Riva: Santa Monica's Spot for Late Night Grub and Cocktails

— by Caroline on Crack

Margherita pizza

My friend Shelley and I wanted a chill late night spot to hang out and catch up on what happened during our Christmas vacations. Riva in Santa Monica, a new Italian restaurant brought to you by the folks behind Fraiche, seemed like the perfect spot. I knew it had late hours, that there was a bar area and LA Weekly‘s Jonathan Gold seemed to like their specialty cocktails just fine.

LA Weekly says:

The drinks list is well-conceived — I loved a cocktail made with cucumber and the Italian bitters called Aperol.

On the eve of New Year’s Eve, the restaurant was buzzing but not packed and thankfully there were ample available seats at the bar.

I looked over the cocktail list but didn’t see any bourbon-based cocktails even though the prominently displayed whiskey bottles on the bar’s shelf would lead you to believe otherwise. The one cocktail that could have bourbon was the BC but that was with berries, club soda and your choice of liquor and even the bartender didn’t recommend it. With vodka, yes. Bourbon? Not so much. So instead she offered to make me her own off-the-list cocktail. Being a self-professed bourbon lover herself, I trusted her.

And what she made was damn tasty. I don’t know what she called it but it was made with bourbon, dry Vermouth, apricot liqueur, St. Germain elderflower and some lemon juice. It took the edge off the bourbon and made it dangerously easy to suck down.

During our stay, while I guzzled this drink, I was impressed how it got me buzzed so fast. Off one cocktail! But what I didn’t know was that the bartender topped off my drink when I wasn’t looking. So awesome.

For food, I just ordered the Margherita pizza ($11) — the cheapest pizza on the menu. Riva, like Fraiche, is a bit hard on my wallet. I mean, their appetizers range in price from the $3 wood-fired pizza bread to the $16 roasted quail. I was tempted by the Hachiya Persimmon appetizer with its speck ham, wild arugula and aged balsamic but couldn’t get past that $12 price. Eesh.

But the pizza filled me up just fine what with its thin crust covered with tomatoes, pieces of basil and bufala mozzarella. I’d like to think it was personal sized because…well, I managed to finish the whole thing myself. Hey, Shelley didn’t want any so I had at it, just leaving the ends of the crusts. The tomato sauce wasn’t acidic and mmm, cheese!

But it is feasible to split an app and a pizza while enjoying cocktails at the bar. You could conceivably spend about $30 a person if you choose cheaply.

Since we skipped on appetizers, we decided to split a dessert. The Tronchetto di Natale ($10), perfect for the holidays, caught our eyes. Comprised of milk chocolate mousse, chiffon cake and candy cane ice cream, it sounded divine.

It showed up plated like abstract art with its chocolate smear, oval-shaped ice cream scoop and meringue mushroom. The raspberries seemed a weird choice to pair with the candy cane ice cream but it still worked. Ahh, the ice cream. So refreshing and tasted like Christmas in my mouth. We couldn’t get enough of that. I wish the portion was bigger. The cake itself was moist and even with the chocolate mousse it wasn’t overly sweet.

It’s a fun dessert to share but you may find yourself fighting over the last bites of everything.

So yeah, I liked this restaurant, well at least the bar area. I wish they actually had whiskey cocktails on their menu but I’m not going to hold that against them.

They do have a daily happy hour, albeit a short one from 5 to 6pm. But you can get $3 draft beers like Moretti and Ommegang Abbey or $4 specialty cocktails. Food specials range from the $6 crispy squash blossoms of bufala mozzarella, mint and oven-dried tomatoes to the $10 trio of crudo. Oh, and the Margherita pizza becomes $8.

AND they even have a late-night menu from 10:30pm to 12am! Pretty awesome considering everything seems to close so early around the Promenade.

312 Wilshire Boulevard
Santa Monica, California 90401 (map)
(310) 451-7482
Hours: 11:30am to 12am daily

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