italian

Every time I drive near Beverly Hills, I always yearn to live in this neighborhood — it is the perfect neighborhood. You imagine having that large house with the gated parking lot. Of course you have a nice Ferrari in the front to go along with your other expensive cars. The best part? You have some of the best restaurants just a stones throw away. For DineLA, we went to Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air. To me, it seemed like the best bang for your buck. For $25, you get a 3 course meal, not a 2 course like these other restaurants are doing now. we got to see the garden and the beautiful property that is the Hotel Bel-Air. The food was delicious and the sights were stunning.

Bread Service was good. There was a cream cheese filled focaccia and ciabatta roll. Both were delicious, especially with their salted butter. The bread was quite unexpected and just a nice pre-appetizer snack.

Before our 1st course, we were brought an amuse-bouche of compressed water melon. It was topped with curry salt which accentuated the sweetness of the watermelon.

The roasted Frog Hallow Farms apricots and the mozzarella burrata was delicious together. The natural sweetness of the fruit and briny, saltiness of the cheese was a nice contrast. I especially like the touch of lavender. The crispy pancetta was good, but paper thin. Chunks of the pancetta would have made this dish perfect. It would have went well with the shaved fennel.

The Tamai Farm’s white corn salad was my favorite. It was so light and crunchy — the ingredients were so fresh and stood out on their own. Mixed with sugar snap peas, fava beans, cherry tomatoes, and dressed with tzatziki dressing, this salad was so flavorful. I liked the addition of the feta cheese.

The fresh fettuccine pasta was a nice touch. A mix of chanterelle mushrooms, melted leeks gave it the flavor, but this dish really lacked salt. It’s almost tasted like nothing but pasta and oil. A sprinkle from the salt shaker, which I rarely do did wonders. I kind of wish I had some truffle salt in my pocket. That would have been a perfect addition to this “blank slate.” The amaranth greens though rounded the flavors well.

I had the Sonoma lamb meguez pita. Inside was falafel, baba ganoush, and lamb sausage which I did not really care for much. The falafel though was as quite delicious. It was fluffy and the spices used to make the falafel was quite strong and nice. The side of lebanese salad helped balance the flavors. A douse of harissa spices gave the pita pocket a little kick.

We shared a plate of house made cookie. We had the classic chocolate chip, and a white chocolate caramel. These cookies were addicting and I could have easily ate a whole bunch of them. They were warm with the chocolate melted and not too sweet. They were ever so soft and chewy. All I needed was that glass of milk!

The apricot sorbet was a refreshing dessert. This was the perfect dessert for a hot day. The apricot sorbet was so fresh and subtle. It wasn’t sour or sweet — it had the perfect amount of fruity sweet flavor. The hard French meringue on the bottom was a nice place holder for the quenelles.

We had such an amazing time at Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air. The last time we were at a Wolfgang Puck establishment was at Spago, also during DineLA. Read why it was such a magical moment then. Somehow, the magic kept going here during lunch. The food was tasty and the restaurant itself sits on such a beautiful piece of property. I’ll probably never be able to stay at this hotel, but I’m glad I got to experience a piece of it.

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Drago Centro – Celestino does DTLA

by Franklin on December 14, 2013

My meal at Drago Centro was quite memorable. Celebrating your better half’s birthday is no easy task. The restaurant and food has to be on point. The mood: romantic with a touch of elegance. Drago Centro was a perfect spot to celebrate a birthday. Filled with business people and those who work in Downtown, it wasn’t crowded. It was quiet, secluded, and the huge windows made for great light for pictures. Chef Celestino Drago, the Sicilian native knows what people want — authentic and high quality Italian food. This is what I got.

The bread was definitely house made. Instead of the traditional bread and butter, they gave us olive oil to dip the bread. Though not a fan of just plain ol’ olive oil, it was pretty clean tasting.

We ordered the burrata and charcuterie place to start. The burrata plate had artichokes, tomatoes, balsamic, with a side of crostini. The burrata was fresh and silky. It was great eating it with the charcuterie.

The charcuterie plate was a favorite (il tagliere di affettati con gnocco fritto). The house selection of charcuterie was fresh and amazing. My favorite of course was the prosciutto. It was my first time trying gnocco fritto, and I fell in love. The fry breads were so airy and not at all oily as one would think. Opening up the warm bread and stuffing it with salted cured meats and burrata was perfection. I mean, at this point, I was pretty stuffed and ready to go home.

The il risotto ai funghi was a treat. Perfectly cooked with a little I bit of a bite, the arborio rice was starchy and coated with sauce. The wild mushrooms gave a good bite as well and the parmesan cheese was nicely utilized in the dish. I know risotto has a rep for being just a creamy rice dish, but this was classic and perfectly prepared.

There were amazing reviews regarding the i garganelli. Unfortunately, I had to have the waiter take it back. That dish was way too salty. Mind you– I never complain about food. If it’s a bit off, I’ll just suck it up and eat it. I also love and don’t mine salty snacks and food. If it’s salty for most, it’s probably perfect for me. For me to have sent it back to the kitchen, it was definitely a mistake on the kitchen. I mean, this pasts dish had everything going for it. The pork sausage, parmesan, and fennel seeds all were great, but the sodium level was off the charts. At the end, I was very happy with my choice below–I paccheri.

Amazingly, I was very pleased with this dish. The squid ink paccheri had such a delicate seafood flavor. The bay scallops and sea urchin cream all played a role. It had nice complexity from the sea urchin and the scallops gave the dish the protein it needed. The black paccheri pasta was warm and cooked perfectly al dente. This pasta dish was definitely my favorite of the night.

