Return of Test Kitchen: Rocco DiSpirito
9575 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035
Dining date: 10/1/12
It’s been almost two years since Test Kitchen ended its run, something that I thought was one of the most interesting things to happen to the LA dining scene in recent years. Quite frankly, I’ve kinda missed it. A rotating cast of notable chefs spent a few days each in the kitchen, cooking whatever they wanted. The ever-changing menu continually kept things fresh and no two meals were alike. It revolutionized the pop-up restaurant in a way, and I’m surprised it hasn’t been fully duplicated since. However, the Test Kitchen legacy has lived on through its derivative restaurants such as Sotto, Picca, Playa and Short Order.
After years of rumors that Test Kitchen would eventually return, it finally seems to have come to fruition with another stint from 10/16-11/11 at upcoming Bestia restaurant in downtown LA. While I will be out of the country during its entire run, I was able to attend the launch and baton-passing from the former space (now Sotto) to the new space. For this occasion Test Kitchen hosted Rocco DiSpirito to cook his version of comfortable (and healthy) Italian fare. Joining DiSpirito in the kitchen were alumni from NYC’s Union Pacific, a restaurant DiSpirito opened in 1997, including Josh Dechellis, Neal Fraser (Grace), and Quinn Hatfield (Hatfield’s).
DiSpirito was promoting and cooking out of his latest cookbook Now Eat This! Italian: Favorite Dishes from the Real Mamas of Italy–All Under 350 Calories, the title of which is a mouthful, pun intended. He was on hand to chat and sign cookbooks for everyone.
Crudo of Tuna, Meatballs, Kale Chips, Grilled Pane Carasau with Rosemary & Super Olive Oil
We started with a quartet of antipasti. Tuna was bathed in a cool citrusy bath, while meatballs were smothered in a rich marinara. Thin bread chips and kale-parmiggiano chips (which I’m guessing were baked, not fried) provided the texture; I found the latter to be rather chewy…pretty much like undercooked kale. “Super olive oil,” a blend of olive oil and white wine, was a lighter and less fruity substitution for real olive oil, kind of defeating the purpose.
The main flavor profiles in the lasagna were the sweet tomato sauce and strong basil. With a little bit of shaved mushrooms and meat, I found it to be a hearty dish without being too rich…I’m guessing exactly what Rocco was going for.
Black Cod Puttanesca, Contorni of Polenta, Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta
Next up was a silky smooth piece of black cod; I’m accustomed to the denser, richer fillets so I think this may have been a different breed. I liked it! Earthy olives and capers grounded out the flavors, while the sweetness of tomatoes brightened everything up. The polenta wasn’t particularly memorable, but the Brussels sprouts were better, getting a lot of flavor from the charred bits at the edges.
Cheesecake, Panna Cotta, Instant Strawberry Italian Ice
Lastly, we were served a disappointing trio of desserts. The strawberry Italian ice was creamy, fruity and refreshing. However, the cheesecake (middle) was gritty, chalky and lacking in the flavor department. Lastly, the panna cotta was a little denser than I would’ve liked, and the subtle caramel flavor couldn’t hold up to the tart dessert.
Pine Nut Cookies
To take home, we received a batch of pine nut cookies. These weren’t very good either, but I guess they were only 49 calories..
I thought the black cod was excellent, but I found the rest of the meal to be rather ordinary or mediocre. However, given DiSpirito was going the ‘healthy’ route I thought he actually did a pretty decent job for the most part. If the calorie count was correct, this was one of the few sub-1200 calorie meals I haven’t been able to finish (it was a lot of food!). Having said that, Test Kitchen is all about trying out new things and I’m excited for its return…just sad that I will miss its entire run.