Osteria Mozza – 9/26/10

Osteria Mozza
6602 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038

napkin holder

A concept by restaurateur Joseph Bastianich, celebrity chef Mario Batali and Nancy Silverton of La Brea Bakery fame, Osteria Mozza serves a more upscale Italian meal than its sister pizzeria. However, both have been very popular since their inception a few years ago.

My family is a pretty big fan of Pizzeria Mozza, and we’ve had some good meals at Bastianich/Batali’s offerings in Las Vegas and New York. So, a dinner at Osteria Mozza was a must-try.

The menu is extensive, offering a variety of appetizers including a wide array of fresh mozzarella dishes. There are enough pastas to appease anyone, and the entrees are heavy on the meat, with some fish options. We started off with a treat from the kitchen.

Fresh ricotta, black olive tapenade on crostini

amuse

The ricotta started strong with a preview of the excellent cheeses served here. The flavors were good, and the olive tapenade, which can sometimes be overpowering, was not.

Tripe alla Parmigiana

tripe

The tripe had a very supple texture, tender and not at all chewy. You don’t get a ton of flavor from the tripe; much of it comes from the spicy tomato-based sauce. It was just right for me, but others in the party thought it was too spicy.

Burrata with speck, pickled shallots & pane pomodoro

burrata

I love Mozza’s burrata – creamy and smooth yet light, it’s complemented well with the saltiness of the speck and acidity of the pickled shallots.

Bufala Mozzarella with prosciutto di Parma

bufala prosciutto

This was a pretty simple, classic combination. Each component was good on its own, yet having both the cheese and proscuitto in each bite was even better.

Caprese with bufala mozzarella, cherry tomatoes and basil

caprese

Mozza’s take on the standard caprese did not involve any molecular gastronomic tricks – they keep it simple and with tradition, showcasing their mozzarella and some great tomatoes.

Coach Farm Goat Cheese Ravioli with five lilies

ravioli

When this dish came out, it looked pretty damn good. Its flavors did not let me down with its al dente pasta and delicate, smooth filling. Delicious.

Orecchiette with sausage & Swiss chard

orecchiette

This was probably my favorite pasta of the night. The pasta, similar to the others, was cooked perfectly with a nice chew. The sausage was delicious as well, and the breadcrumbs added a terrific crunchy bite.

Tagliatelle with oxtail ragu

oxtail ragu

The meaty ragu, with chunks of oxtail, worked well with the flat tagliatelle pasta. The tomato-based sauce was rich with a deep, meaty flavor.

Agnolotti burro e salvia

agnolotti

These agnolotti were filled with a variety of meats (including chicken and mortadella). The smooth filling and pasta resulted in a good bite each time.

Pan Roasted Pork Loin with fagioli alla Castelluccio

pork loin

The pork here was surprisingly tender and very juicy. The flavor was very good as well. The beans, adding a bit of starch to the dish, were a welcome addition.

Duck al Mattone with pear mostarda & corn

duck

Here we had half of a duck, fried quite well with a crispy skin. The pear mostarda was crucial to add another dimension of flavor and some sweetness, though this was not my favorite dish.

Grilled Quail wrapped in pancetta with sage & honey

quail

The quail was exceptional, juicy and tender, with just enough smoky grill flavor. The pancetta and herbs were just enough to complement the flavors without overwhelming the quail.

Veal Breast Stracotto with carrots

veal

The veal was exceedingly tender, succulent and tasted quite good.

Grilled Beef Tagliata rucola & Parmigiano with aceto balsamico

steak

The beef, in this case hanger steak, was cooked a nice medium rare. However, its flavor wasn’t quite as exciting as some of the previous courses.

To go with our entrees, we split three side dishes:

Polenta with Parmigiano Reggiano

polenta

The polenta was creamy and smooth. Not a ton of flavor here though, I probably could’ve used a little more salt. The cheese wasn’t too apparent in the dish, either.

