Terroni Downtown (Los Angeles, CA)

Terroni Downtown LA
802 S Spring St
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Dining date: 11/16/13

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Terroni has been on my list of restaurants to try for some time now. I first tried a sampling of the restaurant at The Taste 2011, where they were making a selection of their pastas fresh on the spot. The Toronto-based chain has had a location opened on Beverly in mid-city for a number of years, but recently opened up in a huge space downtown.

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My visit to Terroni was unplanned. Initially, we were planning to visit new ‘Chinese gastropub’ Peking Tavern but found it closed for a private party. Terroni shares the same building so it was an easy choice for an alternative stop. Given it was noon on a weekend, Terroni was serving up their brunch menu. I don’t like eating brunch as my first visit to a restaurant, but they still offered their extensive full menu (a long list of appetizers, salads, pastas and pizzas).

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Cotogna (San Francisco, CA)

Cotogna
490 Pacific St
San Francisco, CA 94133
Dining date: 12/3/13

exterior

Cotogna opened just over three years ago, the next-door sibling to two Michelin-starred Quince. Cotogna’s food is a comfortable, rustic Italian style differing from Quince’s more modern, refined Italian. The commitment to quality and strong execution is shared at both places; they even share a kitchen.

interior

I’ve been once to Cotogna almost three years ago but figured it was time for a revisit. For lunch, the restaurant offers a reasonable three-course prix fixe menu for $24; my mom ordered that while my cousin and I opted for a la carte options.

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Scarpetta (Beverly Hills, CA) [2]

Scarpetta
Montage Beverly Hills
225 North Canon Dr.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Dining date: 10/19/13

scarpetta exterior

It’s been two years since my last visit to Scarpetta (it really doesn’t seem that long ago at all) and three years since my first opening night visit – still one of the more memorable dining experiences of my life. Scott Conant is still the face of the restaurant, but day-to-day oversight of the kitchen has transitioned to new executive chef Freddy Vargas as of May (who took over from the short tenure of Alex Stratta). This past weekend, I was invited back into the restaurant to get a taste of what’s new. This would be my fourth visit overall.

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The dining room is huge but the best seats in the house are the five at the end of the kitchen. Dubbed the ‘Chef’s Counter,’ it offers a front row seat in the kitchen and interaction with the chefs. As one can assume, it’s a completely different type of experience. My understand is that this isn’t tasting menu-only; a la carte is possible…but some sort of tasting would seem to be the best way to get the full experience.

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Bestia (Los Angeles, CA)

Bestia
2121 7th Pl.
Los Angeles, CA 90021
Dining date: 3/28/13, 4/27/13, 6/7/13

bestia exterior

Bestia opened in downtown LA late last year, and continues to be one of the most popular restaurants in the neighborhood. Ori Menashe is the chef here (formerly of Angelini Osteria) cooking up Italian food based around a house salumi program, a wood-burning oven, and housemade pastas. Wife Genevieve Gergis heads the pastry program, completing the husband-and-wife team.

The menu is on the larger side, featuring about twenty small plate antipasti, about six pizza options and just a handful of larger entrees. My favorite part of the menu may be the pasta section, with a constantly-changing lineup of around eight at a time. There’s a lot of great-sounding stuff too; I’m always indecisive here.

This post spans three separate meals at Bestia, which I can confidently say is my favorite restaurant in downtown (and one of my favorite in the city) at the moment.

bestia interior

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Maccheroni Republic (Los Angeles, CA)

Maccheroni Republic
332 S Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Dining date: 2/2/13 and 3/16/13

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Maccheroni Republic opened at the end of last year, from the old owners of Locanda Veneta in mid-city. The location couldn’t be more different, from the Beverly Hills-adjacent Locanda Veneta to this spot across the street from Grand Central Market in downtown. It’s not exactly the kind of area where you feel comfortable walking around alone at night.

The restaurant has a real neighborhood feel to it, charming with a large patio outside of the main dining room.

exterior and patio

The menu seems to be sort of Italian comfort food, with a number of familiar appetizers (minestrone, arancini, bruschetta) and larger plates centered around housemade pastas. Most everything is pretty simple, relying on ingredients and execution of the classic Italian fare. The food tends to be pretty hearty (and carb-heavy) and portions are on the generous side, so even one pasta dish would fill most people up. With everything on the menu hovering around $10 (the most expensive is $14) it’s definitely reasonably priced for downtown LA standards.

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Duck Ragu

Dining date: 7/1/12

duck ragu

Any casual reader of this blog may realize pasta is one of my favorite things to eat (all kinds of noodles, really). I’ve dabbled in preparing different pastas over the years with my most successful perhaps being the oxtail ragu with pappardelle. Following up on that effort, I’ve been meaning to make a duck ragu. Searching the web for recipes yielded a few variations on a Mario Batali recipe and I decided to go with one of them. The variations in the recipes were strictly whether or not to include porcini mushrooms, grate any cheese, or add sage; the base of each ragu was essentially the same.

The recipe I used is below:

Ingredients
4 duck legs and thighs, skin removed
4 tablespoons virgin olive oil
1 medium Spanish onion, chopped into 1/4-inch dice
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 stalk celery, chopped into 1/4-inch dice
8 ounces red wine (Chianti preferred)
1 pound canned tomatoes, peeled whole
1 cup chicken stock
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms

Directions
Wash duck legs and remove all fat. Pat dry.

In a thick bottomed casserole or Dutch oven, heat olive oil until smoking. Add duck legs and cook until brown on all sides and remove, about 10 to 12 minutes. Add onion, carrot, garlic and celery and cook until softened, about 7 to 9 minutes. Add wine, tomatoes, chicken stock and dried mushrooms and bring to a boil. Add duck legs and return to boil, lower heat, cover and allow to simmer for 1 hour. Remove duck legs and allow to cool. Pull all meat off the bones and return to pot, without the bones. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, or until quite thick. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Heat duck ragu in a saute pan until quite hot. Boil pasta until cooked and drain well. Put hot pasta into pan with duck ragu and toss well. Pour into serving bowl and serve immediately.

I followed the recipe closely, starting with the preparation of the duck. Skinning and removing the excess fat was the most painstaking part of the process (it didn’t help that I used 6 duck legs instead of 4 since I like my ragu a little bit meatier). The fat started to melt a little with the heat of my hand and everything quickly became quite slippery. Once ready, the legs were seared.

raw duck

seared duck

The following steps were similar to any braise: sweat aromatics, deglaze with wine and stock, and return meat to pot.

aromatics

duck in liquid

After an hour, the duck was removed and meat pulled off the bones. The meat was returned to the pot to simmer for another hour or so. I simmered it longer than the recipe stated to get the saucy consistency I was looking for (it continued to reduce on the stovetop), as well as to continue braising the meat to get it more tender.

shredded duck in sauce

Once ready, the sauce and meat were put into a sauté pan to toss with pasta (I used fresh fettuccine and dried pappardelle). Once plated, I grated some Parmesan cheese to finish.

duck ragu

duck ragu w/ pappardelle

I was pretty happy with the ragu. I liked the oxtail one more (personal preference) but felt this one seemed healthier (less unhealthy?) since there was significantly less fat in the resulting sauce. Next time I’d consider using an immersion blender before adding the shredded meat in order to make the sauce a little more uniform in consistency. Now, if only I could consistently make good fresh pasta..