464 S. Main Street, Downtown Los Angeles. Portofino Cucina Italiana is a small, intimate restaurant, yet elegant and easy going.
Neapolitan Diego Ortoli chose a not-so-obvious location. Downtown L.A. is in fact the main business district of the area during the day and a populated nightlife spot in the evening. This means different crowds at different times, but they all seem to be happy with what this restaurant has to offer.
“Having my own restaurant has always been my dream”, says Diego. “Finally, I found the right place for me. Downtown L.A. is a central area which has recently gone through a process of revitalization; some of the best restaurants and chefs are now in the area. This means a strong competitiveness, but also a more exciting challenge. When the restaurant is full, I have good reasons to be satisfied.”
Portofino Cucina Italiana opened in 2010, and since then it has been dedicated to the most authentic Italian cuisine, simple and traditional. They have mozzarella di bufala campana, guanciale, prosciutto di Parma, provolone piccante and many other products of Italy. Many of their varieties of pasta are homemade: gnocchi, tortellini and ravioli the most wanted.  
Portofino has also a peculiarity: Diego Ortoli is both the owner and the chef, which makes this place a 100% Italian hot spot. Even though, competing with the many other restaurants and variety of cuisines is hard. Los Angeles has so much to choose from that in order to attract people, a restaurant must really offer something appealing. We spoke with Diego to understand what makes his restaurant a pleasant experience not to be missed.

Portofino, Downtown LA

What do you think a customer looks for when entering an Italian restaurant?  
First of all, customers look for a friendly atmosphere. They look for the same attentions you would give a friend, and this is what we do here at Portofino. And obviously, good food and good wine, and we surely have that too.
You are owner and chef of Portofino. Does this help have a better control of what you offer to customers?
It depends. Sometimes I would like to dedicate myself to one activity at a time, but I also like to see what is going on both in the restaurant and in the kitchen. This is the main advantage of being the owner and the chef. In any case, a good restaurant is based on a team work: there can always be some unforeseen problem and each of us has to be ready to solve it.
What aspects of being a chef you like the most?
When I was a child I used to cook for me and my brother in Italy. My mother would call me from work and she would give me instructions on the phone! So I grew up doing this, and today cooking for the others is just natural. Being a chef is also a creative job: you have to invent new dishes and give them an engaging look. It’s always very satisfying when people take pictures of my dishes. Then, lately people are more interested in food and cuisine, and I very often end up sharing recipes with my customers. But most of all I like seeing all this people having dinner together, it reminds me of dinner time with my family. Through their experience, I revive those moments back in Italy.
Does a chef cook like at work even when home?
Not me, never! Especially, a considerable chef never washes dishes!
What is the dish you most enjoy making? 
I don’t have a favorite dish; I really like to try different things every time. There are so many different recipes that Italy has to offer! Every city has traditional dishes, therefore it’s easy even for me to find something new that I’ve never tried before. Being from Southern Italy, I’m often attracted by the cuisine of the North. But of course, I like Southern cuisine as well. In fact, we are now working on a special menu that will soon be available at Portofino. I’m planning on introducing customers to some special recipes, like different dishes of the Neapolitan tradition, spaghetti with octopus, some special “vitello alla pizzaiola”, or some new varieties of pasta. The main obstacle is to find the necessary original ingredients here in Southern California… I want my customers to find something new they can’t have elsewhere. As Americans say, stay tuned!
More info on Portofino Cucina Italiana at www.portofinodtla. com

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