No matter when you go-lunch or dinner, weekend or weeknight-Drago sizzles. People wearing pale Armani tones and eccentric eyeglasses pack the bar, waiting for a table. The barista, meanwhile, works double time to send out espresso after espresso, trading rapid-fire quips with the waiters, who give the 3 1/2-year-old Santa Monica restaurant a charged-up charm. All the better because the decor-mainly blond wood, white walls and chairs dressed in green linen slipcovers-is fairly stark.
The smiling white-haired chef who bounces out to check on this and that and then disappears back into the kitchen is Celestino Drago. He looks exactly like you hope he would: as if he enjoys his own cooking. Wait-there he is again, across the dining room, dark-haired, somewhat grumpy this time. Oh, it's his brother Calogero. How many brothers are there anyway? I ask the waiter. "I don't know," he shrugs, laughing. "I can't keep track of them all. Here? Four of them." With that many brothers ducking in and out, some nights it can feel like an Italian Marx brothers movie.
I remember how thrilled I was to find Sicilian specialties on my first visit. At last, something that's not northern Italian. When the first wave of authentic Italian restaurants hit Los Angeles, northern Italian was chic. Southern Italian was not. But that meant we were missing the wonderful cuisines of the south, including the fascinating Arabic-inflected cooking of Sicily.