Tiramisu is typically an Italian dessert consisting of layers of sponge cake soaked with coffee and brandy or liqueur layered with mascarpone cheese and topped with grated chocolate. Translated from Italian, tiramisu means pick me up. In many ways, this translation can easily describe Il Tiramisu, with its cozy ambiance, friendly staff, and thoughtful dishes.
Walking into Il Tiramisu is like coming home. I was immediately greeted by one of the friendly owners, Ivo Kastelan, who owns and manages the restaurant with his son, Peter. Between them, they have 30 years of restaurant experience and two of the warmest personalities you will find anywhere.
The restaurant is divided into two main dining areas, separated by a full bar with the open kitchen just behind. One side of the restaurant is suited for intimate evenings. The other side, fitted with longer tables, is mainly for larger parties. The décor is largely European, with glass sculptures and wine bottles lining shelves and walls. Elegant lighting streams down from pin lights set into the wooden ceiling and the floor to ceiling windows that face the street give the restaurant a curbside café feel.
The menu choices are varied enough to satisfy most diners, with different choices of salads, soups, pizzas, pastas, chicken, and steak dinners.
The wine list is also respectable, with a bevy of Italian reds and some other wines refreshingly from around the globe instead of just from NapaValley. The list could do for more Italian whites, but Peter assures me that the list will adapt to include more whites as the seasons change. I ordered a bottle of Sonoma Cutrer ($9.00/glass, $36.00/bottle) and its spicy character was invigorating.
I started my meal by sampling the complimentary homemade focaccia and multigrain bread, which was a nice respite from regular dinner rolls. Next I ordered soup and antipasti. The Pasta e Fagioli ($4.00), Tuscan white beans with penne was perfect for warming up on a biting winter night and the Calamari Fritti ($9.00), lightly fried calamari, with fresh marinara and spicy lemon herb aioli made the mouth water without being filling.
Moving on to the main course, I ordered Ravioli di Anitra ($13.00), homemade ravioli, filled with spinach and duck breast and covered in arugula pesto sauce. The portion was not overwhelming to look at, but the succulent morsels of tender duck breast quickly sated my appetite.
For dessert I was sure to sample the restaurant’s namesake Tiramisu alla Katerina ($7.00), lady fingers soaked in coffee, served in a white and dark chocolate tulip shaped cup, topped with fresh strawberries. Destroying the presentation left me with regret, however, the taste was worth such sacrifice.
Service is punctual and attentive, almost to a fault. My glass was never less than a third full and my empty plate never stayed in front of me for too long. On the other hand, a different person asked me if I needed anything every few minutes, breaking up the flow of the meal. Depending on how high maintenance you are, this can be a blessing or a curse.
Il Tiramisu also offers monthly wine dinners. These consist of a four course meal with each course especially paired with the different wines from the vineyard showcased for the evening, with owners of the vineyard occasionally enjoying the dinner right beside you.
As my server, William, said, “[the restaurant] is what it is,” and he’s right. Il Tiramisu is not presumptuous. It doesn’t try to give more than it can offer. Though the staff presents very professional service, this is not the restaurant for adhering to the strict formalities of fine dining. Even the dress code is laid back. As Peter says, “This is California, anything goes.” So come to Il Tiramisu to relax. Come to have a good time and good food. When you leave, your experience will not be soon forgotten.
Il Tiramisu is open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday from 11:30 – 2:30PM and dinner Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday from 5:00 – 10:00PM, Friday through Saturday 5:00 – 11:00PM. Reservations recommended and valet available.
13705 Ventura Blvd.
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423