USA TODAY: America's 15 most heavenly Italian restaurants

Valentino, Santa Monica, CA.: For more than 40 years, Piero Selvaggio's Santa Monica landmark has set the standard for Italian fine dining in America. He served real Italian pastas and such things as radicchio and balsamic vinegar when they were exotica in this country; he absorbed the inspirations of the nuova cucina and modernized his menu without losing touch with the homeland; he survived earthquakes and economic downturns and the onslaught of new, hip places that could have pushed his restaurant into the Boring Old Standby category - but didn't. Today, he is turning increasingly back to Italian regional cooking - especially that of Sicily, where he comes from [...]. Yes, you can have prosciutto and melon or spaghetti alla carbonara here, and they'll be impeccable - but why not try the chilled eggplant terrine, the lasagne della nonna (grandmother's lasagna) with mushroom and duck ragù, the orecchiette in the style of Bari, with broccolini and peperoncini, or the Roman-style braised oxtail with bitter chocolate sauce? The wine list is one of the largest and richest in America, and service is perfect.
--Ryan Forbes

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