Sitting at the wooden bar table in Donna Sophia Trattoria & Pizzeria, with a gentle smile, Angela Gullotta gazes at the giant windows facing Gayley Avenue that are gleaming under the mellow afternoon sunlight.
“(Westwood) is a special place in Los Angeles,” said Gullotta, the restaurant’s operator. “(It) is like a small village, very beautiful, like my home country, Italy.”
Donna Sophia, a new member to the Westwood community located adjacent to Whole Foods Market, is a family-run restaurant serving homemade-style Italian food and wine.
A year and a half ago, Gullotta came for a vacation to Miami from Italy, where she met Luigi Criscuolo, who was an executive chef at a local Italian restaurant.
“It was love at first sight,” she said. “He asked me if I wanted to go out together. After two months, we got married. … That was amore.”
In late December, the couple received a call from Gullotta’s uncle living in Los Angeles. Her uncle said he wanted to open a new restaurant and asked if they would like to come to California and operate it.
“I worked in a restaurant in Taormina, Italy (as a manager) for 15 years,” she said. “I like to serve food. I like it when I see people are very happy when they try authentic Italian food.”
Three weeks later, they opened Donna Sophia together with Criscuolo’s cousin, chef Gennaro Nasti, the vice champion of 2012 Pizzaioli Championship, a Neapolitan pizza competition featuring chefs from all around the world, in Naples, Italy.
The restaurant’s arched doorway entrance and wooden door give its customers a sense of returning to a sweet home. Behind that door are chandeliers hanging elegantly from the ceiling over three rows of wooden square tables, a minimalistic design that captures tranquility and a vibe of romance.
To serve the most authentic Italian dish, chef Criscuolo and chef Nasti personally purchase the ingredients themselves and freshly prepare every kind of pasta, bread and pastries on their menu from scratch each morning.
Gullotta said her favorite Italian dish is “Gnocchi Filante,” a first course on their daily menu, because it is a traditional dish in Sorrento where Criscuolo is from. It is potato dumplings with mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce, a typical dish from Naples. “He is a specialist in (making) gnocchi,” she said.
Gullotta also said that she likes the “Risotto with Shrimps and Zucchine,” the second course on one of their Valentine’s Day menus. “(It) is called ‘Fantasia di Mare,’ fantasy on the sea,” she said, “because it is all fish (and seafood).”
“Inside (this) dish are saffron with zucchini and shrimp,” chef Criscuolo said. “(It is) a classic Mediterranean Italian flavor. … It tastes sweet and soft.”
To enhance the Italian flavor of the restaurant, Gullotta said Donna Sophia will be closed temporarily in a few months for her friend from Italy to come and install a pizza oven for chef Nasti to make traditional Neapolitan pizza.
“This is like my home.” Gullotta said. “I have my husband and my cousin in the kitchen. We don’t have any difference (in the restaurant) because this is a family. We just work together for a beautiful Italian restaurant.”