This was quite a memorable experience. The food wasn’t inventive/creative like other popup restaurants out there. This is actually a good quality. All of their dishes came out to perfection, minus the garganelli. The quality of ingredients used and the preparation were all of the best kind. With the downtown cityscape outside and the sunset slowly turning into night, the evening was certainly most memorable.

Drago Centro on Urbanspoon

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I went to Bestia for my 29th birthday. My fiancé’ asked me where I wanted to go for my birthday. Instead of the boring, but oh so yummy steak house, I wanted something lively, fun, and delicious. I didn’t care about the waiters coming around every second filling the water. I didn’t care about a romantic setting with candles and ambient music in the background. I just wanted the tastiest food possible for my birthday. Bestia in the Art District of Downtown was on my radar. Executive Chef Ori Menashe, former Chef of Angelini Osteria, pumps out regional Italian dishes. He even cures his own meats from 60 different kinds of charcuterie, and he also raises his own yeast for bread. With all of this love and care to do everything himself, the food has to be good. With his pastry chef wife, Genevieve Gregis making desserts, the duo is creating a huge buzz around Los Angeles. I could confidently say, I had one of my best meals of 2013 here.

You order everything first, and the dishes come out as they are prepared. Items are meant to be shared with the table.

We started things off with the grilled beef tongue crostino. I am huge fan of beef tongue. I like the texture of beef tongue that has been cooking for hours and hours. The pure beef flavor is unmatched to any other part of the cow. Sitting on top of a huge slice of bread was a garbanzo bean puree, purslane, pickled eggplant, and salsa verde. The beefy beef tongue and garbanzo bean played well with the picked eggplant and salsa. The purslane did a good job in grounding all the flavors. I felt the dish needed more acidic flavors to it. A chimichurri of some kind or picked onions would have balanced it out better. The pickled eggplant was a nice touch, but wasn’t tart enough. Nonetheless, this was still a great start.

One of my favorites of the night was the pan-seared octopus and calamari salad. The mix of fennel, mixed mushrooms and arugula was the base. Atop was some of the softest and tastiest octopus I ever had. The flavor was so delicate, and the texture was so soft which could only be achieved by using a sous-vide. The aged balsamic gave this dish so much tartness and acidity. The flavors were so lively. In hind sight, this would have been the perfect acidic factor for the beef tongue crostino. Too bad I already munched that up by the time this salad came out.

The roasted marrow bone was quite innovative and different. Most restaurants serve it with a side of toast of crostini. Chef Ori instructs us to mix it within the spinach gnocchetti. This way, it makes a little fatty sauce and coats the pasta completely. Each bite of the gnocchetti was perfect. Chewy and dense, the pasta was coated in bone marrow and salt. The aged balsamic on the marrow bone gave the dish the perfect zing to counteract the rich beef fat. This was one memorable dish.

Pizza is all about the dough, hands down. You can have some of the best ingredients on a pizza, but if your dough sucks, then the pizza suffers. Chef Ori is serious about his pizza dough. I can just talk about the pizza dough for days. I tried many times, trying to make pizza dough from scratch — I can never reach this kind of caliber, especially with an over that doesn’t even get above 400 degrees. It is hard stuff. The pizza dough at Bestia is near perfect. It has a nice chew, it is thin as can be, and there are black char marks like spots on a Dalmatian. To me, this is a sign of a true pizza. I ordered the salsiccia. This had housemade lamb sausage which was ridiculously mellow and flavorful. It also had ricotta, spinach, and breadcrumbs. The size isn’t that bad too. I always hate paying 15 bucks for a personal sized pizza. Theirs was quite large for the price.

It was my birthday, and my fiancé wanted to spoil me. Heck, I myself wanted to spoil me. We went ahead and ordered the spaghetti rustichella. This was their rendition of the sea urchin spaghetti. Mixed with calabrian chile and garlic, the dish had a subtle tinge to it. To me, the squid ink bottarga was the kicker. It gave the dish such a depth of seafood flavor. It was creamy, and full of the ocean’s goodness. Some mentioned that the pasta was too al dente, meaning, it was undercooked. To me, the pasta was cooked exactly al dente and had a nice mouth feel. Perfectly cooked noodles with a creamy sea urchin mixture is heaven. This was a great dish to end on.

Though I was stuffed, it had to end on a sweet note. It was my birthday after all. We ordered the chocolate budino tart. The salted caramel down the middle was good, but I wished there was more. The cacao crust cookie was a great crunch with the smooth budino. The olive oil was a head scratcher though. Nonetheless, it was a great dessert to end all things.

To start off my 29th year in this world with Bestia, I can tell this year will be a good year. From pastas to pizzas and other Italian dishes, Chef Ori is the man to see. With painstaking details from curing his own meat for charcuterie and raising his own yeast, the food is nothing but excellent. It isn’t about the location — Bestia is in the middle of nowhere in Downtown Arts District. They made best of what they have in one location and is pumping out some high quality foods. I wish to come back again soon and see what the chef has in store. Bestia is something to look out for in 2013. It is a beast!

Bestia on Urbanspoon

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Piccolo Venice – Truffle this and Wagyu that

by Franklin on July 29, 2013

Piccolo was an awesome experience. Thanks to Dine LA, going for a multiple course experience was a must. I saw some amazing dishes that included truffle this and wagyu that — I had to splurge and go here. To celebrate Melanie and my 4 year anniversary, and of course to eat good food, this was the perfect place to go. Situated in the midst of Venice Beach, the feel of the restaurant didn’t match its surroundings. Once you enter though, all the “crazy” of Venice Beach kind of disappeared. It is just you and the food, and they just keep coming.

