Serving fresh Italian food for 40 years

| September 28, 2023 | 0 Comments

•Neighborhood staple to roll back prices for its anniversary

MARINO SIBLINGS (clockwise from top left) Sal, Mario and Rosanna with their mother Maria at Marino Ristorante before the restaurant was refurbished.

This October, Marino Ristorante on Melrose celebrates its 40th anniversary. The restaurant was opened in 1983 by Naples-born Ciro (also known as Mario) and wife Maria Marino, who had been restaurateurs since the 1960s. Marino quickly became a hot spot for locals, Hollywood and political elite and anyone looking for authentic Italian food served with grace and unpretentious style.

Marino’s sons, Sal and Mario, were 16 and 17 respectively when the restaurant opened and they were dubbed “the bumbling bus boys” by Rose Dosti, a Los Angeles Times food writer. “We moved up the ladder fast. We had connections,” said Sal Marino when we spoke recently. Laughing, his brother chimed in, “We were the ones who were treated the hardest, actually.”

The Hancock Park family consisted of parents Ciro and Maria and their children Rosanna, Sal and Mario. Marino Ristorante truly was, and still is, a family business. It was in their culture for the next generation to continue what the parents had started, said Sal. All three Marino siblings still live within five blocks of each other in Hancock Park.

MARIA AND CIRO Marino together.

“Mom was a very simple, quiet, discreet person. There’s a lot of that in our upbringing — mom’s simplicity — be humble, be kind,” said Sal. His father came up with delicious, traditional recipes and also taught his children to be respectful and discreet. The brothers recall him saying, “Kids, remember: We don’t feed them, they feed us.”

Though Ciro died in 2009, and Maria passed away five years ago, the family business is still thriving. Brothers Sal and Mario are at the restaurant 12 to 14 hours most days. They opened their first eatery, La Bottega, together in 1993, and Sal also owned the now-closed Il Grano on Santa Monica Boulevard.

Dining at Marino, it is abundantly clear that the brothers love what they do. Sal is the chef. In his gardens (at home and at Marino) he grows produce used in his culinary creations. Mario is the maître d’. The two see themselves as true ambassadors of Italian food in Los Angeles.

Tomato Wednesday

TOMATOES from the family’s gardens.

I was fortunate enough to enjoy a dinner with my husband and daughter at the neighborhood ristorante on a recent Tomato Wednesday — a weekly event at Marino during summer months from July to September when tomatoes are at their best.

With its hardwood floors, spacious booths, nicely spaced tables and elegantly unified décor of black-and-white drawings, Marino feels both posh and warmly welcoming.

“As a chef,” said Sal, it was funny when ‘farm to table’ started happening. We were like, ‘what the **** were you doing before?’” At Marino, the food has always been seasonal, he told me. The duo has a tasting menu daily and proudly changes the wines every time they change their menu.

The Southern Italian food is steeped in tradition but has evolved with the availability of products. “True Italian food in America is progressing, and so are we,” said Sal. There are now flavors the Marino children’s father didn’t have when the restaurant opened in 1983. “There was no fresh mozzarella, no prosciutto… We don’t have the same menu, but we keep to tradition.”

And what a menu it is! We sampled two tomato gazpachos (brandywine and green zebra), a caprese salad with a wider variety of tomatoes than I knew existed, zucchini blossoms (filled with a ricotta and sun-dried tomato filling and bursting with flavor) and a pineapple tomato carpaccio with wild blue fin tuna tartare and avocado.

That was just the beginning. The grilled albacore entrée even pleased my non-fish-loving husband’s taste buds. The Vesuviotti with yellow tomatoes was sweet and springy, and the eggplant parmigiana was smoky and savory with its red tomatoes and smoked scamorza.

Of course, my husband can’t eat at an Italian restaurant without ordering a pizza, and his pizza Margherita was eye-poppingly beautiful and 100 percent perfect. And, once our daughter saw the profiteroles stuffed with vanilla gelato and topped with hot fudge that somehow appeared as our last course, they disappeared quite quickly.

Clearly, the Marinos know what they’re doing. There’s a reason high-profile Angelenos dine here and a reason some neighborhood customers come three to four times a week.

BROTHERS Mario and Sal Marino at the restaurant.

Even through the pandemic, the restaurant found ways to improve and evolve. Outdoor dining was temporarily added, and Rosanna Marino, with interior designer Patty Obermiller, worked to refurbish the restaurant’s inner décor so that Marino could remain a beloved part of the neighborhood.

The Marino family is rooted in Hancock Park and cares deeply about their customers and the restaurant itself.

Menu from 1983

To celebrate its 40-year milestone, on Tues., Oct. 3, Marino will be serving a menu from 1983 at the same prices the food was served in 1983. It’s the family’s way of saying thank you to Los Angeles, and to Larchmont, for 40 wonderful years. Said the brothers, “We are blessed because we’ve had the pleasure of serving so many amazing people and learning so many things. It’s been an amazing journey.”

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Category: People

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