1/31/2013 03:53:00 PM

5 Things You Need to Know About RivaBella

A little fried mussel snack
When Innovative Dining Group announced that they, the owners of Sushi Roku, Katana and Boa Steakhouses among others, were partnering with Gino Angelini, one of LA's most highly regarded Italian chefs, to open a fantastically lavish new spot on the Sunset Strip, we were a bit skeptical. Not because we thought RivaBella would be bad, we just know how the IDG machine works, which, while utterly successful, is more about scene than the food. And at Angelini Osteria, it's all about the food. On paper, it should be a match made in heaven. And in some ways, it is; in others, it feels like someone's trying too hard. But since the restaurant has only been open a few weeks, we can chalk it up to opening jitters. Still, if you've been dying to check it out, here's what to know before you go.

1) Like a lot of the people dining here, the space is gorgeous but feels contrived. This is a see-and-be-seen room, where everything and everyone looks good on the surface, but look a little too closely and you'll see there's little authentic about it. The main room really is pretty stunning, with high open ceilings, tall leafy trees, terracotta tiled floors, big white booths, fireplaces. That wine cave-like room is cool, and a bit more private and quiet. There are absolutely no signs of the old and beloved Hamburger Hamlet; what's new is new again, we guess. And just like magic the entire place can be half empty at 8 PM and packed five minutes later, everyone angling to share a few salads, plates of pasta or a big juicy veal chop. We encountered a few too many people who don't know the words "excuse me" or "thank you" (not the staff...they're awesome), who seem to live in their own little micro-bubble within a bubble. But hey, they want to be there and they're loving it, dahlings.

2) If you want Gino Angelini, go to the Osteria. The menu reads as if the chef had a hand in its creation, but we're not sure it's being executed quite to the degree he would if it was truly his kitchen. The food is much more palatable than IDG's other Italian restaurant, Soleto, with some interesting dishes like fried mussels in beer sauce and lobster cous cous, even if the mussels are a little firm and the cous cous needed a bit more seasoning. The grilled octopus salad had a bit too much char, but we like the idea of it with tomatoes, potatoes and olives. The pastas, of course, stood out, especially the nidi di rondine, a sort of rolled pasta filled with a rich parmesan fondue and ham. The spinach papardelle had a great consistency and the lamb ragu was good. Sitting at the bar, we could tell the staff and kitchen are still getting their bearings together, so it might be too early to really judge. But if we want Angelini's lasagna Nonna Elvira, we'll head to Beverly Boulevard instead.

3) Cocktails! The bar program has something going on, that's for sure. Our Marino Mule, an amaro-based mule with ginger beer, was so refreshing, and only $5 at happy hour. The white negroni was dynamite. There's some grappa in the house, and other lovely Italian liqueurs. Of coure we heard people ordering kamakazis on the rocks and Cosmopolitans (West Hollywood...Strip...yadayyadda), but anyone who wanted a Negroni or something more, um, mature, the bartenders were aces with it.

4) We never met a donut we didn't like...until now. How can someone screw up a donut? We were very excited for desserts, especially the tiramisu, which the server raved about, and then torn between a couple of others, but if there are donuts of any form on a menu, we'll probably get them. And these sound so tempting - custard-filled bombolini served with three different dipping sauces (chocolate, strawberry, espresso cream). Not only were the donuts cold and tasting like they were fried the day before (read: stale), but the sauces, with the exception of chocolate, simply tasted odd. The tiramisu was excellent, however, and we loved the fork stenciled in with cocoa powder on the plate.

5) Don't get too comfortable. Ah, parking on the Sunset Strip. It just feels d-baggy that meters near this end of Sunset are 30 minutes from 8-2AM, yes pretty much all day. Of course there are some cheaper lots down the way, and naturally there's valet at the restaurant, but don't plan on leaving your car to shoot across the street to Soho House, to a show at the Roxy, or a last-minute shopping trip at the Hustler Store. If you're at RivaBella for more than three hours, you'll pay $30 for the service. Otherwise it's only $10, just make sure to get your ticket validated. Pro: The valet takes credit cards.