A patio dining experience in late January would be unthinkable just about anywhere else in the country. But in Malibu, the low 70-degree temperatures during this mild winter create the perfect environment in which to enjoy a Sunday brunch outdoors. And the place to do it is Tra di Noi.
You'll find the well-established Italian café-style restaurant nestled in the heart of Malibu Country Mart, in a park-like setting with green lawns where children play and parents shop, dine and relax among friends. Celebrities frequent the venue when they want to unwind and distance themselves from the paparazzi.
Sunday brunch begins at noon. It's the perfect time and location to enjoy a mimosa or a glass of wine (the restaurant does not serve liquor). The wine list is comprehensive and features a substantial amount of local wines from family-owned vineyards. The staff is very knowledgeable about their wines and are, furthermore, refreshingly friendly. Chef Francesco Velasco, who after being wooed to come on board, retained the well-established menu over the years while consistently updating it with his unique culinary creations.
The buffet includes traditional favorites like Caesar salad, cheese pizza, eggplant parmigiana and other Italian staples. There are a variety of dishes to suit just about any palate -- bacon-wrapped shrimp, spinach- and feta-stuffed portabello mushrooms, salmon and cream cheese bruschetta with capers, caprese salad, swiss chard, pumpkin ravioli, salmon farfalle and a variety of other pastas.
The majority -- some 65 percent -- of the vegetables are locally grown and purchased from farmers' markets. Velasco also favors grass-fed beef from California producers like Novy Ranches (a regular at L.A. farmers' markets).
One of the signature features of Tra di Noi's Sunday brunch, however, is the dessert table, which showcases a vast array of bite-sized sweets, from moist tiramisu to rich red velvet cake to sinfully decadent chocolate mousse.