The bread service was nice. There was a trifecta of focatia, white and bread balls. They were a bit on the salty side and didn’t seem freshly baked. Look at me already nitpicking! It was still good dipping into the olive oil.

First Course
The crudo was amazing and fresh, as it should. The venison carpaccio had a very mild taste that just melted in your mouth. The marinated shimeji mushrooms were a perfect pair to the soft meat, and the sort of fermented grappa blueberry emulsion completed the dish nicely.

The conchiglie was definitely my favorite of the night. Thinly sliced marinated raw sea scallop folded in sea urchin. The lemon thyme pesto gave the bright flavor throughout each bite. The sea scallop was so amazing, and the feeling inside the mouth is indescribable. It sort of takes over your whole mouth, and then the uni flavor kicks in and then it just kind of lingers. From the texture of the slightly sticky and smooth scallop and complexity made this my favorite.

Second Course
The most decadent was the ravioli plin. Filled with a house made fontina, the ravioli was filled with something special. Coated with a parmesan butter sauce and summer truffle shaving on top, the ravioli inside and out was so creamy and buttery. Each bite had an unctuous nature that was complex and delicious.

Third Course
The agnolotti ravioli was more of what I am used to eating. Filled with oxtail, the agnolotti had a beefy flavor. The flavors were pronounced quite nicely and the little strands of oxtail were still present inside. Covered in a slow roasted oxtail sugo, the sauce was more close to a tomato sauce. The green peas gave the dish some nice color.

The pappardelle made with squid ink was interesting. Though the seafood taste was a bit lacking, it did have a lot of sea salt flavor. The wide noodles were in soup of baby octopus sugo. This had the mere essence of baby octopus. It was funky, “seafoody” and delicious. The noodles in it of itself didn’t have much flavor. Once married with the sauce, it was complete.

Fourth Course
Being a natural born carnivore, the tagliata was a favorite of mine. Perfectly seared natural Australian wagyu NY steak was thinly sliced. The sear on the outside was on point and the inside was a perfect medium rare. My favorite was the maldon salt on top, and the lemon thyme pesto on the side gave the dish the acidity to counter the beef. A pile of micro greens helped to liven up the dish and a polenta cake acted as the starch.

Ordering fish, other than sushi is rare for me. When ordering the branzino, it was to go along with the seafood theme. The baked branzino was so delicate in flavor. It wasn’t fishy at all. The filet was wrapped and inside was a delicious grilled eggplant mix. Sitting on a bed of spinach, and with a side of roasted tomato saffron sauce the flavors all worked perfectly.

Fifth Course
For our last course, the dessert course, I had the Semifreddo. In a mix of ameretto cookies and soft frozen cream, the semifreddo looked like cookies. They were cold (semi frozen) and creamy. It was like eating ice cream but more airy. The side of amaretto caramel was a nice touch and sweetened the dessert.

We also had the Bicchierino. Bicchierino in Italian is drink, or a glass of drink, probably alcohol. The Bicchierino was similar to tiramisu, which has brandy in it. Is that why it’s called Bcchierino? The dessert had mascarpone cream, similar to tiramisu. Mixed with chocolate ganache and nougat, it was especially good eating it with the espresso savoiardi (ladyfingers). Not to mention, eating with a wooden spoon was just cool.

This experience at Piccolo Venice was fun. Going with my fiancé to share two 5 course meals, we essential had about a 10 course meal between us. Eating the deliciously prepared food and snapping some nice shots along the way, it was a food bloggers dream. Being right next to Venice beach, it is in an odd location. The valet parking was off to the back, and walking to restaurant meant a trip on the boardwalk. The vibe at Venice Beach and Piccolo Venice are quite contrary to each other. To me though, it was all well received.

Piccolo Venice on Urbanspoon

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Osteria Mamma – Food and Family

by Franklin on June 21, 2013

What better way to bring family together than with food? More specifically, what’s better than Italian food to bring the family together? It was my cousin’s birthday and my other cousins were back in town for a little visit. Perfect time for a family gathering over food! Growing up, all I had were my cousins. All of my aunts and uncles congregated within less than a mile away from each other. This meant that I grew up hanging out with my cousins almost daily. Some of my fondest memories as a child included my cousins. Now, we are all grown up. Double gulps from 7-11 turned into conversations over coffee, and ordering pizza for birthdays turned into dining out as a family, namely Osteria Mamma.

To start, we had bread, butter and Frittura Mista. The frittuta mista had fried calamari, shrimp, zucchini, and carrots. The calamari was cooked nicely and not rubbery. The zucchini and carrots were good in this dish, but the moisture made the whole plate kind of soggy — not good for something that is fried. The shrimp though was nice and flavorful. It was a perfect starter for a large group like ours.

The girlfriend and I shared the Pappardelle al Fumo. The thick Tagliatelle did a grreat job soaking up all that gorgeous pink sauce. The bits of pancetta added a nice smoky and salty element to the dish. Scamorza cheese and oregano topped this dish off to make it quite delicious. I might regret saying this, but the pancetta was too overpowering in this dish. A little more green herbs or less smoky bacon would have been a better fit.

I had a taste of their lasagne and wasn’t really impressed. I know here in America, “Lasagna” ends with an “a”, but everyone else spells it lasagna. Anyways, the noodles were a bit soggy and I felt the dish needed to be seasoned a lot more. It may be that lasagne to me is a boring dish, but I really did not enjoy this one. To me, it needed to be more robust with meat sauce or herbs. Theirs was kind of plain with noodles, marinara, and cheese — simple and dull.

