Delfina (San Francisco, CA)

Delfina
3621 18th St
San Francisco, CA 94110
Dining date: 11/26/11

delfina sign

It’s hard to believe that Delfina has been open for 13 years. It’s as popular as ever, still being a very busy restaurant and oft-difficult dining reservation. Its popularity as a quintessential neighborhood Italian restaurant has helped Craig and Anne Stoll open up two other concepts, equally as popular: Pizzeria Delfina and Locanda.

I first dined here a long time ago and don’t remember much. I remember it being crowded. I also remember having the spaghetti and thinking it was too al dente. That’s about it (hey, I was pretty young). I’ve been wanting to return, particularly for some hearty pastas and just to check out the local scene. At the last minute, I was scurrying for a reservation on the day after Thanksgiving and a Delfina spot popped up. Bingo!

delfina interior

Grilled Monterey Bay Calamari warm white bean salad

squid

We started with this appetizer. The squid was tender and really benefited from some lemon zest and a nice smoky char from the grill. The warm bean salad was a nice touch too, adding some creaminess and body to the dish.

Spaghetti plum tomatoes, garlic, extra virgin olive oil and peperoncini

spaghetti

A good spaghetti, the noodles had a delectable chew while the sauce had a bold tomato flavor, slightly on the acidic side. It’s no Scarpetta spaghetti, but it was an excellent pasta.

Pappardelle pork sugo

pappardelle

Seeing this on the menu, it was a must-order. The pork helped to create a rich sauce that really went well with the pappardelle. I wanted just a little more sauce and some bigger pieces of meat though. The pasta was perfectly cooked, while a little bit of cheese added some extra richness. Tasty.

Paccheri all’ Amalfitana rock cod

rock cod pasta

The pasta was chewy and the sauce creamy, but thought the fish was kind of fishy. Also, I thought the fish and sauce could’ve been better incorporated; they just didn’t seem to come together as well as I expected.

Liberty Duck in Guazetto polenta Valsugana, cipollini

duck polenta

I thought this was a pretty hearty entrée with two duck legs smothered in a rich braising liquid. The meat was tender, though not particularly moist or dry. Really nice depth of flavors. The polenta was fairly dry on the outside making me wonder if it sat under a heat lamp for a little while; however, some of the polenta underneath its shell was light, creamy and delicious.

Black Pepper Buttermilk Panna Cotta barolo and huckleberries

panna cotta

Soft and delicate, the panna cotta had a great smooth consistency and was a nice ending to the meal. Personally though, I don’t like a lot of tart flavors and the buttermilk definitely came through. As it should. The huckleberries were a nice touch too.

The meal at Delfina was a pretty good one. The food had a warm and comforting feel to it and I could see why it’s still such a draw. The prices were quite reasonable, with the food coming out to under $50 per person. Overall it was pretty delicious and I’d love to try more, particularly the small plates and pastas.

Drago Centro (Los Angeles, CA)

Drago Centro
525 S Flower St
Los Angeles, CA 90071
Dining date: 10/20/11

exterior

Given that I work in walking distance of Drago Centro, I visit semi-regularly. Most often it’s for happy hour, but occasionally I’ll drop in for lunch too. Drago Centro was one of the DineLA participants that extended their special for an extra week; given that I had a new coworker that wanted to try lunch here, it was an opportune time to drop by.

I’ve almost always had excellent food at Drago Centro (the pastas are some of my favorite in the city); as good as the food’s been, the service often has been equally as lackluster. Since this was a workday lunch, I was just hoping for a relatively smooth meal.

bar area

interior1

interior2

Bread service consisted of bread rolls and a delicious olive oil. With bread, I think I actually prefer olive oil over butter.

bread

crispy salt cod croquettes lemon aioli, radish arugula

salt cod

I liked the salt cod, fluffy and sort of creamy on the inside and delicately crispy on the outside. The lemon aioli provided a nice acidic counter to the richness of the croquette. The dish was a bit heavy-handed with the salt though.

bocconcini mozzarella salad spinach, olives tomatoes

salad

My coworkers opted for this mozzarella salad and enjoyed it.