Sauteed wild spinach with crisp garlic

spinach

The sauteed spinach was solid, while the strips of fried garlic added a little bit of texture and garlic flavor.

Fried potatoes with rosemary

potatoes

I really enjoyed these potatoes. They were smashed and fried to a crisp with some rosemary. Crisp on the outside, with a soft and fluffy center, these had the perfect consistency.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for dessert since my family had a flight to catch. My favorites from past visits have been the bombolini and rosemary olive oil cakes. This was another well-executed meal here at Mozza; the dishes have just enough excitement to keep them interesting, while not overwhelming less-experimental diners. The strengths continue to be at the mozzarella bar and pastas, though the entrees hold their own. It’s easy to see why the restaurant has been popular ever since opening.

Tartine, Pizzeria Delfina, Bi-Rite – 8/29/10

Tartine Bakery
600 Guerrero St
San Francisco, CA 94110

Pizzeria Delfina
3611 18th St
San Francisco, CA 94110

Bi-Rite Creamery
3692 18th St
San Francisco, CA 94110

It’s hard for me to think of another city block that has such a diverse selection of good food than this San Francisco block of 18th Street, between Guerrero and Dolores. On one corner you have Tartine Bakery, one of the best bakeries in the city. A few doors down is Pizzeria Delfina, home to some of the best pizza in the city, and its sister restaurant, Delfina, which is notable for rustic, upscale Italian food. Just a few storefronts down is Bi-Rite Market, a neighborhood market home to fresh, organic produce from its own farms. And across the street from that is Bi-Rite Creamery, a nationally recognized ice cream shop, which happens to be my favorite. I’ve always said you could make a helluva day having breakfast at Tartine, grabbing lunch at Pizzeria Delfina, having dinner at Delfina, and enjoying dessert at Bi-Rite – without leaving the block.

I tested this hypothesis in a nutshell by turning this into a three-stop lunch.

Tartine Bakery

Tartine always seems to be packed, with a line reaching far out the door. I’ve heard people rave about all sorts of pastries at Tartine, from the bread pudding to the croissants to the cakes, but I come for one thing – the morning bun.

I like to describe this pastry as some sort of half-cinnamon roll, half-croissant hybrid. It can be one of the hardest things to get at Tartine, typically selling out long before noon (maybe what’s why they call it a morning bun?). Just my luck, I was able to get one around noon on this Sunday.

Best when fresh out of the oven (what isn’t), it’s flaky on the outside, with a really buttery, moist interior. Caramelized orange rind is dispersed throughout, giving the pastry a little bit of candied chew and fresh orange flavor. Remarkable.

Pizzeria Delfina

Maybe ten feet down is Pizzeria Delfina, where we had the bulk of our lunch. Created by Craig and Anne Stoll of Delfina, this place was set out to be a more casual restaurant serving pizzas and various Italian specialties.

Crazy Melon watermelon, feta cheese, olive oil, chili flake

I thought this was a pretty interesting dish and perfect for the summer. The watermelon was tasty and juicy, though I thought there were too many chili flakes. There was nothing to temper the heat, and it overwhelmed the more mild flavors of the melon.

Oxtails alla Pizzaiolo braised in red wine, crispy potatoes

The oxtail was quite tender and braised well, though I wouldn’t say it was particularly memorable. However, the potatoes were – half french fry, half potato chip, with a nice crispy exterior and just a little bit of a fluffy interior. Excellent.

Margherita Pizza tomato, fior di latte mozzarella, basil

The Margherita is something almost every pizzeria has, making it easy to compare one pizza at a number of places. At Pizzeria Delfina, it’s reliably good with a fantastic, chewy crust. The flavors of the tomato, mozzarella, and basil are individually distinctive, yet work well together.

Bi-Rite Creamery

I’ve been to Bi-Rite numerous times, and I have to say it’s probably my favorite ice cream shop. They have a number of creative, interesting flavors (though not quite as unusual as Humphry Slocombe) such as honey lavender, ginger, roasted banana, and balsamic strawberry. In addition, they have some “comfortable” favorites like vanilla, chocolate, mint chip and cookies & cream.

