Oddono’s (London, UK)

Selfridges Food Hall
400 Oxford Street
London W1A 2LR
Dining date: 5/26/12

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Oddono’s is an Italian gelato shop in London. It all started when my friend Diana tasted this place during a summer abroad in 2005 and returned to America to rave about it. Apparently, she ate it almost daily for a while. I tried it myself in 2007 and approved it as well, subsequently telling my family about it for their trip later that year. Needless to say, my family loved it too and it’s been a craving ever since. I think my dad was almost more excited to hear about Oddono’s than The Fat Duck.

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The first shop opened in South Kensington in 2004; its success has now spawned 4 locations. One of those locations is a stall in the food court of Selfridges, which was the most convenient location for me during this last trip. I knew I had to squeeze in a visit; with all of my lunches and dinners booked, this stop took the “late breakfast” slot.

This shop is definitely smaller than what I remember the actual storefront to be, but the product is exactly the same. There were probably around 15 flavors on offer and I think I tried about half of them. My friend and I each settled on a couple of flavors.

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coffee and cookies and cream

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coffee and stracciatella (chocolate chip)

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As expected, it was an excellent cup of gelato. I am by no means an expert on the matter, so I have a hard time ranking this scoop with others I’ve had, but I enjoyed it. The flavors were spot on and I loved the creamy mouthfeel – not too frozen. Now, if only I could find a way to smuggle this into the US…

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon (London, UK)

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
13-15 West Street
London WC2H 9NE
Dining date: 5/25/12

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I arrived in London pretty early on a Friday morning upon the completion of a red-eye flight from Mumbai. One of my friends was working and another would be arriving later in the morning, so I was on my own for lunch. After thorough research, I chose this place: chef Joel Robuchon’s lone UK restaurant and a 2-star Michelin.

I’ve been to L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon a few times to two locations: Paris and Las Vegas. The former was one of my most memorable meals to date. While part of me wanted to try something new and London-specific, this branch drew me in. Much of it was due to the casual atmosphere and counter seating; since I was dining alone I felt much more comfortable in this environment.

While I was tempted to do the full tasting, the £125 menu translated to $200, way more than I wanted to spend. Plus, I didn’t want to over-eat; 14 courses at The Fat Duck were waiting for me at dinner. A 4-course £40 lunch option sounded like a pretty good deal for London standards, and much more manageable for my stomach. I put my hands in the server to guide me through some of the restaurant’s more popular dishes.

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Seats at the counter provide a full view of the kitchen (awesome!), a staple at all of Robuchon’s Atelier establishments. I could easily see Executive Chef Olivier Limousin slice off a few slivers of jamon iberico for my first course.

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foie gras cappuccino

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The kitchen sent out an amuse bouche to start with. The light custard inside was pretty light with a strong foie gras flavor. A thin layer of a port wine reduction provided sweetness to complement the rich liver flavor.

les asperges blanches warm salad of white asparagus with nuts and ‘iberian’ ham

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This was an interesting myriad of flavors on a plate from the rich fatty ham, sweet caramelized hazelnuts, peppery arugula and a cool mustard seed vinaigrette. Surprisingly sweet and juicy asparagus was at the center of the mix of well-balanced flavors.

l’oeuf soft boiled egg on a “piperade” with parsley oil

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As expected, the poached egg was cooked perfectly, breaking apart and running over the rest of the plate with a gentle poke. To absorb the yolk, the egg was placed atop a sweet piperade of tomatoes, green peppers and onions. I thought the mix of flavors was a good one, while a little bit of parsley oil provided another dimension of flavor.

le cabillaud roasted cod bouillabaisse style; mashed potatoes; carrots and fennel with tumeric

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I went with this cod bouillabaisse as my entree, and the kitchen graciously gifted two additional side dishes. The cod itself was moist and flaky, delicious when dipped into the rich saffron and shellfish-flavored sauce. I loved the mashed potatoes, something I’ve often requested at any Joel Robuchon restaurant. They’re just so rich, creamy and decadent…some of the finest mashed potatoes I’ve had. A vegetable side of carrots and fennel with tumeric was another strong side, making this dish feel almost healthy.

le chocolat-tendance creamy manjari chocolate, bitter chocolate sorbet and oreo cookie crumb

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Finally, I went with this chocolate dessert. Layers of chocolate were presented in this cup, with the creamy manjari chocolate at the forefront. There were small crunchy chocolate balls dispersed throughout; I enjoyed the textural crunch but found them to be overbearing at times. Overall I initially liked the dessert but quickly found it slightly one-note and tiring.

