Capo (“boss”) is an old school Italian restaurant near the beach in Santa Monica, which was opened by Bruce Marder in 1998. It has a loyal clientele judging by the fact that it was packed out within minutes of opening at an early dinner here in January. As ever in the United States the lighting in the large dining room was gloomy, though not the worst I have seen by any means. At one end of the room is a roaring fire that is used to cook meat over almond wood, and the ceiling of the dining room is unusually high. Tables are quite close together and the place had a buzzy feel.
The menu looks as if it hasn't changed for decades. Appetisers ranged in price from $18 to $34, pasta from $28 to $36, main courses $52 to $69 and desserts $14 to $18. There was also a tasting menu at $120. The wine list was huge, with well over two thousand labels on offer. As well as extensive coverage of Italy there was a vast Burgundy selection, and bottles from further afield too. Prices are sadly not very welcoming, and you have to hunt around the recesses of the list to find value. Sample labels were Jack Vineyard Y3 Chardonnay 2010 at $60 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for $25, Chateau Faury St Joseph 2010 at $85 compared to its retail price of $37, and Chateau Batailley 2010 at $175 for a wine that will set you back $78 in a shop. For those with the means there are plenty of opportunities to splurge, with for example Domaine des Comtes Lafon Clos de la Barre 2002 at $670 compared to its retail price of $280, and Guigal La Landonne 2011 at a hefty $1,285 for a bottle that will set you back about $415 in a wine shop.
Rigatoni with meat sauce and truffle was enjoyably rich, the pasta quite tender, the meat rather overwhelmed by the tomato sauce (13/20). Maryland crab torta was enjoyable, with a generous amount of crabmeat (14/20). White corn ravioli with black truffles had pleasant pasta but was jarringly sweet (12/20). A signature dish of flattened veal scallopini with lemon and capers did nothing for me, having too much lemon applied that was too sharp for the meat, which admittedly was in itself fine (12/20). Jidori chicken (a breed of chicken popular in Japan but also now grown locally in California) was better, laced with truffles and having good chicken flavour, unlike so many birds that turn up on plates these days (14/20). Tiramisu was pleasant, with reasonable coffee flavour (13/20). Apple tart was also enjoyable, with decent pastry (13/20).
Service was good. The bill, with some of the cheapest wine I could find in the list, still came to a hefty $176 (£130) per person before tip. If you ordered three courses and coffee and drank some simple wine then a typical all in cost per head with tip would be at least £110, which is an awful lot of money for the level of the food here.