West Hooker-Poletti – Locanda Del Lago

West Hooker-Poletti Locanda Del Lago Promenade Santa MonicaRestaurateur Profile: West Hooker-Poletti

Co-Owner: Locanda Del Lago

231 Arizona Ave.

Santa Monica, CA 90401

http://www.lagosantamonica.com
Yelp: 3.5 stars

Interview Date: Tuesday, May 11, 2010

West Hooker-Poletti, owner of Locanda Del Lago in Santa Monica, is from the Lake Como region in Italy. Knowing this, when I first met him I mentioned that my husband and I spent a night there about eight years ago. West immediately lit up and wanted to know where we stayed, what we ate, and how we enjoyed our stay. It is his passion for the region and for hospitality that has driven West for years, and I could see it right away.

West was raised by his German mother and Italian stepfather, Sergio Poletti, in Northern Italy. Sergio clearly made a big impact on his stepson, and his great passion was hospitality – he managed numerous five-star hotels in Italy. “I had the luck to be raised by him and to experience and learn everything about true hospitality,” says West. “When a hotel becomes your home away from home, you realize the importance of making people feel like they belong.”

Locanda Del Lago Third Street Promenade Santa MonicaAt age 18, West had to leave Italy for the U.S. to maintain his U.S. citizenship. He spent three years working at Los Angeles hotels while simultaneously attending classes at Santa Monica College. “It was a major culture shock to go from metropolitan Italy to metropolitan Los Angeles,” says West. He worked at the Los Angeles Hilton (now the Omni Hotel), where he initally was the key clerk responsible for filing keys for 1,200 rooms, eight hours per day, then was swiftly promoted to reception supervisor.

As he finished his studies at Santa Monica College, West applied and was accepted to the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. “Cornell specialized in stimulating entrepreneurial dreams at that time,” says West. And the bug stuck with him.

Upon graduation, West worked at a number of hotels, including Regent International’s Mayfair Regent in New York City, the Beverly Hilton and the Irvine Hilton. He focused his efforts in the Food and Beverage department. “I feel like food and beverage are the most challenging part of hospitality,” he says. “You have to make good, quick decisions – once a person leaves you can’t make it up to them afterward; the experience is over.”

The seeds that were planted at Cornell were finally tended when West found the location in Santa Monica and began developing Locanda Del Lago. His connections in Italy – most notably his stepfather Sergio – allowed him to source excellent ingredients and talent. “With the help of Sergio, I was able to attract an incredible team from Italy,” says West. “My consulting chef (Pierluigi Bacchetta) was the head of the best culinary school in Italy and one of the best chefs in Italy at the time, and he brought all that knowledge and experience here.”

The first menu at Locanda del Lago featured all of the items that West loved from his home region – items that were not widely featured at other Italian restaurants in the area. “When we first opened, we put a menu outside the door and people came in and asked what kind of restaurant we were,” says West. “Now they probably would recognize the dishes, but at the time it was very unusual.”

“The best part of owning a restaurant is that I get to satisfy my enjoyment of hospitality and the opportunity to emulate what I saw done so well in Italy,” says West. “I love knowing that someone leaves the restaurant and had a good experience.” He also enjoys the teamwork that develops among his staff of 60-70 employees.

Third Street Promenade Santa MonicaThe hardest part for West is keeping an eye on a constantly evolving market. “Every year we have a different challenge – a change in neighborhood dynamics, guest tastes,” says West. “We have to keep up with the evolving business and maintain a constant groove.”

This year, West is focusing on constantly improving Locanda del Lago while simultaneously looking into expansion opportunities (he also owns Café Bellagio, which is also located on the Santa Monica Promenade) and getting more involved in catering projects.

What to try:

Missoltino Fish – West’s stepfather’s neighbor in Lake Como is a fisherman who harvests this fish and then presses and preserves it. It is a specialty food found only in the Lake Como region. West directly imports it from the fisherman on Lake Como!

Pear Grappa – ** LIMITED AVAILABILITY BUT WORTH ASKING FOR *** Pears grown in West’s stepfather’s garden are distilled by another neighbor into grappa, a type of brandy.

Beef Tongue – No neighbors involved here, but it’s worth a try!

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2 Responses to “West Hooker-Poletti – Locanda Del Lago”

  1. ivetteromero Says:

    I had the good luck of having some of Lago’s mouthwatering and highly satisfying dishes years ago, when it was still fairly new. The risotto dishes are perfect; and I hope they still serve osso buco–unforgettable!

  2. Joe Giardullo Says:

    I am fortunate to have known Sergio Poletti and West’s mother, and to have more than a few wonderful meals in their Bellagio home. It was Sergio, in his own kitchen, who taught my wife the secrets of making great gnocchi !

    Next to the magic on the lake, Locanda del Lago is, by far, the best place I know.

    Luckily, I’ll be in Santa Monica soon enough.

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