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.

Locanda (San Francisco, CA)

Locanda
557 Valencia St
San Francisco, CA 94110
Dining date: 5/23/11

exterior

Locanda is the latest creation from Craig and Annie Stoll (the couple that brought us Delfina and Pizzeria Delfina), opened just three weeks ago. I’m a fan of both of the previous restaurants, so this was a must-try on my list. Both of the Stoll’s restaurants are Italian; the focus here is on the cuisine of Rome. Pastas and charcoal grilled items make up the bulk of the menu, with a number of intriguing offal options.

I had a flight to catch that evening, but was lucky enough to snag an early 5:30 reservation. Finding the restaurant can be a little tricky; the exterior signage is a plain black sign that says “cocktails.” However, there are letters in the bottom of the window that spell out “Locanda.” My mother and I opted to split one appetizer and one entree, as well as a few pastas.

Pizza Bianca olive oil, sea salt

pizza bianca

We were first served the house bread (kind of similar to a foccacia), topped with olive oil and sea salt. The bread had a nice chew, with just enough oil and salt to keep things interesting.

Jewish Style Artichoke

jerusalem artichoke

Now this was fun. Apparently this is a classic dish from the Jewish area of Rome – an artichoke deep fried and topped with mint. The interior was meaty and the exterior crispy, quite tasty. I liked the mint, which added just a little bit of brightness to the dish; a lemon wedge added some welcome acidity.

Bucatini all’ Amatriciana guanciale, tomato, peperoncini, pecorino

buccatini

I thought this was a very good version of the classic. Expectantly so, the pasta was perfectly cooked, leaving just a bit of chew to the pasta. The guanciale (cured pork cheek) imparted a little richness and hint of pork flavor, while there was just a little bit of spiciness that crept up on the palate. It was borderline too spicy for my mother, but I found it just right.

Radiatore “Pecora e Pecorino” lamb ragu, pecorino, mint

radiatorre

Excellent dish. I really liked the radiator-shaped pasta as it clung to the ragu so well. The pasta almost had a spongy texture because it had so much sauce, and really made for some good bites. The ragu was rich and meaty, and I thought the cheese added some nice flavor too.

Rigatoni alla Carbonara guanciale, egg, pecorino, black pepper

rigatoni

I liked the rigatoni’s chew and subtle flavors of the egg and pecorino, but I found this pasta to be a little bit less exciting than the previous two. Still, a good rendition of the carbonara.

Guinea Hen Leg al spiedo

guinea hen

guinea hen2

A guinea hen leg was deboned, then wrapped in spices, lardo and proscuitto. Sounds good? It was delicious. Really tender and moist with exceptional flavor. The skin was crisped up really well too, and the meaty flavors were balanced well with some bitter greens and lentils. Probably my favorite dish of the night.

Warm Chocolate Cake maple syrup, walnuts

choc cake

The cake was warm and really soft, with an almost pudding-like interior. I liked the extra depth of flavor from the maple syrup, as well as the contrast of the whipped cream.

Locanda met my expectations (which were high, given the pedigree and buzz). I found the meal somewhat similar in style to one I recently had at Cotogna, but I think I’d give a slight edge to Locanda (though, I tried a limited number of items at both).  I thought the pastas were very good, and the only entree we tried was a memorable one. I look forward to trying more of the menu items sometime soon.

Sotto (Los Angeles, CA)

Sotto
9575 West Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035
Dining date: 3/30/11

Sotto is a new Italian restaurant from Steve Samson and Zach Pollack (Pizzeria Ortica) in the old Test Kitchen space. The Italian fare here includes a variety of dishes from house-baked breads to various seafood and meats to pizzas from a wood-fired oven. And not just any wood-fired oven. Every single brick (and some Vesuvian soil!) of this oven was imported from Naples and hand-assembled in LA by the designer. I’m not sure how it gets more authentic than that!

Tonight was the first night open to the public; given that I attended the closing night dinner at Test Kitchen, it was interesting to come full circle and visit on Sotto’s opening night. The floorplan remains pretty similar, though the dining room is much darker.

Julian Cox helms the bar here (fittingly, considering he was the main barman at Test Kitchen), which features a lot of Italian amari-based cocktails. Naturally, we had to try a couple.

5th Amendment Bourbon, Barolo Chinato, Rammazotti, bitters

This cocktail exuded a strong bourbon flavor, as well as a somewhat spicy, almost medicinal quality from the Barolo Chinato.

Typico Italiano Meletti amaro, London dry, fresh grapefruit and lemon juices, honey, marjoram

The Typico Italiano was more my style, as I really liked the savory marjoram in tandem with the fresh juices. Crisp and refreshing, I could’ve consumed a ton of this.