The Tri Colori pasta dish was interesting to see. So colorful with red and green, it looked so festive. I had a taste — it was creamy and the noodles were so al dente. The texture, color and flavor was so pleasing. I also snagged a bite of the Gnocchi ai Porcini. Tossed in a light cream sauce, the porcini mushrooms in this was so full of earthy flavor. The pillowy gnocchi balls were so smooth and delicious. Not really a fan of gnocchi, I was hesitant about this dish. Osteria Mamma really knows how to make this dish delicious.

My favorite dish of the night was the Reginette della Mamma. Reginette, basically a ripple edged tagliatelle, was a perfect pasta for any sauce. The way the cream sauce clung onto the ripples, the pasta had great flavor and mouth feel. With pieces of guanciale and sausage, this was a meaty dish without being too pronounced. The Treviso radicchio helped round out all the rich flavors in this pasta dish. Each bite was creamy and unctuous in flavor. This is what a good pasta dish should be, and is.

Being a food blogger, my friends and family look to me for restaurants suggestions. I figured, Osteria La Buca is a trendy spot, Osteria Mamma will be more of a down at home kind of experience — perfect for a family gathering. The night was filled with amazing pastas with great company. I always see massive gatherings of Italian families around the table. There, the grandmother makes her signature pasta dish and everyone eats together. That to me is the happiest moment in our lives. Though we didn’t have our grandmother in the kitchen, “Mamma” was our grandma for the night. We gathered, we talked, and ate. This will forever be in my memory as our family.

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I remember whan I was a kid, pizza was my favorite food. When I spoke of pizza as a kid, I meant the every day Dominoes delivery kind of pizza — the kind that my childhood idol, Michaelangelo from TMNT liked. As an adult now, my pizza pallate has evolved into something more. Before, the crust was just an obstacle for the good stuff, also known as the meat and cheese. Now, the crust is most important component for a good pizza. At Pizzeria Mozza, you can have your adult pizza. The crust is uber thin, and the toppings are of the highest quality. Masterfully baked in their woodfire oven, their pizzas are some of the most coveted in Los Angeles.

Pizzeria Mozza is a power house. Not only do you have Nancy Silverton, the bread baking extrodinaire who founded La Brea Bakery, you have Mario Batali in the mix. With the help of restauranteur and tv personality Joe Bastianich, Pizzeria Mozza was bound to thrive. Gourmet pizza nowadays is easier to find in Los Angeles — they are everywhere! Pizzeria Mozza is special and is one of the few who started the gourmet pizza trend in Los Angeles. Backed by the Mario Batali and Nancy Silverton also doesn’t hurt either. Do to it’s popularity, reservations are a must. Luckily, there were a couple of seats available at the bar. I was ready to have my pizza!

Instead of traditional bread, they served grissinis. The crunchy bread sticks in the form of long pencils were a nice light snack before dinner. Having not much flavor and a lot of crunch, it was still fun to munch on these bread sticks.

One of Pizzeria Mozza’s most famous and most expensive pizzas is the squash blossoms pizza. Though I would rarely shell out 20 bucks for a pizza, I had to see for myself what all the fuss was about. At first bite, the mixture of the tomato and burrata was pristine. The tomoato flavor was subtle and the burrata had a gentle milky flavor. Delicate in texture, the burrata was silky smooth. Married with the flavors of the squash blossom, everything came together nicely. Texurally, the dough was perfectly chewy and airy on the inside and crisp on the outside. The squash blossoms roasted in the oven made it light and crisp. This brought out the flavors quite nicely. For a meatless pizza pie, it was pretty dang good.

For my meat fix, I ordered the fennel sausage pizza. Topped with house-made sausage, the subtly sweet yet savory sausage was the star. Pops of fennel really brought out the flavors nicely. The herbiness of the red onions and scallions balanced out the fatty sausage nicely. I don’t quite know if this was better of the two pizzas. The sausage on this was perfect, almost life changing, but the squash blossom pizza as a whole was better. Get both!

To end things, I ordered their butterscotch budino. A play between a sweet and decadent budino and savory rosemary pine nut cookies was teasing the senses. The caramel and butterscotch was quite sweet, but the help of Maldon sea salt helped intensify the taste. The cookies alone were a bit bland and not sweet. The elements of the rosemary in the pine nut cookie and the budino was a match so complex and delicate. This was a beautiful dessert.

Everyone knows that Pizzeria Mozza is the LA standard when it comes to artisinal pizzas. The service is near perfect and the pizzas are exceptional. You have Nancy Silverton for the crust, and Mario Batali, true Italian at heart. With these two, a perfect pizza is bound to be born. The restaurant is casual and well-appointed. Though I only had the pizza there, I’m sure the other items are just as good. As a child, pizza was my favorite food. Now as an adult, Pizzeria Mozza made pizza one of my favorite foods again.

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C & O Cucina – Carbo-Load at the Beach

by Franklin on April 14, 2013

Is it just me or is Italian food the ultimate comfort food? You got carbs galore from pasta and pizza dough, and with melted cheese or sauce on top of all that, it’s the ultimate “good feeling” food. Though this will mean more time at the gym, sometimes pasta and bread is all a guy needs. C & O Cucina knows this and their restaurant in Venice / Marina Del Rey is as popular as ever. Always a wait, though not as much as C & O Ttrattoria, it is well worth it. This is an Italian food standard for anyone in the area.

As you already know, the garlic knots are sometimes the main attraction here. This time around, they weren’t as soft and luscious as I remembered. I know. What the heck are you talking about? It was a bit too crunchy on the outside and not as chewy on the inside. The strong herb mixture flavor was nice and was still a great start for our meal.