I opted for my go-to: honey lavender. It’s hard to describe. It’s not overwhelmingly sweet, nor overwhelmingly of lavender..you’ll just have to try it yourself. I had commented that Ludo’s honey lavender butter of LudoBites 4.0 was eerily similar in flavor, so if you’ve had that, you’re on the right track.

If you’re in San Francisco, I definitely recommend checking out some of the places on this block. There’s something for everyone, and I think you’ll be able to find something (or many things) to enjoy!

Bartolotta – 7/3/10

Bartolotta
Wynn Las Vegas
3131 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109

I first sampled Paul Bartolotta’s cuisine at the American Wine & Food Festival a couple of years back, and was really impressed by some of the seafood he prepared. Specializing in Italian preparations of seafood, Bartolotta offers a ton of different fish and shellfish, line-caught wild and shipped almost every day. Most of the fish are available served whole family-style.

It seems everything that the Wynn does is very elegant and grand, and this two-level restaurant is no exception. As you walk down the stairs, the main dining room is in view, as well as cabanas encircling the restaurant’s private pond.

We sat at one of those cabanas, which may have proved to be a mistake, since it was blistering hot outside.

We did not try any of their whole fish preparations, opting to sample more of their dishes a la carte.

risotto ai frutti di mare risotto with clams, scallops, shrimp, lobster, calamari

I love a seafood risotto, so this dish was a must. The risotto was creamy and al dente – just the way it should be. The seafood was plump and juicy, also cooked pretty well. A pretty good rendition of the dish in my opinion.

sauté di vongole sautéed tiny clams with tomato sauce, garlic, white wine, parsley

This dish had a surprising amount of clams, as we had been told the appetizers were somewhat small. The clams were perfectly cooked, and the tomato-based sauce was light and flavorful.

Grilled saberfish

Bartolotta offers a number of fish, “simply grilled” as an appetizer. Here we have saberfish, nicely grilled and juicy. The restaurant consistently served some very fresh and well-cooked fish.

insalata di campo arugula, raddichio, frisee, Belgian endive, red wine vinaigrette


The only dish we ordered with vegetables – the salad provided a lighter alternative, but wasn’t anything special.

spaghetti all’ astice spaghetti with rock lobster, spicy tomato sauce, white wine

Pasta with seafood is something else I really enjoy – spaghetti with rock lobster? Why not? This dish was delicious. The pasta was cooked perfectly with a slightly spicy, light tomato sauce. The lobster was probably cooked a little more than I preferred, however, as they weren’t as plump and juicy as I’d expect. They were still good though. The crushed cherry tomatoes added a bright, fresh flavor to the pasta.

penne con scorfano e melanzane penne with Mediterranean scorpion fish, eggplant, tomato, basil

Compared to the spaghetti, this dish was a bit of a letdown. The penne was not cooked quite as well (a little overcooked), and the eggplant and firm scorpion fish did not provide the same exciting, vibrant flavors.

pollo alla Riviera Ligure Ligurian style roast chicken, artichokes, asparagus, porcini, taggiasca olives, lemon herb sauce

Bartolotta is a primarily seafood restaurant – make no mistake. But, they do prepare a very nice roasted chicken. The skin, all around, was superbly crisp. The meat was moist and flavorful, and the accompanying greens and herb sauce were a nice complement.

Pescato Del Giorno Con Carciofi E Origano Oven baked imported Mediterranean fish, artichokes, oregano

The fish in this case was a Mediterranean snapper. I love light, white fish, and I loved this dish. The fillet was really moist with a light and delicate flavor. The tomatoes and artichokes provided extra flavor, but were mild enough to not overpower this fish.

torta Ligure al limone, gelato al rosmarino, balsamico dolce Ligurian lemon cake, rosemary gelato, sweet balsamic syrup

A moist and tart lemon cake was topped with a rosemary gelato. I thought the cake was nice, but the rosemary gelato did not stand up too well to it. A bite of every component was largely flavors of the lemon and balsamic.

