Tonight marks the final night of service at Drago, chef Celestino Drago's beloved 21-year-old Italian institution in Santa Monica. We spoke with the chef and found him blown away by the emotional reactions his guests were expressing in the face of the closure, telling Grub Street, "It was a very hard decision. Drago is where everything started for my brothers and me. It was very tough to decide to sell the restaurant after 21 years, especially seeing the reaction from the community. Drago is a very family-oriented, neighborhood spot - people consider it an extension of their own dining room."
The chef takes a minute to reflect, "I want to thank all the patrons for letting me be there for 21 years; without them I couldn't have done it. I feel very lucky and blessed to have been serving the same people all these years."
All might not be lost for Drago's fans west of the 405, however, as the chef adds, "If the right location does come along, I would consider re-opening the original Drago, but right now I am going to focus on the other businesses - Drago Catering and Centro, and Enoteca where the flagship Drago dishes will still be available."
Until then, where does the chef suggest his crestfallen fans go to sup on dependable Italian in the neighborhood? Here are Drago's three suggestions for what he considers three great Italian restaurants west of the 405:
• "Vincenti in Brentwood is another great place for food and service. Maureen Vincenti makes you feel at home with her charm and hospitality."
• "For a little more of a casual experience, I love Il Moro. It has a very comfortable setting and has been around for a long time."
• "Valentino has been an icon not only in LA but also in the United States. For me, Piero Selvaggio is the ambassador of Italian cuisine. Valentino is one of my favorite Italian restaurants."