Don’t be surprised if you have to scour Google Maps or GPS to find Sosta Cucina on Pier Avenue in Hermosa Beach. But according to chef/owner Luca Manderino, the all-white, unassuming façade with no signage is intentional. “I may put something on the door, but no signage,” says Luca of the Venetian-style wine bar and eatery meant to be a true neighborhood find.
Luca, who once worked as pilot and owned La Sosta Enoteca restaurant for 11 years until it was demolished in 2016, wanted to stay true to his Italian roots and bring traditional Venetian cuisine to the South Bay.
“While I love wines from all over the world, the menu at Sosta is made up of entirely Italian wines. The wines we curate are meant to be paired with food, as that is the true purpose of Italian wines. You can take a cab or pinot noir and drink it on its own, but with Italian wine it’s more difficult to source one that can be consumed on its own.”
“I was born and raised in Venice, Italy, and grew up in the hospitality industry,” he explains. “My parents owned two restaurants in Venice and a hotel on the Dolomites. From a young age, I would help my mother in the kitchen every day after school. Cooking is what I feel and believe, and it’s what I know. It’s more important to me to maintain the cuisine and the traditional methods that I use.”
The menu—featuring selections such as Gnocchi All’astice, handmade gnocchi with lobster; Risotto Alle Animelle, risotto with sweet breads; Bufala Ed Acciughe, buffalo mozzarella and Sicilian anchovies; and Branzino Al Forno, baked Mediterranean sea bass—was very deliberate.
“When I introduce unusual things like that to my guests, they love it because they believe in my cooking. The food is traditional to the cuisine I grew up with and the overall Italian cuisine. At Sosta I’m not inventing anything, but rather I’m making food based on tradition. It is traditional to my cuisine and to Italian cuisine.”
One of the standout dishes (and one of Luca’s admitted favorites) is cuttlefish served with polenta. “It’s a great comfort food dish and very delicate, tender and delicious,” he says of the cuttlefish he sources from Japan, Normandy and Venice paired with tomato, parsley, black pepper, olive oil and garlic.
“When you first see it, you’re like, ‘What is this?’ And then you take a bite and it’s amazing. Then it’s slow-cooked on the stove with the lid on for 1½ to two hours. The cuttlefish releases its own ink during this process.”
Another major highlight here is the wine list. “While I love wines from all over the world, the menu at Sosta is made up of entirely Italian wines,” he explains. “The wines we curate are meant to be paired with food, as that is the true purpose of Italian wines. You can take a cab or pinot noir and drink it on its own, but with Italian wine it’s more difficult to source one that can be consumed on its own.”
Luca outfitted the rustic and romantic, 1,000-square-foot candlelit restaurant with repurposed wood from La Sosta (used for the tables), vintage photography and dining chairs culled from various places including swap meets.
“Sosta has a very clean style, and it feels like a home—right down to the mismatched chairs,” he says. “I made everything myself, including the tables, bar, kitchen floor, and wall between the kitchen and the restaurant. The interior is still a work in progress, and I’ll be making a few changes here and there.”
Now Luca, who also lives in Hermosa Beach, and his team are working on a menu with additional traditional dishes and cicchetti, or Venetian tapas, at the wine bar. As for staying put in the South Bay, he’s happy he did.
“The clientele is very well-traveled, so they have a knowledgeable understanding of food and enjoy being introduced to new things,” he says. “I love the energy and the people. And I love to cook, of course. People come for the food quality, and I love giving them an experience. I love being in the South Bay, and I feel like it’s the right time to be here on Pier Avenue.”