sausage and rapini pizza mozzarella cheese

pizza

pizza2

My coworkers also went for this pizza, generously sized. The meat and vegetable flavors were well-balanced and worked well in tandem. Not particularly a memorable pizza as a whole, but a good one.

swordfish spaghetti spicy tomato sauce, pinenuts, capers, raisins

spaghetti

I went for this spaghetti. Expectantly, the pasta was cooked perfectly with chunks of swordfish scattered throughout. I thought the fish was a little bit more fishy than I had expected. The tomato sauce wasn’t too spicy at all (which I liked), and some capers and raisins added a little bit of a salty/sweet dimension to the bites.

chocolate and olive oil terrine red currants, almonds

chocolate olive oil

This was an interesting dessert – layers of a different chocolates made up the layers of the dessert. I enjoyed the chocolate, though I couldn’t really tell how the olive oil came into play. Was it one of the layers? I didn’t taste it. Still, a tasty dessert.

toasted bread pudding caramel, salted cream

bread pudding

This bread pudding was pretty well-executed. The caramel and salted cream combined to add a “salted caramel” flavor, while adding extra richness to the dessert.

Not the best meal I’ve had here, but Drago Centro’s food was pretty good, as usual. Service was attentive and plates came out of the kitchen at a good pace – a definite plus. I also liked that the DineLA menu didn’t seem to skimp on portion size – this was a ton of food in three courses. Given its proximity to the office, I will surely be back but I think it’s a worthwhile visit for anyone looking for a good Italian meal in LA.

Mercato di Vetro (West Hollywood, CA)

Mercato di Vetro
9077 Santa Monica Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90210
Dining date: 10/27/11

signage

Mercato di Vetro is sbe group’s (The Bazaar, Katsuya, Cleo) latest restaurant venture, an Italian concept in WeHo which opened earlier this month. The concept is an extensive menu of Italian small plates split into antipasti, salads, wood oven, meat, fish, raw, and pasta – all within $17.

interior

interior2

Expectantly for an sbe restaurant, it’s a nice looking place. I’m always a little skeptical about these establishments – does the emphasis on creating a trendy, loungey atmosphere overshadow the food? Many times it does. But sometimes, a good balance is found that can cater to the pre-club crowd, as well as those that just want some seriously good grub. Early reviews on Yelp have been very strong with 4.5/5 stars – sounds promising enough.

Arancini pistachio, peas, fontina

arancini

We started with some arancini, Italian rice balls. I thought these were pretty well done, the rice still had some texture (wasn’t mushy) and there was a nice sort of herbal flavor present too. Liked the delicate, crispy exterior.

Squash Blossoms stuffed with ricotta, oven-roasted tomato

squash blossoms

Solid squash blossoms, but I would’ve preferred a lighter batter. There was too much of a textural overload, overshadowing the tender squash blossom. The marinara sauce was good.

Chicken Liver Crostini fig jam, pickled shallots, arugula

chicken liver crostini

One of the better dishes of the evening, the liver was very smooth with the characteristic minerality coming through. I thought it was well-balanced by the fig jam, which added a welcome sweetness to complement the liver.

Buratta & Roasted Grapes brown butter, rosemary, pine nuts

burrata grapes

Very simple, but another good one. The burrata was good and really went well with the grapes, which were slightly roasted to bring out the natural sugars. A little herbal greens added some depth of flavor, while pine nuts added some texture.

Hen of Woods aïoli, parmesan

hen of woods

Basically just roasted mushrooms, I thought these were excellent. A crusty char was achieved on the mushrooms, which really brought out the earthy flavors. I don’t think it even needed the aioli or parmesan, but they helped to add body and richness to each bite.

Tuna Tartare mustard, oven-roasted tomato, crostini

tuna tartare

Pretty good as tuna tartare goes, I thought the tomatoes and some citrus flavor really brightened the flavors up.

Meatballs veal & beef, fontina

meatballs

meatballs2

Solid meatballs. Nothing special really, but it was fun to break them open and have the cheese pour out.

Branzino curried cauliflower, yogurt, cilantro

branzino

The branzino was cooked well, yielding a crispy skin and moist flesh. I’m not sure I quite got the curried cauliflower flavor, and I thought something in here was a little overly sweet.