Grilled pork meatballs pecorino, bitter greens


This was the first dish to come out, and it was a good one. The meatball was similar in flavor to an Italian sausage, but in a looser-packed texture of a meatball. The arugula, in a lemon vinaigrette, was fantastic, adding some peppery bite to the rich meatballs.

Whole grilled orata wild fennel, currants, acquassale

Next we had this whole grilled fish. Now, the dining room is dim…very dim. To carve a whole fish in this lighting was a bit problematic at times, as it was hard to distinguish between flesh and bone.

The grill marks on the skin were very good, giving it a smoky, grill flavor that went well with the fish. The meat was quite good, delicate though not overly moist. I appreciated the lemon slices (packed into the cavity), which lended a little bit of extra flavor. The acquassale (sort of a bread salad) wasn’t really my thing, but it did add a welcome acidity.

Squid ink pasta bottarga, mint

I didn’t like this pasta. I found the squid ink to be overwhelmingly strong, and the pasta to be slightly undercooked. Some of the strands were a perfect al dente, while some had a gritty, crumbly interior.

Spaghetti clams, zucchini

This pasta was better, starting with thick (though hollow) al dente strands of spaghetti. The clams weren’t as flavorful as I expected, but the zucchini provided a nice sweetness and some extra flavor that I enjoyed.  Perhaps a little heavy-handed on the salt, though.

Margherita tomato mozzarella, basil, extra virgin olive oil

Lastly, what we were both anticipating most (and perhaps the majority of Sotto’s customers), the pizza. The oven, burning at around 900 degrees, cooks a pizza in about a minute to two. Crazy. The first thing I noticed was the nice char uniformly around the crust, as well as on the bottom. The dough was very nice – soft, chewy and just a little bit crispy on the exterior. I thought the tomatoes were slightly too acidic; otherwise, this was a very good pizza. I’d be interested to try some of the other toppings.

My experience at Sotto had some hits and some misses. Given that this was the first day of regular service, I’d like to see if this is smoothed out over time. I’d definitely return to try some more of the pizzas…and seriously, anything else coming out of that oven. I’m not quite sold on the pasta yet. Surprisingly (for an opening night), one aspect of the meal was very strong though – the service.

Angeli Caffe (Los Angeles, CA)

Angeli Caffé
7274 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90046
Dining date: 2/12/11

Angeli Caffe has been around for more than 25 years, a remarkable achievement in an LA dining scene that has vastly changed during that time period. Its founder, Evan Kleinman, is a notable personality in LA – she’s the host of KCRW’s Good Food. I’ve been to Angeli once a few years back, and I thought it was just okay. However, we were looking for Italian options in the area, and this popped up as a suggestion.

Half of our party was vegetarian, so we were heavy on those dishes.

Insalata Forte locally grown organic baby greens, fennel, Belgian endive dressed with a garlicky parmesan vinaigrette

Penne with Ricotta chile and parsley

This is typically with pancetta, but we “veggie-fied” it by omitting it. The pasta was a nice al dente, and still had some good flavor from the ricotta and chile. The pancetta would’ve given it a nice depth of flavor and saltiness, I’m sure.

Butternut Squash Lasagna


Pollo Arrosto famous succulent half chicken, marinated w/garlic, fresh rosemary and lemon, then roasted

I found the chicken to be pretty moist with decent flavor. Nothing special, but a decent chicken. The accompanying beans and potatoes seemed steamed and rather plain.

Risotto with Shrimp and Lemon Zest


The risotto was good, creamy with an al dente texture. The shrimp was overcooked, though, leaving it mealy. I liked the lemon zest, which added a little bit of brightness to the dish.

I had ordered a lasagna which never came out. The food thus far had been mediocre, but I was still hungry so I was up for another dish. Weezermonkey had been raving about the gnochetti (as well as many Yelp reviews) on Twitter after I had ordered, so I figured I’d give it a shot. Two options were available – a tomato basil sauce and an herb butter.

Ricotta Gnocchetti of the Day tomato basil

As I ate the first piece, I thought to myself “holy crap, this is one of the best things I’ve eaten in a while!” Perhaps part of this was a factor of expectations from the previous dishes, but I found the gnochetti to be so light, fluffy, pillowy – delicious. The tomato basil sauce had just a little bit of sweetness that really complemented the dish. So good.

I had to try another order; this time with the herb butter.

Ricotta Gnocchetti of the Day herb butter

The gnochetti was just the same as before, but I didn’t care for the herb butter as much. I appreciated the acidity and sweetness of the tomato basil sauce with the dumplings – here, the rich butter didn’t do the same thing.

My meal at Angeli was kind of whatever, except for the late-entry gnochetti. They were definitely memorable; still one of the best bites I’ve had in 2011. I’m not sure when/if I’ll be back, but I’m definitely sticking to the gnochetti – it’s highly recommended.