(Originally published June 23, 2015 on Examiner.com)
The chef, Piero Topputo, and general manager, Mario Sabatini, at Santa Monica’s new restaurant Forma Restaurant & Cheese Bar both came to California from Italy. Mario, born in Villa Santa Maria, started working in his brother’s restaurant when he was fourteen. He came to the United States in 1996 not knowing any English. Piero grew up in Gravina Di Puglia. There his mother taught him everything she knew about cooking. He came to the United States in 1991. After Piero worked his way up from cook to chef, he met Mario when he became the Toscana Group’s restaurant executive chef in Brentwood. This meeting occurred approximately fifteen years ago.
Chef Topputo moved onto become the executive chef at Trattoria Amici at the Americana at Brand in Glendale where he remained until 2014. Sabatini also moved on to Pecorino on San Vicente in Brentwood. Here at their respective new restaurants, they both were doing formaggio cheese wheels as specials. After seeing how popular these specials were, they decided to partner with Robert Donnell to do a restaurant where the cheese wheels were the focus. Thus they conceived Forma in honor of the star ingredientformaggio. From there they expanded into other cheeses and made cheese, in general, the focus of the whole menu. They looked around at other restaurants and didn’t really see much, if any, focus on cheese. Thus Forma then became Forma Restaurant & Cheese Bar. So in addition to the cheese wheel station at the rear of the restaurant, cheese cases with over thirty different kinds of cheese are prominently displayed behind the bar as you enter the restaurant. The cheeses (see current cheese menu) are not only from Italy, they are also from other prominent cheese making countries of the world including France, Spain and the United States.
So the concept felt unique. Plus they already saw how the popular the cheese wheel specials were at their prior restaurants. At the Amici restaurant in Glendale, people would stop to look in the window to watch cheese wheel dishes being made. Kids especially enjoyed watching this cheese station. At Forma, Mario’s brother Enzo works at the cheese wheel station. Enzo just recently came from Italy to do this job for them. Enzo had never been to the United States before. This whole cheese wheel process is an old tradition that has going on for years. So Forma’s partners were surprised that nobody else has ever done any form of concept featuring it before.
They’re also going to start pairing cheese and wines and cheeses and beers in flights. But before doing the these flights, they are going to first feature regional Italian wines people aren’t as familiar with every month. Many other restaurants put these wines on a wine list and sell them by the bottle. But people usually ignore them when sold by the bottle. So they want to do it by the glass and feature a different region of Italy each month. They want to do the same thing with beers. For example doing shandys (beer mixed with lemonade) during the summer. It’s sort of an English drink, but there are a lot of different breweries doing shandys now. They have approximately fifty beers on taps. They also have wines on tap. All of the wine by the glass is on tap. They have wines in the bottle by the glass too.
As for the food menu, the chef describes his food as old style and simple. Topputo noted, “I don’t exaggerate the sauce, rather I get top quality olive oil and cheese. My mother taught me three important ingredients: good olive oil, good tomato, and good cheese.” The chef’s mother is his inspiration for his food. Although an Italian emphasis, there are some other items on Forma’s menu like an amazing burger as well as a pulled pork sandwich. All the pickles for the burger are done in house. The partners didn’t want to have a restaurant menu that was entirely Italian.
Therefore Forma desires to be a neighborhood restaurant with comforting food at reasonable price points. Running different wine and beer specials will help change it up once in a while and give people, who will all hopefully all become regulars, a taste of different things.
Forma Restaurant & Cheese Bar is located at 1610 Montana Avenue in Santa Monica, CA. They are open for dinner seven days a week from 5:00 PM until 10:30 PM. They also just recently opened for lunch as of June 18th for 11 AM until 3 PM. Eventually they want to be open from 11:00 AM to 11:00 PM seven days a week.