Lamb Bolognese pappardelle, ricotta, niçoise olives

pappardelle

This was the lone pasta we ate, and I found it disappointing. The pasta was slightly overcooked, not having quite the chew I was looking for. The flavors of the bolognese were somewhat muted too.

Kale Pizza pecorino romano

pizza

I was a little concerned this pizza would have an overwhelming grassy, vegetable flavor. Wasn’t the case here as the kale was pretty tasty; the caramelized, blackened ends added a sort of sweetness and smokiness. However, I thought it was a little heavy-handed with the salt, and parts of the crust weren’t quite as crispy as hoped.

Tiramisu

tiramisu

Bombolini blood orange

bombolini

Both desserts were pretty solid, though I may have expected a little more creativity at $10 apiece. For example, the bombolini’s (donut holes) freshly fried and glazed dough is going to be delicious, but I thought more of a sauce (or at least ice cream) was in order. I didn’t get too much of the blood orange flavor.

The food at Mercato di Vetro was solid, and the meal as a whole was enjoyable. Sure, the cuisine at Mercato di Vetro isn’t particularly innovative or creative, but that isn’t its niche. Rather, it sets out to present easily accessible Italian food, and it does that. It’s definitely a viable option in West Hollywood, but I wouldn’t call it a destination restaurant.

Scarpetta (Beverly Hills, CA)

Scarpetta
Montage Beverly Hills
225 North Canon Dr.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Dining date: 10/13/11

interior

This was my first visit back for dinner since my truffle-laden opening night experience (though I did visit for brunch last month). This meal would be a lot different, for sure, as DineLA brought me back. The menu looked promising with both the polenta and spaghetti offered, though I was disappointed to see the spaghetti as an entree offering (I could’ve sworn it was originally an appetizer when the menu first came out). 5 appetizers, 4 entrees and 3 dessert choices were available at a set $44. I went for the polenta, branzino and panna cotta, and was also able to sneak some bites of a few other dishes.

Bread service was pretty good with a variety of breads and accoutrements including an eggplant caponata, marscapone butter, and a citrus-infused olive oil.

bread

bread2

As far as the breads go, the most interesting was this hearty stromboli with salami and cheese.

stromboli

Onto the first courses:

CREAMY POLENTA fricassee of truffled mushrooms

polenta

Not quite as decadent as the white truffle-laden version I had last time, it was still a very delicious dish. The polenta was tasty on its own; warm and comforting, light and creamy. So rich, clearly there was a generous amount of cheese and/or butter in here. The mushrooms added an earthy depth of flavor that really went well. I tasted no truffle flavor as advertised, though.

PUREE OF EGGPLANT SOUP sicilian spiced lamb ragu, baby tomatoes & ricotta dumplings

soup

Puree of eggplant. Interesting. Not something I would typically order, but I got a chance to try someone else’s. Pretty good actually, the lamb really added a savory richness to the dish.

SPAGHETTI tomato & basil

spaghetti

The classic. I’ve had this in each of my previous visits so I didn’t order it again, opting for the branzino instead. I think everyone enjoyed it though.

GRILLED MEDITERRANEAN BRANZINO saffron-cipollini puree, fresh ceci beans, calamari & tomato marmalade

branzino

I liked the crispy charred skin; it had a subtle smokiness that I thought went well with the moist flesh. The squid added some chewy texture, while I thought the tomato added a welcome light acidity. The saffron-cipollini puree provided a little bit of savory sweetness.

ORGANIC ROASTED CHICKEN kabocha squash puree, caramelized cabbage, fegato & parmigiano emulsion

chicken

SHORT RIB AGNOLOTTI garlic chips, toasted breadcrumbs & horseradish

agnolotti

A well-made pasta, this one was al dente but felt very delicate. The short rib was a pretty meaty filling, while the breadcrumbs added some subtle texture.

VANILLA CARAMEL BUDINO gianduja chocolate sable cookies

vanilla caramel budino

COCONUT PANNA COTTA guava soup & caramelized pineapple

coconut panna cotta

I thought this was excellent. The coconut flavors were clear and pronounced in the ice cream and light panna cotta, while the guava soup provided a complementary fruit flavor. The pineapple added more fruit and sweetness, without making this dessert overly sweet. Everything came together so well.

