Nestled in Studio City, CA, on Tujunga Avenue since 1964, is Vitello’s, a two-story popular Italian eatery with a sunny Southern Californian flair. It has the sumptuous Italian dishes we all recognize, which are infused with a modern sensibility, to go along with underrated entertainment (usually musical) on the second floor. If you’re “Upstairs at Vitello’s Supper Club,” you have the best of both worlds: carefully crafted comfort food as well as the visual and auditory splendor of intimate stage performances that almost never exceed $25 admission. And yet, while there is a two-item minimum (totaling $20) for event attendees, what also makes Vitello’s a highly recommended destination is that combining the food with a show is a bonus; the menu and entertainment can just as easily be appreciated individually.
Besides also serving brunch and lunch, the dinner menu is well-organized according to small bites, salads, entrées, sides, and pizza choices. They can be paired with a handsome list of wine choices, in addition to cocktails, beers, imported Italian teas, and, to cap it all off, dessert. Certainly, there is a grand order to the tasty victuals, which are designed to optimize a sit-down experience. More importantly, perhaps, the wait staff is compassionately attentive to the needs of the customers, providing helpful counsel on items when queried. Stephanie, for instance, is one of the servers whose passion for ensuring a positive dining experience reflects Vitello’s unified commitment to a memorable night out.
To begin this gustatory journey, a small bite (appetizer) that has the capacity to effectively prime the senses is the Fried Calamari, especially with the added gargantuan-sized shrimp for only an extra $2. Despite the preconception that calamari is often too heavy to begin with, there is a whimsical lightness to this rendition, which is delightful in its constitution comprised of just the right amount of tenderness.
Of course, the wine selection features delectable white wines like Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio, and red wines such as the Bordeaux Blend and Cabernet Sauvignon, but one might take a slight risk and try a cocktail or two and be pleasantly surprised. The “Raspberry Beret,” for instance, is inviting with its beatific blend of raspberries which has the refreshing spice of vodka and a delectable sugar-coated rim to top off each sip. The “Southpaw,” too, is tactfully tart in its mixture of gin and grapefruit that benefits from the accented taste of a basil leaf in the center.
As for the entrée choices, the Baked Orecchiette encapsulates the home-cooking we all yearn for with bites that are consistently enriched with the savory punch of sausage and peppers, which are, in turn, ensconced in the softness of smoked mozzarella; suffice it to say, it satiates the appetite and nourishes the soul. A more traditional choice cooked to perfection is the Petite Filet Mignon (presented in three not-so-petite, lavish squares) which is an explosion of satisfaction from first impression to the parting finale. It is adjoined with melt-in-your mouth mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach that are exemplary in their packed pungency and how well they supplement the meal.
Last, but not least, there is no better way to culminate a feastful experience at Vitello’s than with a dynamic dessert. From fantastic gelato (e.g., salted caramel, vanilla custard) to baked treats, the options are bountiful. That being said, the Warm Chocolate Soufflé and Bomboloni have to be tried at least once per lifetime. The former is an ode to chocolate hearth and warmth with a soft cake forming the perimeter around a decadent chocolate cream housed inside; and the latter is notable for its effortlessness in how it melds the freshness of a donut (three mini-donuts, in fact) with pristine pastry cream bolstered by the ecstasy of drizzled chocolate sauce.
For those who venture upstairs on any given evening when there is a concert or event to choose from, patrons will not only sample at least a few items, but be enthralled by the above-and-beyond quality of the artist(s) who perform. On April 17th, for example, The Myron McKinley Trio energized and spellbound an audience with a blistering 90-minute set. The trio is deserving of the highest accolades for triple-handedly making jazz seem like the coolest musical genre since Charlie Parker and Miles Davis plied their trade, or at least since Ryan Gosling’s character in “La La Land” gushed about the art form.
With Myron McKinley, the Music Director of Earth, Wind & Fire, on the keyboard; Ian Martin, a collaborator of legends (like Quincy Jones), on the bass; and Stacey Sydnor, a music director of Emmy-recognized TV shows, manning the percussion, one would be hard-pressed to find more breathtaking passion in one venue. Even though they’ve only been a group since 2014, there is an interconnected and preternatural precision in how they musically support each other.
On the heels of having recently released their well-received EP, “Time,” the three virtuosos (along with guitarist Kyle Bolden for a few songs) are unceasingly larger than life in not only their technical proficiency, but in the oodles of charisma they exude. Starting with one of the tracks on their album, “Labyrinth,” it becomes clear that these talented men know how to paradoxically work within an ordered framework and, at the same time, somehow transcend convention. “Incantation” is another masterclass on musicality, as it begins on the bass guitar, and is underscored by soft cymbal strikes, before being loaded with a dazzling dose of keys. Throughout it all, there is no way to gauge where the triumvirate could be taking their audience members, who, with bated breath, are led along a triumphant saga that has ebbs, flows, and flurries of fun.
Impressively, the trio, joined by Bolden – who is stellar during his guitar solos — perform reimagined versions of The Beatles’ “Blackbird” and “Eleanor Rigby” (the latter is on “Time”). It is like being transported to the era of the 1960s with a cornucopia of pleasing sounds interwoven with jazz stylings and a sensational tempo. By performing tapestries of ornate and purposeful melodies, these men prove they’re not only esteemed creators of music, but ingenious interpreters of it.
Just as we might find ourselves aptly bowled over by what the trio can do, there is a refreshing candor in seeing McKinley get swept off his own seat when playing the keyboard at warped speed, Martin fully engaged as he expresses an animated fervency while playing the bass guitar or upright bass, and Sydnor as an unstoppable and lovable force of intense enthusiasm. Sydnor, who movingly dedicates “Party for Jackie” to his departed sister, commands his drum post (including conga drums), and especially sticks, at a lightning speed that is reminiscent of seeing a magician “abracadabra” one magical moment after another.
Finally, when The Myron McKinley trio plays their most famous song to date, “E-12,” attendees are convinced of how incomparable these accomplished artists are. They can fluidly transition from one mood to another – from pensive to propulsive in one fell swoop, leaving no stones unturned, boundless in their pursuit to joyfully spread the message of their jazz medium.
Overall, for any denizen or traveler in Southern California, Vitello’s is an outstanding establishment that offers wholly satisfying Italian cuisine and shines a spotlight on artists who are highly skilled. And, without question, there is no better way to experience either one than together, as appetizing food is enhanced by great entertainment and vice versa.
For more information about Vitello’s, please visit vitellosrestaurant.com
And for more information on The Myron McKinley Trio, please visit facebook.com/MyronMcKinleyTrio