Brothers Peter and Mike Clinco grew up with homemade Italian food and weekend trips to Westwood for movies and great food. Skylight Gardens, their new Italian restaurant in Westwood Village, combines the cuisine of their childhoods and their best memories of nights in Westwood.
Skylight Gardens, located on the corner of Glendon Avenue and Lindbrook Drive, opens for dinner Thursday at 5 p.m. Westwood-Century City Patch editor Sara Fay sat down with Peter and Mike on the eve of the restaurant's official debut.
Sara Fay: How did you come by this building and what's the history behind it?
Peter: It dates back to 1933. In 1985, I took my wife here for a date and it was just an absolutely gorgeous building. They didn't get much nicer than this. it was a Hamburger Hamlet restaurant at the time, called the Hamlet Gardens. This was just one of our favorite places to go.
Then in 1989, the owners of the Hamlet restaurant, the Lewis family, were looking for property in Westwood and I became their lawyer for the past 20 years. We kept trying to buy this restaurant from Hamburger Hamlet, and did it in 1995. The Lewises changed it to Gardens On Glendon and ran it for 14 years (until 2009). Then they wanted to get out of the restaurant business and at the time, my wife said, 'you can't let that restaurant go, you should call other clients.' The first person I called told me to get it.
I talked to my brother about getting involved and he said yes. When we were growing up, our parents would take us to Westwood every weekend for dinner and a movie or ice cream and a movie, and where we're sitting right now is the old Will Wright's ice cream parlor. I had a certain affinity for Westwood. I love this town -- it has the college, the neighborhoods, the business community. It seemed like the right time for me to go from being a lawyer and investor in restaurants to taking over the whole thing. This is just one of the unique buildings in the city. They don't make them like this anymore.
So the last two years have been construction and design and permits?
Peter: Yes. It's what I do for a living. I'm glad it's over because I'm tired of people asking 'when are you going to open' to now 'what took you so long?' That's an easier question to answer.
What made you want to go into the restaurant business?
Mike: When I dine, I look for the whole experience. I think we both feel very grounded in Westwood because we spent a lot of our childhoods here. We have a beautiful space, a great community, tremendous cuisine from our Argentine/Italian chef, a great crew, great servers… when you go out to eat, it has to feel good and taste good.
With all three rooms, you get a different experience under the same roof and that's what we've tried to achieve here. I don't have the experience that my brother has in the restaurant business, but I do consider myself an experienced diner. I know what I like.
It sounds like you balance each other out. How did you collaborate on the menu?
Peter: Our folks come from Puglia, a part of southern Italy on the Adriatic, and we put things on the menu that we grew up on and wanted to have a chance to revisit. We have an eggplant parmigiana that is terrific and a calamari fritti that I think is the best in town. My wife is from Sicily and brought arancini to the menu (saffron rice balls filled with ragu and lightly fried, in a spicy marinara). Our chef, Sebastian Gonzalez, is an artist. One of my clients had a chef at another restaurant in LA who had a chef friend in Argentina who wanted to come to the US. We made arrangements for him to train in Florida and then brought him to LA. (To see the Skylight Gardens dinner menu, click here.)
When was the first time you ate his food?
Peter: It was at Cafe Med in West Hollywood, and needless to say, the experience exceeded our wild expectations.
How much of the pasta and pastries are made in-house?
Peter: All of it, including the desserts. Our chef was a pastry chef at El Bulli (in Sevilla, Spain).
What about your vegetarian fans?
Peter: We're going to have great vegetarian dishes, and we also have gluten-free dishes. We're making a pistachio pesto in two dishes, one that has potatoes and green beans. If you're a vegetarian food is the easy way to go. There's capellini with tomato sauce, penne alla arrabiatta.
For me, I just wish pancetta didn't pair so beautifully with arugula!
Peter: I think we'll have a loose policy about meeting special needs. We recognize that not everyone wants a pork-laden diet.
Are you just starting with dinner or is lunch on the way?
Peter: Dinner starting Thursday, and lunch starting Monday. We're also working on our bar menu, which will take some of our Italian food and anglicize it, so penne quattro formaggi will be mac and cheese. It'll be a 405-themed happy hour.
I'm sorry, what? I don't associate 'happy' with the 405.
Peter: We'll have a series of drinks and beers that are $4.05. It will go from 4:05 to 7 p.m., and it'll start as soon as I print the menus.
What's the reception from the Westwood community been like?
Peter: Exceedingly supportive. There's a community here that will support good quality restaurants. And we're not the most expensive here -- we don't want people to have to think twice about dining here. And this restaurant was a date place. I'm also looking for the lawyer like me who works long, excruciating hours and is looking for a place to unwind.
Mike: We're also looking to cater to the entertainment industry. This room, where we're sitting (the room where this interview took place is called "the study"), might appeal to them because we can close it off for presentations, we have a laptop hook up. We've already booked several parties. It's going to be multifunctional, and we get to keep the cuisine on our terms. We're bringing our grandma's food back.
Peter: We both have backgrounds in the entertainment industry. Mike is a studio musician.
Mike: I used to tour with Henry Mancini and he knew what he liked in restaurants. So I look for what Henry looked for in restaurants.
I love that you're channelling the combination of your grandmother and Mancini. Would they get along?
Peter: These Italian grandmothers had such great, witty personalities. One of the things she'd say when things went wrong was, 'these are things that happen to living people.'
How much involvement will your families have here at the restaurant?
Mike: My son is going to be a bartender and both of Peter's sons are working here too.
Peter: And my nephew did some of the art on the walls.
Mike: It really is a mom-and-pop shop.
What's going to be running through your head when you officially open for dinner on Thursday?
Mike: It's showtime!
Editor's note: This interview was edited and condensed for length and clarity.