In all, I had a very good lunch at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. I wouldn’t say it reached the highs of the meal I had at the Paris outpost, but that was a completely different meal (given that it was the tasting menu at dinner). Execution was top-notch and the atmosphere fun and convivial, it’s always fun to be able to watch and interact with the kitchen. It was an excellent start to my stay in London…dinner on this evening would be even better.

Drago Centro (Los Angeles, CA) (2)

Drago Centro
525 South Flower Street
Los Angeles, CA 90071
Dining date: 5/15/12

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Drago Centro is a place I’ve visited many times. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it’s across the street from where I work. Most of my recent visits have been for happy hour; the restaurant has one of my favorites in the area. It’s deceptively reasonably-priced and offers a strong list of discounted bar bites, wines and cocktails. Still, I often find myself ordering one of the a la carte pastas which I consider some of the strongest in the city.

I would get a chance to sample many of the pastas in this latest visit, revisiting some old favorites and enjoying some new ones. Cathy of gastronomyblog was invited to dine at the restaurant (her first time) and I eagerly came along.

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I enjoy the bread service, particularly with the bold and fruity olive oil that’s served alongside. We ordered a couple of small plates and focused in on a bunch of pastas.

la zuppa roasted yellow corn soup, soppressata corn ragout

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I really like when corn is in season and this soup was a clear reminder why. The soup was naturally very sweet with bright corn flavor. Rich but not heavy at all. The soppressata provided a bit of meaty flavor for an extra dimension.

le cozze steamed mussels, garlic, chile flakes, toasted crostini

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A heaping bowl of mussels came next. A simple dish with a white wine base, these were tasty but I feel like I’ve had these flavor profiles many times before with mussels.

After a couple of appetizers we moved on to the main feature: pasta.

le fettuccine fettucine, jumbo lump crab, zucchini flowers, spicy tomato

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As expected, the pasta came out perfectly al dente with a light tomato sauce. Sweet chunks of crab were the highlight for me, pairing well texturally and flavor-wise with the fettuccine and tomatoes.

i tagliolini neri squid ink tagliolini, mussels, clams, shrimp, lemon verbena

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Next up was a squid ink pasta with a myriad of well-cooked seafood. I thought the lemon verbena added a bit of lemon scent that complemented both the seafood and squid ink well.

gli agnolotti zucchini agnolotti, ricotta cheese, brown butter

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A simple dish but executed well, the agnolotti had a nice chew and a creamy filling. Small chunks of zucchini and a nutty brown butter sauce completed the dish.

le pappardelle al fagiano pappardelle, roasted pheasant, morel mushrooms

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A signature dish here, I fell in love with it the first time I had it a couple years ago. Ribbons of wide-cut pappardelle were smothered in a rich ragu with tender pheasant and morel mushrooms. Savory, hearty and delicious.

i garganelli garganelli, pork sausage, parmesan, fennel seeds

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This is another one of my go-to pastas. I really liked the texture of this type of pasta, having a really nice bite to it. Tasty sausage and fennel seeds were a strong tandem, while the parmesan added some creaminess to the buttery sauce.

il risotto ai funghi risotto, wild mushrooms, parmesan cheese

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As our march of pastas ended, we transitioned to a rich mushroom risotto. I think there was a lot of parmesan cheese since the dish was definitely rather thick and creamy; the risotto was a good one but not as exciting as our previous dishes.

coda in umido e polenta braised oxtail, polenta, carrots, celery, onions, gorgonzola crème

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We were getting pretty full by this point, and this may have been the richest dish of the evening. A few pieces of tender braised oxtail were placed on top of a rather thick polenta; I thought this dish was pretty much as advertised. Crispy onion rings were a fun way to add some texture.

When the dessert menu came, we were indecisive over two options..and the kitchen ended up giving us a little bit of both.

i bomboloni doughnuts
la terrina chocolate and olive oil terrine

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The doughnut was served warm with a light and airy center, dusted in sugar. I enjoyed the light whipped cream along with it. The dessert terrine was more complicated with layers of chocolate and olive oil. I thought the olive oil flavor was very subtle compared to the chocolate, though I liked tasting the individual layers of smooth mousse. A nutty chocolate base (similar to a kit-kat) provided the texture.

Food-wise, this was another excellent meat at Drago Centro. Over the course of my visits, the service is what has been notably poor and that isn’t something that has gotten better. Still, the caliber of the food is some of the best downtown and the pastas hold their own compared to anywhere else in the city. For an expense-account option downtown (or just to splurge on some Italian grub) this place would have to be near the top of the list.

Note: This was a hosted meal.