Luciano Pellegrini (the latter two are alumni of the place) will join the restaurant's current chef, Nico Chessa, to prepare the meal. Legendary food and wine expert Darrell Corti will be a special guest, and the evening will be dedicated to the late Mauro Vincente, the city's other pioneering upscale Italian restaurateur, whose Rex il Ristorante, downtown, raised the bar for la cucina italiana all over America. (Vincente's widow, Maureen, runs the excellent Vincente restaurant in Brentwood.) The tariff is $200 per guest ($125 for the food only, should you prefer to choose your own wines), and reservations are now being taken.
On December 4, Selvaggio will stage a white truffle dinner, featuring Walter Ferretto, chef at the Michelin one-star Cascinale Nuovo in Isola d'Asti, in the middle of Piedmont's white truffle country. Chefs Pelligrini and Auriana will be among the culinary talent helping prepare the truffle-filled feast, which will include classics from past Valentino menus. Large-format bottles of Barolo from the Valentino cellar will be served. The ten-course dinner costs $175, including truffles from leading importer Urbani with one course; for a supplement, they can be added to just about every other one as well for $50 per serving. Guests who bring their own magnums of wine will not be charged corkage.