I tried the pappardelle with wild mushroom and chicken apple sausage. The wide noodle was cooked perfectly and made for perfect bites. With porcini, portobello and champignon mushrooms, the mushroom trio was the best part of this dish. To top it all off, the shallots in white wine tomato cream sauce gave this pasta dish its richness. The creamy mushroom sauce with pasta was classic comfort food. Topped with a showering of cheese made this unforgettable.

My lasagna bolognese was a treat as well. The best part was the rich meat sauce. There was a lot of large pieces of meat that was refreshing. It wasn’t left to a puree of meat and sauce. Coupled with perfectly al dente pasta, it was a perfect lasagna. I rarely order lasagna at restaurants, because they all taste the same to me. And really though, if its made right, they all do. Sometimes comfort food requires a plate of hot lasagna. Where are all my Garfield fans at? If you aren’t a lasagna fan, go for one of the pastas.

Though the menu is nearly identical C & O down the street, I feel the restaurant is quite different from each other. Trattoria felt more Italian — there was sining involved, rustic seating and you just had the feeling that you were eating dinner with everyone in the room. Cucina had more of an intimate feel with less character. Depending on what you are looking for, the food at both restaurants is quite delicious. From a comforting bowl of penne to creamy pasta dishes, any bad day can turn to a good one here. And yes, do fill up on the garlic knots.

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Italian food used to be my favorite food. With the introduction of sashimi and the all mighty carne asada fries, Italian is a close second? Third? Definitely a top 5 contender of my all time favorite foods, Italian food is one of my loves of food. Osteria La Buca, easily one of the best in Los Angeles, was a fun experience. The food was perfectly done and ingredients tasted as they should — fresh and vibrant. Literally the first ones here for dinner service, I had the whole restaurant to myself. Perfectly timed at just before sunset, with the addition of all window walls and a class ceiling, the pictures came out just as I liked (though I still need a lot of work). I had fun eating the tasty food and taking just as many photos as bites.

We started off with their house made bread. The bread was soft and fluffy. It was a bit single noted, but the marinara helped give it some life. It was simple and all, but a little more texture would have made this perfect.

I absolutely love their calamari fritti. Battered in semolina flour, the outside was crisp and light. Cooked perfectly, the squid inside was tender and had a nice bite. It wasn’t at all chewy or fishy. The flavor was mild and fresh, and the batter shined throughout the dish. Dipping it in the marinara sauce was good, but the lemon aioli was my favorite. The rich aioli and crunchy calamari went well with the hint of lemon and creaminess of the aioli. This definitely hit the spot and should be ordered all the time.

The fried egg pizza was the choice for the pie. Cooked in a high heat oven, the crust was thin and chewy — not perfect, but still delicious. The fried egg in the middle was enough a reason to order this pizza, if not, do it for the smoked prosciutto. Topped with tomatoes and mozzarella, this pizza was classic with a little twist. Topping this was a great amount of arugula. Nearly a salad on top of a pizza, the arugula and prosciutto went perfectly together. The egg, though not helping the dish, was still welcomed. Surely, the crust needed something to sop up, and egg yolk is pretty much the perfect thing.

My all time favorite pasta is carbonara. I love the simplicity of it all with the creamy sauce and salty cheeses and pancetta. Their bucatini carbonara was almost perfect. The sauce was creamy and salty. Topped with an poached egg to finish the sauce, it surely was a creamy pasta. Mascarpone was added to the mix to make everything even creamier. The black pepper was prominent as all carbonara should and the pancetta was crispy and salty. One thing I did not like about the dish was the pasta. I do love an al dente pasta, but this was slightly under cooked. Maybe even just 30 seconds longer in the boiling water would have made this a perfect pasta dish. Other than that, this was and is a house favorite. I saw a guy just walk up to the bar and order a bowl for himself — Nobody to bother him — just him and his bowl of perfect pasta carbonara.

The tiramisu was an afterthought, and overstuffed on pasta and pizza, the dessert had to be taken to go. The cake and cream inside was perfectly balanced and rich. The distinct coffee taste mixed with the cream was the best part. One thing weird about this tiramisu is that it didn’t have a cinnamon layer on top. Though it didn’t add that extra depth in flavor, the basic necessities and pure tiramisu flavors came through to make this dessert order worthy.

Osteria La Buca, once a small, and still a relatively small restaurant has a lot going for it. The inside’s minimalistic design is fresh and comforting. This once, hole in the wall Italian joint bloomed into a modern and trendy destination for “new” Italian food, namely pizzas and pastas. Their flavorful rustic pastas and proper pizzas keep this place busy. Osteria Mamma just down the street stemmed from once head chef “Mamma” and Son. Though they are doing their own thing there, Osteria La buca is pretty much a new restaurant inside and out.

Osteria La Buca on Urbanspoon

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Ciao Deli – Clams on my Pizza Please

by Franklin on February 19, 2013

I came across Ciao Deli when I was in Newport Beach / Costa Mesa. It was late, I was hungry, and nothing was around. I found Ciao Deli online and noticed they had garlic knots, just like the ones at C & O in LA. For the time being, Ciao Deli had to do. Entering the restaurant, the ambiance was relaxed and casual. Pictures and memorabilia plastered the walls of this small joint.

We started off with the cheese knots. Though they were not as good as the ones in C & O, they were still tasty. The blanket of melted cheese was well received. More like cheesy bread than anything else, it had a nice flavor. Dipping it in the marinara sauce helped bring everything together. The acidity helped balance out the fatty cheese. These were a good start, but the cheese knots were easily forgettable.