In all, I was pretty happy with the meal at Bartolotta. It’s a beautiful looking restaurant, and the food stood up to it. Seafood is done very well here, and in a variety of preparations. Some of the highlights were the risotto and lobster pasta,  as well as the chicken and snapper. Next time, I will have to try one of the whole fish.

Bottega – 12/26/09

Bottega
6525 Washington St
Yountville, CA 94599

I’ve wanted to try Michael Chiarello’s Bottega for a little while now. I used to watch his show Easy Entertaining on the Food Network every weekday morning as I got ready for work. I’m also a big fan of rustic Italian food, so a trip up to Bottega on my next trip to Yountville was in order. Even more exciting was that Chef Chiarello was in the restaurant for lunch this day.

The restaurant is pretty casual, with an interesting burnt orange colored theme to the restaurant.

 

As we would be eating at the Restaurant at Meadowood that evening, a lighter lunch was in order. We decided to try the polenta (which we had heard good things about from multiple sources), a couple of pastas, and an entree.

Polenta Under Glass, caramelized wild mushrooms, balsamic game sauce

 

This was an interesting dish. I’m not sure exactly how it’s prepared and how the glass influences the dish, but it was a well-made polenta. The difference was the balsamic sauce, which really made the dish by adding an extra flavor dimension and umami. The mushrooms were nice too.

Whole Egg Taglierini, Manilla clams, Calabrese sausage, garlic, basil, parsley, white wine

This was a pretty dense pasta, I think due to the egg whites being used in the pasta as well. It has a very al dente chew to it, leading some to maybe think it was undercooked. The clams and the sauce were good, not overly salty. I probably would have wished the pasta to be a little less chewy though.

Garganelli with tomato braised rabbit sugo, wild mushrooms & ricotta

This was a delicious dish, and my favorite of the meal. The garganelli was perfectly cooked, the rabbit chunky and tender, and just very good together.

Adriatic Seafood Brodetto monkfish, mussels, rock cod & fresh Monterey calamari, forno-confit tomato broth, olive oil-crouton, paprika-saffron rouille

The first thing that struck me was the portion size. The sizes of the pastas were pretty good, but this entree was kind of on the small side.  The fish and squid were cooked well. The mussels were especially good, very juicy and exploding in flavor. The crouton was a little oily for my tastes, but was crusty and soaked up the broth well.

I was pleased with my experience at Bottega. It was pretty much as expected, and I’d definitely come back – especially for some pastas. A big plus was being able to meet Chef Chiarello, who was warm and welcoming.

Quince – 12/24/09

Quince
470 Pacific Ave
San Francisco, CA 94133

For my first meal after The French Laundry, we went to Quince to celebrate my grandmother and aunt’s birthdays on Christmas Eve. The restaurant recently re-opened after relocating to a larger space in the Financial District of San Francisco. The space is very elegant and modern, and uniquely, one of the first things you see is the kitchen from the exterior.

As it was Christmas Eve, the restaurant was offering a special 4-course menu, as shown below. I’m not really a fan of ‘special’ holiday menus – sometimes I feel like it gives the restaurant a chance to charge more for less (it does), and I usually like to try some of the dishes the restaurant is known for.

The first course began with a Maine Lobster salad.

There was a lot of lobster on the plate, which is a good thing. I thought the ratio of lobster to fruit and vegetable was rather high, though. Lobster was cooked well, however.

Second course is a fagotelli of housemade ricotta.

This was a nice pasta. The pasta was al dente and the filling smooth and creamy. Chanterelles added a nice touch. The third course was an option between goose and beef.

The goose, prepared in two ways (the breast and in a sausage):

The goose was disappointing. The meat was rather tough and had some gristle. The sausage was flavorful but rather dry. The spit roasted rib of beef was better:

For dessert was the “buche de noel,” which was actually a mousse concoction resembling a buche de noel. This was pretty good – light and not too sweet.

