Tra Di Noi reopens


“I have tomato sauce running in my blood,” said Tarcisio Mosconi, 49, co-owner and operator of the Tra Di Noi restaurant in Malibu’s Civic Center area.

The name of the restaurant is fitting–it means “just between us” in Italian–for the small, intimate, newly rebuilt restaurant

Mosconi was rejoicing at the reopening of the restaurant Thursday, which was closed by the city since a December, 1999 fire destroyed a neighboring business and damaged the restaurant.

Tra Di Noi, which is also owned by Antonio Allessi and Claudio Borin, was originally founded in 1991 by Alessi and Borin at the site of the former La Scala restaurant.

Although the restaurant was closed for several months, Mosconi said he was able to find work for all the cooks and waiters at two other restaurants he is affiliated with, one in Marina Del Rey and the other on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica. Borin runs another Italian restaurant named Sage Room (at the former location of Indigo Cafe at PCH and Kanan Dume Road). The president of the corporation is Alessi. Tra Di Noi is Mosconi’s favorite “because it’s small and personal,” he said.

Trastevere in Santa Monica is, by contrast, “a machine that feeds 1,200 a day,” and the one they own in the Marina, Il Faro, is for tourists.

“Here, in Malibu, we have many local families who come several times a week,” he said.

Mosconi was born into a restaurant family. He tries in every way to make Tra Di Noi like the restaurant run by his family in Rome.

“When customers from Malibu tell me they are going to Italy, I tell them the name of my family’s restaurant in Rome and they go there and have their picture taken with my sister,” he said.

Mosconi often buys the vegetables for the restaurant himself.

“I feel fresh vegetables are important,” he said. “You cannot get the same taste with frozen vegetables. The same for fish.”

The average meal at Tra Di Noi costs $18 to $20, plus drinks. Mosconi stocks three types of wines at the Malibu location–Italian, French and Californian. One of the most expensive wines is Solaia at $140 to $145 a bottle.

The fare is Northern Italian. Pizza is served as well. While some might think it is a “given” at an Italian restaurant, upscale Italian restaurants think pizza is beneath them.

“We have pizza because a lot of our customers bring kids and kids love pizza,” said Mosconi.

Seafood is also big in the Malibu location, “because we are by the ocean and you expect it, and Italians love fish,” said Mosconi.

One unique selling proposition offered by Tra Di Noi is that they are located scant feet away from a children’s play area.

“We have parents come and request an outdoor table on the patio so they can dine while keeping an eye on their children only a few feet away,” he said.

Mosconi takes his job seriously. He is there seven days a week, sometimes up until 11 p.m. He greets each customer, and knows their taste in food if they are regulars. He takes a 10-day vacation once a year. Ironically, what he does while on vacation is “go to other restaurants,” he said. He said his one pet peeve is so-called Italian restaurants that don’t know how to prepare Italian food.

“I ordered a pasta up north in San Franciso and they were supposed to have egg inside, but had whipped cream,” he said. “I asked the chef who planned this recipe and he wouldn’t let me talk to the boss. I think they were afraid to be confronted by a real Italian chef.”

Although Mosconi won’t admit to being “star struck,” he does say that he was impressed when a movie star he had just seen on TV arrived in person and proved to be “a regular guy who talked about the weather and food.”

For those Malibuites who want their ambiance authentic, Mosconi strives daily to create an Italian ambiance.

“I have Italian music piped in from a satellite,” he said. “I had the chairs reupholstered with cloth from Italy.”

The walls feature paintings of vegetables from the gallery next-door, paintings he changes monthly so no one will get bored. He wears only Italian-made clothes. He said he wasn’t able to find Italian tablecloths as colorful as the French ones he chose for the patio. The implication was that French country was all right, but nothing compared to Italian country.

Tra Di Noi was booked through the weekend from the day they re-opened–word spreading fast that they were back in business.

“I regret that the building next door wasn’t repaired enough so that we can’t have a nice wall behind the patio instead of a board,” said Mosconi.

The fact that the building next door is not repaired is what prevents them from installing a more permanent canopy over the patio. His temporary solution is a canvas umbrella over each table to cope with the sun, and portable heaters to cope with the chill that comes at nightfall.

“In Italy the canopies are more permanent,” he said, “so you wouldn’t need the heaters.”

He said the secret of being a successful restaurateur is, “You have to love your job, and I do. And you need to understand what you’re doing. It’s like I said, I’ve got tomato sauce running in my veins.”