I normally don’t order spaghetti at restaurants, of course unless its Spaghetti Factory. I was surprised at myself for ordering this dish. For the most part, I was quite pleased with this dish. The noodles were cooked perfectly and the spaghetti sauce was better than most. The meatballs in this dish made this a perfect pasta dish. It was meaty and delicious, just like a home style spaghetti should be — Simple and delicious.

My favorite of the night was the clam pizza. The picture really doesn’t display the clams, and the picture isn’t lying. There really wasn’t a lot of clams on it. I was expecting the clams to be plenty and meaty, enough to have a good bite to it. Though there wasn’t much, the flavor was all there. It was salty and cheesy, and the crust was thin — a perfect recipe for a pizza. I think clams should always go on pizza.

Writing about this meal, I realize how vegetables and fruits are lacking from my diet. Good think I am juicing here and there. That way I can have more meals like this that consist of bready, cheese, and pasta. I guess the tomatoes in the spaghetti sauce counts as vegetables. Right? In all honesty, this Orange County restaurant made me happy. The food was down to earth and tasted great. They even deliver if you are in the vicinity. Places like this keep food humble — nothing fancy here. It is just good food the way it is supposed to be.

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C & O Trattoria is one of those go to spots when you are in Venice, Marina De Rey area. The food is affordable and the selection is plenty. The best part is, once you enter, you feel like you are family. The staff is friendly — they even offer you garlic knots while you wait for a table. The wait for a table can be a while. Being right next to Venice Pier, you can walk around and shop around while you wait for your table. Once you take a seat, you are transferred to Italy and you are no longer at the beach.

C & O Trattoria and Cucina are all about garlic knots. Garlic knots, garlic knots, garlic knots. I think people come here just for these morsels of drug infused bread. It is warm, buttery, oregano-y (dried parsley?), and of course, garlicky, and you can get as much as you want! They even server it to the hungry patrons outside awaiting a table. I ordered mine with the tepenade– a bad idea. The garlic knots on their own are tasty. The olive tepenade just made things complicated and actually overpowered the simple goodness of the bread. You can easily fill up on garlic knots and you would have ordered your pasta dish for nothing. Eat sparingly. For the sake of garlic knots, I will try to write “garlic knots” as many time as I can along this post. Garlic knots? Yes. Garlic knots.

I ordered the fettuccine prosciutto. I know it sounds heavy, but it was quite delicate and balanced. It had prosciutto, mushrooms, roma tomatoes, and shallots in a brandy cream sauce. The prosciutto was a bit lacking — I was greedily expecting nice shavings of this stuff. I wished for so much prosciutto, I can make a prosciutto and garlic knot sandwich. Anyways, the fettuccine wasn’t home made by any means, but it was still delicious. Covered in the rich brandy cream sauce, this pasta dish was carb and cream heavy. The nice crunch of the shallots and tomatoes helped offset the richness a bit. With a blanket of Parmesan though, this was definitely a great heavy pasta dish. Add garlic knots to the equation and you got yourself a carb on carb overload.

Oh my garlic knots! I know with that cheese blanket it is difficult to see, but this indeed isn’t the same dish. The seafood pasta for me was taasty, but I am particular about seafood pasta. Using Penne is a good start, but an angel hair or even plain spaghetti would have been nice too. The mix of brocolli and tomatoes gave it nice color. The seafood though, that is where it all counts. The shrimp, salmon, and calamari were cooked surprisingly well. Expecting rubber bands, the calimari was actually soft and cooked to a near perfection. The shirmp was cooked decently and the salmon did a good job not being so over fishy. Though the seafood was prepared nicely, I still am not a fan of seafood and pasta together.

To me, pasta is all about the cheese and the noodles. Any meat that goes well with cheese (beef, sausage, prosciutto, chicken, meat balls) is a good thing. Seafood, the ultimate don’t-eat-with-cheese food worked alright in pasta, but for me, not so much. I will gladly take chicken fettuccine alfredo over shrimp. A bit off because, well, I love seafood. In fact, I would like to know where the best place to get a seafood pasta. That would truly be a gem. C & O Trattoria keeps a decent amount of authenticity to the feel of Italy. Not saying that the food is 100% just like you will find in Italy, but the atmosphere seems to work. I mean, I’ve never been to Italy, but I’ve been to The Venetian in Vegas a bunch of times — and I hear that’s practically a carbon copy. From the city, to the beach, to Italy — that is the natural transition I found myself in. The food was decent and the service was even better. They even sang “That’s Amore” in the middle of dinner service. All the waiters, servers, and hosts stopped what they were doing, walking around with their wine glasses and touched glasses with everyone. For those without an imagination, there is a video clip for you above. The experience was fun and the food was decent. It wasn’t the best pasta or Italian I ever had, but the experience was great. Garlic knots!

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Secret Pizza is just what Cosmopolitan is about — Mysterious, a bit of deviant. I mean, where else will you find a pizza joint with no markings or signs of any nature. No Name Pizza Kitchen? Check. This place isn’t even in the resort directory — not on the Cosmopolitan website, nothing! How I came across this place, I have no clue, but I sure am glad I stumbled upon this place. After a journey around the Cosmopolitan, up and down elevators, back tracking and such, the mission was complete. At first, I couldn’t find it and thought, “maybe it doesn’t exist”. Walking through the hallways, I smelled the scent of freshly baked pizza dough. Thinking it was an oasis of some sort, I convinced myself I wasn’t going crazy. Literally following the scent of that yeasty goodness, I was finally at the small little hallway entrance that led to Secret Pizza AKA NNPK (No Name Pizza Kitchen).

