These mouthwatering creations are the brainchild of restaurateur Sal Marino, owner of 72-seat Il Grano on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Los Angeles. A chef for more than 20 years, he hails from a family of L.A. restaurant owners (Marino Restaurant and its more casual offshoot, La Bottega Marino), who taught him the art of fine cooking. After graduating from college with a business degree, he traveled to Italy, where he trained in local pizza parlors, tiny trattorias and three-star Michelin restaurants. There he learned the importance of materia prima-Italian for “the best ingredients.”

Materia prima is my driving force,” he tells OrganicAuthority.com. “I never went to a cooking school. I don’t know how to make roux, reductions and stocks. I’ve kind of learned by myself. What I didn’t realize is that to make good food, you need to start with the best simple ingredients. And, of course, being in Italy-and working at these restaurants where fishermen in Naples would come up from the freezing February 40° weather with their fresh catch-that’s when I understood what was needed.”

Which may explain why seafood, prepared in the Italian tradition, is Il Grano’s specialty. And each meal is meticulously prepared using the finest organic ingredients, whenever possible.

“Eighty percent of my produce comes from certified organic producers,” Marino says. “The truth is that organic producers are working their land in a ‘man’ style-you know, within their realm. They’re picking the peach when the peach is almost ready to eat. You can’t get that from a mechanized big producer. I don’t care what they say about technology. It’s about materia prima.”

“Organic is the best produce-no doubts, plain and simple,” he continues. “My organic baby mixed greens are like butter.”

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Marino shops for those greens-and their fruit and vegetable brethren-at several farmers markets around town. Organic lamb is purchased from a friend at Rinconada Farms, and he hand-selects freshly caught fish each morning from downtown marts. Meals are accompanied by organic wines from Barra of Mendocino, Yorkville Cellars and McFadden Farm.

While most ingredients at Il Grano are certified organic, there are a few exceptions, such as corn.

“You can’t find everything in an organic state,” Marino explains. “With some things, it wouldn’t warrant the price. It’s already expensive.”

This may be one of the greatest challenges of running a restaurant dedicated to materia prima: Either price goes up or profit margins go down.

“But most people who eat organic really don’t care,” Marino says. “By that, I mean that a lot of people who don’t have a lot of money eat organic, but they’re not doing it to save money. They’re doing it because they believe in it-or because they wouldn’t want to eat an apple from a supermarket that was cut three months ago, put in a truck and gassed. I don’t want to eat that. I only want an apple off the tree for a week.”

Marino’s other mission? Call it a calling-perhaps part of the family’s genetic code.

“The restaurant is a service business, and I enjoy the service,” Marino says. “I enjoy making people happy. I enjoy sharing my love and, hopefully, making you happy. At the end of the day, what matters most is almost primordial; it’s almost tribal. Whether it’s a fancy restaurant or a park-whether you’re eating caviar or a loaf of bread, an $80 bottle of wine or a $5 bottle of wine-it’s about sitting down, sharing some food, interacting with the tribe, the people, learning, having that conversation and sharing good things: a nice laugh and the simple pleasures in life. I love to see that at my restaurant.”

Il Grano
11363 Santa Monica Blvd.
West Los Angeles
(310) 477-7886
Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner; dinner only on Saturdays
Menus change monthly.