By Kathleen Sterling
It was always one of the most beautiful restaurants in Woodland Hills, dating back to its days as Lautrec in the early 80’s.
Owner John Makhani was at the helm then, and the restaurant went through several incarnations in its location next to the Woodland Hills Library, going from Lautrec to Piacere to the Village Piacere and then The Villa.
After a fire and several years of renovation – stymied by the pandemic – the next generation of the Makhani family has opened Casaléna in the same location.
Siblings Brandon, Chloe and Tyler have brought new life, and a new menu, to the restaurant.
They updated the beautiful sunken patio, site of many weddings over the years, with a gazebo and fountain, and redid the interior with striking lighting and indoor fireplaces.
The patio features a large bar and lots of seating amid lush greenery. There is also a bar and lounge inside, and a private sunroom on the second floor.
The menu features Mediterranean cuisine inspired by Italy and Spain, with an emphasis on seasonal, top-quality ingredients. They offer steaks, seafood, pizza, pasta, salads and more.
Their starters reflect a big Mediterranean influence, with whipped eggplant and riccota-stuffed squash blossoms leading the list.
Specialties include large, shareable plates, including a delicious butterflied whole branzino, eggplant cannelloni, shrimp scampi, chicken parm and an amazing short rib with whipped potatoes.
They offer some specialty house cocktails, including a Sicilian Spritz – perfect for summer nights with its elderflower liqueur, Italian gin and blood orange.
No Italian menu would be complete without a Negroni, but Casaléna also offers a “Mediterranean Margarita” and a Spanish gin and tonic.
The wine list offers reds, whites, rosés and sparkings from Italy, Argentina, France and of course, California.
We dined al fresco on the beautiful patio and reminisced about the wedding we attended here in the 90’s, and chatted with both John and Chloe about the old days – and the new incarnation.
The food was delicious, the atmosphere enchanting, and all in all, a new take on an old site is worth a reservation.
Casaléna is located at 22160 Ventura Blvd. just west of Topanga Canyon Blvd. For more information on the menu, reservations or private events visit casalena.la or call (818) 704-1185.
The restaurant is open Sunday to Thursday from 5 pm to 12 am, Friday and Saturday from 5 am to 12 am and the bar is open 5 pm to 2 am.