The Inside was interesting. The hall way was filled with framed pictured, side by side. A relatively small place, the inside had a few pinball machines, flat screens, white walls, and hungry diners. Not a hint of Cosmopolitan’s design cues bleed into the restaurant — You are no longer at the Cosmopolitan, not even Vegas for that matter. You are totally transformed into this small hole in the wall pizza joint in New York City.

With each slice near 5 bucks, we opted for a whole pizza. We ordered it half white and half meatball with pepperoni. The white pizza was my favorite which had mozzarella, ricotta, and garlic. The garlic was fragrant and savory and the mozzarella and ricotta gave it a smooth texture. It didn’ have any meat, but I preferred the white pizza over the meatball and pepperoni. The meatball and pepperoni was tasty, but it tasted to normal for me. It was a bit salty, but still very delicious. The crust on both pizzas were very impressive. Though not cooked in a wood burning oven, it was as close to a Neopolitan style pizza as can be. The slices were large and thin, and could hold its own compared to any pizza from New York City.

If there were to be a secret pizza joint with no names, no marque of any kind, Cosmopolitan would be the place to have it. But then again, with word of mouth, and the scent across the hallways, people won’t have a hard time finding it. I think looking for the place is half the fun of it all. The excitement of trying the pizza, getting your pizza in unmarked white pizza boxes, its all part of the dining experience. I was amazed by their pie, probably some of the best I ever had. All you have to do is go find it. You may be wondering, exactly where is this place exactly? There isn’t a sign, but you will find a “Marquee”. You can always message me for the exact location, or just do some Google searching. I, for one would like to it a secret, and leave that adventure in your hands.

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Tomato Pie, a pizza joint in Hollywood and Silverlake derives its name from, well, tomato pie. Tomato pie is a Sicillian’s take on pizza where the dough is fococia like and thick. It is normally topped with tomato sauce and sprinkled with cheese. Never having tried tomoato pie, Tomato Pie was an obvious choice. The color scheme inside was refreshing and fun. Entering, it seemed more relaxed than I thought. You order the pizza or slices you want, they prepare it, and you pick it up. They come in the flappy paper plates you get at Costoco, but the choices of pizza they offer is amazing. And of course the taste is great as well. Honestly, I did not like the tomato pie, but I do like Tomatoe Pie.

The tomato pie was the first thing I ate, as I was excited to try it. Topped with marinara sauce, herb, and pecorinno romano cheese, it felt a bit lacking in flavor. The marinara sauce was better than most, but the lack of meat and melted cheese was too missed. Sad to say, maybe the simplicity of it all didn’t do it for me.

The Grandma had crushed marinated tomatoes, basil, garlic, and light mozzarella. Though simple like the tomato pie, I really liked this one. Their pizza, the triangle sliced kind, has a crust so crispy and cracker like. The robust flavors of the basil and garlic were perfect with the light mozzarella melted on top.

The Prosciutto Happiness, probably my favorite of the three was an obivous one — Prosciutto is the magic word. Having alfredo instead of marinara, it was a bit rich in taste. The fig, prosciutto, arugula, topped with a balsamic reduction was all a great combination. Prosciutto and fig is always a nice combination of sweet and salty, and the balsamic reduction gave it that nice punch.

The crispy crust and thin pizza made it easy to fold and eat. Eating tomato pie for the first time was exciting, but didn’t really enjoy it. They offer a variety of different kinds of pizza, but the Gramdma and the Prosciutto Happiness is a nice starting point. Not exactly made to order, but prepared to order, everything still comes out warm and toasty. With a refreshing Light Coke and endless pizza options, Tomato Pie delivers, figuratively and literally.

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Growing up in the San Gabriel Valley, I had a lot of Asian eateries to choose from. Whatever Asian I was in the mood for, nothing was out of reach. Having this luxury had its drawbacks. Anything else, I had to choose from a small group of restaurants — No really good burger joints, gastropubs, Italian or Mexican. One place though, Petrillo’s Pizzeria, is one place I do remember in the SGV that isn’t Asian. Naturally, they were known for their pizzas, and I remember they were my favorite pizza place growing up. How I got back here after all of these years was by chance. Boiling crab was nearly a 2 hour wait, and my family wanted to celebrate our little cousin’s birthday. Petrollo’s, though a bit of a drive east, just popped into my head. There, we had an Italian dinner feast.

We started off with soup/salad with bread and butter. The salad was fresh but nothing extraordinary. The bread though, was soft and delicious with the butter. The minestrone soup was average as well.

I, for the last time, ordered the Pizza bianca. In my head, it tasted spectacular, but was not a fan amongst me and my family. Brushed with extra virgin olive oil, it was topped with mozzarella cheese, Romano cheese, fresh tomatoes and fresh basil. The balance wasn’t right. It didn’t have enough of a robust flavor. It lacked taste and nobody really went back for a second slice — nobody even ate their first slice. Yes, my family wasted food.

Before you judge us, we did gobble up the Petrillo’s Specialty supreme combination pizza. Topped with mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce, Italian sausage, mushrooms, pepperoni, salami, garlic, onions, and green peppers, this pizza had a bunch of flavor. The ingredients were all fresh, especially the Italian sausage. The mozzarella cheese made a big presents and the flavors worked well all together. Pizza Bianca was out, and the supreme combination was in.

Along with pizzas, we ordered pastas as well. In our family, our eyes are always bigger than our stomachs. My favorite was probably the Canneloni. It was cheese and gooey — the pasta was perfectly cooked. The tomato sauce, though simple was something I desired. It was a classic, simplified and almost genuine tomato sauce.