A second visit to Scarpetta for dinner was a good one. Clearly, much better than my brunch visit a month ago. Though this meal wasn’t quite as interesting and unique as the first visit, it wasn’t trying to be. The food was actually more comforting and somewhat homey…the polenta and spaghetti were clearly in that boat. Most importantly, I found the food to be well-executed and quite tasty. Is it my favorite Italian restaurant in LA? Quite possibly (though I still need to visit a few other spots, Angelini Osteria being one of them).

Previous Scarpetta posts:
Opening night | Brunch

Gjelina (Venice, CA)

Gjelina
1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd
Venice, CA 90291
Dining date: 7/20/11

I’ve wanted to visit Gjelina for some time now…though, not enough to drive all the way across town. Until now. Opened in 2008, Gjelina has been consistently popular during its lifetime. So popular, in fact, that when making a reservation two weeks in advance, only 6pm and 9pm were available on a random Wednesday night. Consider my interest piqued.

Grilled King Oyster Mushroom with Tarragon Butter, Lemon & Sea Salt

We started with these large mushrooms, grilled to a nice char. Smoky and earthy, they were really heightened by a touch of lemon.

Hamachi Crudo with Santa Rosa Plum, Serrano Chili, Cilantro & Lemon

I thought this dish was very ordinary. The fish was fine, but the accenting chili, cilantro and lemon were too subtle.

Grilled Nantucket Squid with Cavaillon Melon, Celery, Chili & Salsa Verde

 

I liked this dish – tender squid was paired with a little sweetness from the melon, while the chili and salsa verde brightened the dish up.

Braised Pork Meatballs with Tomato & Grilled Bread

These were solid meatballs in a hearty and rich tomato sauce.

Crispy Niman Ranch Pork Belly with Soft Polenta, Bitter Greens & Apple Cider

An excellent dish. The pork was crispy on the outside and meltingly tender on the inside. I liked the addition of the polenta and greens, adding some earthy undertones while the cider helped to cut through the richness of the belly.

Grilled Asparagus, Frisee, Pancetta Vinaigrette & Crispy Fried Egg

This tasted pretty much as advertised, though I was missing some of the pancetta flavor in the vinaigrette.

Wood Roasted ‘Peel n Eat’ Prawns with Garlic, Chili, Parsley & Lemon

Possibly my favorite dish of the night, large prawns came out perfectly roasted. Slightly smoky and slightly spicy, the accompaniments accentuated the shrimp without overpowering.

Miatake Mushroom Toast with Creme Fraiche & Truffle Oil

Another hit, this mushroom toast was pretty delicious. The tender mushrooms went well with the tart crème fraiche and crusty bread.

Slow Roasted Leg of Lamb with Cous Cous, Red Pepper, Spiced Yogurt & Herb Salad

This was our only large plate (the kitchen closed this section of the menu without prior warning) and it was a disappointing one. The lamb was surprisingly dry and overcooked. Not sure what happened here.

Margherita

This was a good pizza with a sweet tomato sauce and a soft, chewy crust. I might’ve preferred it to be a little more crispy on the bottom, though, as it seemed somewhat soggy in the middle. Good, but not particularly memorable.

Guanciale, Green Olive, Fresno Chili, Buffalo Mozzarella

This pizza definitely had a more dynamic flavor profile than the Margherita, with a tasty, meaty pork flavor complemented by heat from the chili and saltiness from the olives. Pretty nice.

Butterscotch Pot de Creme with Salted Caramel & Creme Fraiche

 

Seriously delicious. I thought it was rich (but not overly so) with a really nice depth of flavor. A little bit of salt and whipped creme fraiche were simple and integral accompaniments.

Black Bottom Banana Cream Pie

While I preferred the other dessert, this one held its own. Small chunks of banana filled the pie, which benefitted by being not overwhelmingly banana-y. The cream was pretty light with just the right amount of sweetness.