To finish off the meal, we were brought some mignardises.

There was a chocolate brownie, coconut gelee, and a gingerbread cake. The coconut was probably my favorite with a bright coconut flavor, followed by the chocolate brownie.

Quince was a little disappointing, largely due to the main entree (and maybe because I had a great meal the night before)). The other courses, however, were solid. The holiday menu definitely was not a great deal on this night. I probably would come back to try their regular menu, especially pasta tasting menu, as I was a fan of their pasta dish.

Drago Centro – 12/8/09

Drago Centro
525 S Flower St. Suite 120
Los Angeles, CA 90071

Drago Centro has got to be, for me, one of the most frustrating restaurants in Los Angeles. Food-wise, it’s one of my favorites in LA. The pastas are just delicious, and their entrees and desserts have also been solid each time. However, it’s the service that kills me. It’s completely unpolished. It’s very inconsistent and frequently lacking – for a restaurant of this caliber, it falls way short.

I’ve eaten here 5 times now since it opened in November 2008, and have gotten a good picture of what to expect from the food and service.  I feel like the service is generally unpolished, but that you do get better service if you’re older and/or in a suit. The service was actually very good the one time I came with my parents, but has fallen flat each other time. Problems have been everything from inattentive waiters, forgetting wine pairings with food, and serving a dessert with bacon bits to someone who is a pescaterian (it was made known at the beginning of the meal).

On this latest occasion, 6 of us tried the new Eat & Run menu that debuted the Monday prior. The new 3-course menu for $25 is advertised as catered to the business crowd and is aimed at getting you in and out in around 30 minutes. In all, we were there for about 90 minutes. However, I will not rant here about the timing and service. The food is the showcase – the 3-course this day was:

le lattughe miste
mixed baby lettuces, shaved parmesan, red wine vinaigrette

la coda
braised oxtail, soft polenta

il tiramisu
individual tiramisu

The salad was simple and fresh. There were only three ingredients. Lettuce, parmesan and the vinaigrette. I tend to like salads like these to start meals, and the parmesan was a nice saltiness to the vinaigrette. 

Another in our party ordered a la carte and had the lobster bisque.

This was a rich and flavorful bisque, with a good lobster flavor that was not overpowering.

The main entree was the oxtail, which had a surprisingly generous portion of 3 oxtail chunks over soft polenta and a rich sauce.

This dish was delicious. The oxtail was nicely braised and tender with a rich sauce made from the braising liquid. The soft polenta was a nice complement as well, its soft texture mixing with the chewy, yet tender meat.

We also got an order of what has traditionally been my favorite dish at Drago Centro. The pappardelle with pheasant and morel mushrooms is one of my most memorable dishes of 2009.

It’s a very rich, creamy sauce with nice chunks of pheasant and homemade pappardelle. I remember the first time I had this it was so so good. Now, after I’ve had this each time I’ve had it, maybe I’ve gotten a little tired of it. It’s still quite tasty, but I can’t see myself eating a whole plate of it anymore. Still great for sharing.

For dessert came the tiramisu.

The problem with this tiramisu was the custard:lady finger ratio was way too high. See picture below.

There was very little in the way of the lady fingers. The custard was sweet and tasty, and probably could have been good on its own. However, as a tiramisu, I expected more lady fingers.

The decor is nice – tall ceilings and windows let in a lot of natural light.

There is an impressive wine tower as you walk in. All glass, it fits in with the decor.

The bar area is separated by the hostess stand and wine tower.

My overall impression of Drago Centro remains the same. The food is top-notch and some of the best in the city. You can go well with just some pastas (I like the pappardelle with pheasant and garganelli with sausage), or stick to one of the entrees (the branzino and osso bucco have both been good). The decor is nice and open. However, the service is really lacking and takes away from the whole experience.