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..

Fresh Rigatoni with Ragu Bolognese

Dining date: 2/5/12

rigatoni3

I recently purchased a KitchenAid stand mixer (due to a deal I could not refuse) and immediately had dreams of freshly baked breads, cookies and pastries. However, while researching optional attachments, I came across the pasta extruder, a play-doh like attachment that basically pushes dough into various shapes to be cut. I had to have one.

I’ve made fresh pasta once before a couple of years ago with a manual pasta roller…it’s been sitting in the cabinet ever since. I found it to be pretty difficult and time consuming, and my result wasn’t even up to par with dried pasta. However, the extrusion method is much easier. Basically, a dough is made and pushed through various dies to create different shapes, then are cut manually. No need to roll pasta over and over.

Inspired by this post on food, je t’aime I set out to make fresh rigatoni with a ragu bolognese from the Mozza cookbook. The ragu was fairly easy – it took a lot of time (most of it idle), but had a lot of room for error. The pasta, on the other hand, had to have a dough that was just right. One thing’s for sure; every chef and cookbook has their own pasta recipe. I tried a number of them, but so far have found this one to work best for me. Interestingly, it requires no eggs, no kneading and no resting.

Pasta dough (food, je t’aime)

5 oz all purpose flour
5 oz semolina flour
4 fluid ounces warm water

1. Weigh flour and place in bowl of stand mixer.
2. With the paddle attachment, mix on low slowly dribbling in water to produce a wet and crumbly dough.

The dough is cut into walnut-sized pieces and fed into the extruder. It’s pretty fun to do (as long as it turns out well) and makes fresh pasta pretty quickly. The dough is the tricky part; if it’s too sticky/wet, the pasta won’t hold its shape and will get stuck together. If it’s too dry, extrusion becomes noticeably more difficult and the resulting pasta becomes too dense.

extrusion

fresh rigatoni

To pair with the rigatoni, I went with Mozza’s ragu bolognese.

Ragu bolognese (The Mozza Cookbook)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
8 garlic cloves
2.5 ounces pancetta, roughly chopped or ground
1 cup soffritto
1/2 of a 4.5 ounce tube double-concentrated tomato paste
1 pound ground veal
1 pound ground pork
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 cup dry white wine
3 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup whole milk

1. Combine oil and garlic in bowl of a food processor. Add pancetta and puree until ingredients form a homogenous paste.
2. Cook mixture over medium heat until the fat from the pancetta is rendered, about 5 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent the garlic from browning.
3. Stir in the soffritto and cook for about 1 minute.
4. Move the vegetables to create a bare spot in the pan, add the tomato paste to that spot and cook for 1 minute.
5. Add veal and pork, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and cook, stirring occasionally, until all of the juices released from the meat have cooked off and the pan is almost dry, about 10 minutes.
6. Add the wine, increase heat to medium high and cook until the wine has evaporated and the pan is almost dry, about 10 minutes.
7. Add the chicken stock, bring it to a simmer, reduce heat and simmer for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the stock has almost all cooked off but the pan is not completely dry.
8. Add the milk and simmer until the ragu returns to a thick, saucy consistency, 30-40 minutes.
9. Use the ragu, or allow it to cool to room temperature and refrigerate in an airtight container.

Finishing the pasta

Kosher salt
3/4 cup chicken stock or pasta water
3 teaspoons unsalted butter
12 ounces pasta
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
3 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino romano

1. Combine 1.5 cups of the ragu, the chicken stock and butter in a large saute pan over medium heat.
2. Stir ingredients to combine and heat until the butter is melted and sauce is warmed through, adding more chicken stock if necessary to obtain a loose sauce consistency.
3. Turn off the heat while the pasta is cooking.
4. Cook pasta until 1 minute from being done.
5. Place sauce over high heat. Lift pasta out of cooking water, drain and immediately add to the pan with the sauce.
6. Cook the pasta with the sauce for 2 minutes, stirring gently with a rubber spatula so you don’t tear the pasta. Add pasta water if the pasta is dry and sticky instead of slippery and glistening.
7. Turn off the heat and add the finishing quality olive oil, stirring vigorously and shaking the pan to emulsify the sauce.
8. Add the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and pecorino romano and stir to combine.
9. Plate pasta and use a microplane or fine grater to grate a light layer of Parmigiano-Reggiano over plate and serve.

aromatics

cooking meats

braising

ragu bolognese

Expectantly, the ragu was the easy part (technically) though there were a lot of steps. As expected, it exhibited a rather rich (there’s a lot of fat) and luscious sauce, definitely meaty. Simple and delicious. I added a little bit of chopped parsley on top.

rigatoni4

Over the course of a few days, I prepared various batches of pasta and came up with some I thought were pretty good and some that were just bad. While I liked the taste and texture of my “pretty good” pasta, they didn’t hold their shape very well, falling in on themselves.

These held their shape perfectly, but were way too dense.

rigatoni2

My understanding is that the ideal dough for extrusion is different from one that goes through a pasta roller (particularly with the kneading and resting period), though I’m not entirely sure. For some reason, pastas in which I added egg, kneaded, and rested turned out way too sticky. If anyone has a pasta extruder and tips to share, I’d love to hear them!