Gjelina met my expectations (which were pretty high). Most of the plates managed to be interesting and different while staying within familiar Italian flavor profiles. The place is definitely trendy but with proven staying power. I can’t say I’d make a special trip to Venice just to eat here, but it’d definitely be a strong option if I were in the area.

Sotto (Los Angeles, CA) (2)

Sotto
9575 West Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035
Dining date: 5/25/11

My first trip to Sotto was rather disappointing and I wasn’t sure I was going to return anytime soon. Lo and behold, less than two months later, I’ve already been four times now. I credit Matt (mattatouille) for convincing me to return to try some more items.

The restaurant is probably best known for taking over the Test Kitchen space, as well as having an authentic hand-built oven from Naples pumping out some of the most authentic Neapolitan pizzas in town.

Housemade bread lardo pestato

It’s hard for me to eat pure fat on top of bread (I sparingly even use butter), so this isn’t something I’d typically order. However, it was definitely tasty. The cured pork fat was warm and spread all over, leaving some rich, flavorful bites with the crusty bread.

Pittule pugliese vincotto, ricotta

I didn’t really know what this was until trying it; it’s basically fried dough. The ricotta was a very nice condiment, as was the vincotto, a sort of fruity syrup made from reduced grape juice.

Fried calamaretti lemon, red onion, colatura

I really enjoyed this on a previous visit and did so again. The squid was cooked perfectly with a really light batter. A little bit of lemon juice was all that was needed to add some acidity and brighten things up. I liked that it was kept very simple and executed well, rather than mixing flavors with say, a marinara.

Tomato-braised octopus ai ferri chickpeas, preserved lemon, chard, bottarga

Tender though slightly chewy, the octopus really went well with the citrus of the preserved lemon. I liked the chickpeas as well, adding some creaminess and body to the dish.

Grilled pork meatballs lemon leaves, snap peas, pecorino, bitter greens

I had these on my first visit as well. Hard to go wrong with a meatball, I liked the smoky flavor imbued by the grilling, though it wasn’t a particularly memorable meatball.

Devil’s Gulch fennel-crusted pork chop roasted baby carrots, fava beans

One of the stars of the show. The chop is truly encrusted by a lot of fennel – when I first had this I thought it was slightly overpowering. But with just a few bites more, I took that back. The pork is really juicy and flavorful, so it stands up well to the anise flavor of the fennel. I think this was a little more tender the last time I had it, though this chop wasn’t tough at all.

Toasted grain capunti ragu bianco, hedgehog mushrooms, rapini greens

True to its name, this pasta exhibited a strong grainy flavor. I don’t really love whole wheat pasta, but I appreciated the nutty and earthy flavors of the pasta, along with the mushrooms.

Squid ink fusilli lunghi pistachios, bottarga, mint

I didn’t like this pasta at all when I first had it, and I’m still not sold on it. The pasta kind of looks like black licorice twists thanks to the squid ink. For me, the mix of the pistachios and mint just didn’t meld well with the squid ink pasta.

Next up, we tried two pizzas (a “must” here). Below, Zach Pollack preparing our guanciale pizza.

Guanciale house-cured pork cheek, ricotta, scallions, fennel pollen

I would’ve liked the guanciale to have been crispier (it was rather limp), but otherwise I found this to be a really solid pizza. The pork cheek, combined with scallions and fennel pollen, was delicious. A little bit of ricotta was a nice touch, as well. Typical of all of their pizzas, the dough was crispy and nicely charred, with a slightly chewy texture.

Boscaiola hen of the woods, wild ramps, capretto Sardo

This was a favorite from a previous visit. If you don’t like mushrooms, you won’t like this one. The hen of the woods mushrooms are flavorful and vibrant, and really make this pizza.

Bittersweet chocolate crostata hazelnuts, salted rosemary caramel

This looked like a rather simple chocolate tart at first. But, I must say the salted rosemary caramel was addicting. There was something about the savory rosemary with sweet chocolate that really worked well. Delicious.

I’ve really warmed up to Sotto since my first trip on opening night. While I didn’t love everything, my favorite menu items are the pork chop, calamaretti and the pizzas. It’s probably safe to say I’ll be back soon.