Photo credit: Yosef E.
First, an Italian lesson brought to you by Stephan Sultan, the owner of Trattoria Natalie. In Italian there are 3 words for restaurant: ristorante, trattoria, and osteria. Ristorante is the one you probably heard of; it’s the most formal. Osteria is the least expensive, what we would call a “joint” (the kind you eat at, come on guys). A Trattoria is right in the middle, with simple, plentiful food and casual service. After eating there, I think Stephan Sultan was being modest- Trattoria is definiately a ristorante.
I have a friend who is a geyores (convert). The one thing she tells me that she misses is a good pizzeria. She describes it as higher end than a pizza place with tablecloths and candle light, but not quite fine dining. I think Trattoria Natalie might be her answer. It’s a mash-up between a pizzeria and a East Coast chic restaurant, sprinkled with a twist of Europe for class. The décor includes high ceilings and exposed brick, reminding me of La Carne in Manhattan (unfortunately closed).
We break overwhelmingly good bread with Mr. “call me Stephan” Sultan who entertains us with colorful stories of his life in France, the opening and revival of his other restaurant, and the purchase, reconstruction, and opening of Trattoria. I munch happily on the herb crusted bread while dousing it with the incredible eggplant and cheese and tampinada dips that it comes with it, while I listen.
It all started with a green card. After selling his successful furniture business in France and noting the increasing anti-Semitism there, the Sultans moved to Los Angeles. Keeping strictly Kosher, they ate dinner at a Kosher restaurant on Pico Blvd. as they waited for their stuff to be unpacked. They calculated the price of a meal into Euros and felt like they were robbing the place- $20 for lunch? In France they easily paid double for a much smaller portion. They figured going out was cheaper than cooking, so for their first 2 years in America, the Sultans ate every single lunch and dinner out. He was a regular everywhere and began to memorize the menus of all the Kosher restaurants in L.A. After over 24 months of fun and lots and lots of dining out, Stephan got a call from his lawyer. Since it was obvious he intended on staying in the U.S. he needed to work in order to get himself a green card. The easiest way to obtain a green card (though the process is still long and tedious and expensive) is by opening a business which employs at least 10 people. He threw a few business ideas around, but nothing called him. Serendipitously, just 2 days after he hung up the phone with his lawyer, while enjoying his umpteenth dinner out at one of his favorite restaurants, the owner suggested that he and Stephan open a dairy restaurant together. This partnership was short lived, but lead to the birth of 26.
After a couple of years, Stephan decided to change 26 into a fleishig restaurant and consulted his Rav, Rabbi Pinto. Rabbi Pinto encouraged him to keep a dairy place open as well because there are much fewer Kosher, dairy restaurants. Stephan heard the logic in Rabbi Pintos words and found a property on Pico boulevard the very next day. In typical Stephan style, it had just gone on the market one hour before. He checked out the place at 10 AM and signed on the dotted line by 11 AM. Now that he had experience in both the furniture and restaurant business, he took complete control over his new property designed, decorating, and hiring every employee by himself. He brought 26’s milchig kitchen over to the new property and did a complete overhaul, combining 2 buildings into one, and removing old wood that hadn’t been touched in 40 years. Under this wood near the top of the building was 9 cool, square windows. Mr. Sultan had the brilliant idea to have the name of the restaurant fit into those 9 squares- so that’s why he chose the name T-R-A-T-T-O-R-I-A, he also added Natalie, his wife’s name, to make Trattoria Natalie, a warm restaurant with a woman’s touch.
You must try the crispy cheese risotto balls, they are scrumptious. The schnitzel like crisp goes perfectly with the warm bits of pasta and gooey cheese inside. Do yourself a favor and order the sauce on the side- it’s super spicy and is best poured on sparingly. Stephan cheaps out on nothing, purchasing up to 16 cases of heavy cream a week, when most owners would be happy to stretch it with plain milk. He notes “people just want simple, fresh food made from the good stuff, no junk”. I also enjoyed the vegetable soup, it features a clear broth, untainted with the lazy powdered mixes that so many restaurants resort to for flavor, as well as a full corn on the cob half resting a thick bed of freshly cooked spinach. The soup is simple and compelling in its plainness. For dessert go with a cream brulee. I have never tasted better. It’s served in a wide, shallow ramekin and the top is glazed so perfectly that the caramel sugar makes a crunch sound as you dig in your spoon to release the slippery custard underneath. Sweet goodness.
Upstairs there is a party room that seats up to 80 people, the night we ate at Trattoria Natalie it was busy with a happening 30th anniversary party. This place is a fun addition to Pico, a classy place with high end fish options, soups, and salads as well as endless pizza possibilities and kitchy desserts. Really, it’s a crossbreed, a Trattoria in fact.