The classic dish of spaghetti was delicious — the tomato sauce on the Spaghetti was perfect. The noodles were cooked al dente and the sauce was the star. And the meatballs? My cousin praised the meatballs saying they were really good. I didn’t have a chance to try it, and yes, I blame my family for that. Sharing is caring, and with this logic, my cousin does not care about me. All kidding aside, this classic dish deserves a chance.

It was a great time. I felt like a real Italian. With the family gathered all on one table eating and sharing food, I couldn’t ask for anything more. Times like this makes life enjoyable and all of that is centered around food. I don’t need money or a nice car or a big house. With a nice meal and all of my family around the table, life was simple. It was these simple things that I find pleasure in.

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It seems to be that a lot of my favorite restaurants in Vegas converge around the Bellagio Fountain.  I don’t see why not.  The Fountain alone is amazing to have as a background of a great meal. Todd English’s Olives in Bellagio has class and taste, and won’t hurt your wallet.  From the interior design, to the food on the plate, everything was balanced and cohesive — it all felt like they belonged.

Upon making reservations, I was happy to be seated next to the window facing the fountains.  I asked for the tables outside, but there were none available.  In hind sight, eating inside was a better decision. It was warmer, the decor was nice, and I still sat directly next to the fountain.

Complimentary bread and olives (how fitting) was given before our meal.  The bread varied from chiabata and flat breads, and eating it with the olives was tasty.  It was a bit salty, probably because I used too much, but the taste was very clean and pure. It isn’t your normal bread and butter — that’s a good thing.

To go along with our bread, we opted for the Beef carpaccio to compliment our appetizer.  Yes, beef carpaccio is raw beef. Never having it before, and knowing they are known for this dish, I was excited.  The beef was fresh and of high quality, as it should be.  The polenta and gagonzola, and scallion cream gave it a nice creamy texture.  My favorite was the balsamic reduction.  It was sweet and acidic, which helped break up the richness of the beef. The parmesan, cipolini onions, and garlic aioli rounded out the flavors nicely.  It was a great first experience.

Of course, I love prosciutto.  Salted cured meats?  Fatty and buttery deliciousness?  I am there! Their Fig and Prosciutto flat bread is a must order for sweet and salty lovers.  The fig jam was a bit sweet for me and overpowered the Gorgonzola.  Gorgonzola is a pretty salty and strong cheese — the rosemary crust and the prosciutto di parma was savory.  Maybe a bit more prosciutto, and a bit less figs would have made this perfect.

The butternut squash tortelli was a great dish as well.  The filling was a mixture of amereto cookie and butternut squash.  A bit sweet, but I guess that is the theme of the meal.  The sage and brown butter, with parmasan cheese made a sweet yet savory sauce. It was a perfect balance of sweet and savory.  The outer layer pasta was freshly made and perfectly cooked.  This was one of their signature dishes as well.

For dessert, we got the truffles.  It came in a trio on top of some of the best caramel I have ever had. One truffle in particular had a dark chocolate, coffee filling that was so rich in flavor.  It was a perfect truffle.

Eating all this good food, watching the fountain show, and enjoying it in the comforts of Todd English’s Olives was a pleasure.  Yes, the food had a theme of sweet and savory going on, and we did risk the dangers of eating raw beef, but it was all worth it. All that goodness, and to top it with complimentary dessert truffles was a display of exceptional service. Things like this make me happy. Good food with good people in a restaurant with great food. What more can I ask for?

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Pizza Place (Wynn) – The Esapanade Is Spectacular – Where’s The New York Pizza?

November 25, 2011

I want to say, for a regular pizza place, the interior was amazing.  The seating was very cafe like, located at the Wynn — everything was impeccable.  The couches, the flat screens, and cealn atmosphere was what attracted to me to this place — other than the fact that I was in the mood for [...]

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Naples Ristorante E Pizzeria – Salted Cured Meat And Fruit On Pizza

October 25, 2011

It was late, we were hungry, and we just had an awesome time at Disneyland.  Of course, we don’t want to settle nor go broke and eat at Disneyland.  We already saw what we wanted to see and rode Pirates, so the day was complete. We just needed to eat.  One of the more decent [...]

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Cucina Alessa – Homemade Pasta On The PCH In Newport Beach

October 13, 2011

Nothing is as comforting as Italian food. The starchy noodles and pasta with a nice warm sauce, and maybe some cheese is all it takes to feel comforted. A pint of ice cream after a bad breakup?  Try a bowl of cheesy, creamy penne.   You will be right back on your feet.  When you [...]

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Mama D’s Italian Kitchen – Good Service With A Side Of Pink Suace

October 1, 2011

It’s all about the sauce.  Good Italian food is all about the sauce.  The pasta could be cooked perfectly al dente, but without good sauce, you have nothing.  Some like red sauce, and some like it white on the creamy side.  Mama D’s Italian Kitchen in Newport Beach likes it pink. They mix marinara and [...]

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Mi Piace – Mi Non Piace

August 9, 2011

There comes a time where Italian food is all you need.  You got carbs cooked to perfection, oils and sauces of your liking, maybe some kind of protein, and cheese.  Simple goodness.  This is all I want from Italian cooking.   Maybe I totally ordered the wrong dishes, or this place isn’t what its all [...]

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Angelo and Vinci’s Ristorante – Funk meets Delicious Italian

May 23, 2011

I want to start off by saying sorry about the pictures.  Let me explain.  Entering this place, I was a bit at awe.  Things here, things there, all in a weirdly lit restaurant.  Of course the one seat that was available was dark, and under a green fluorescent light.  Perfect setting for taking great pictures [...]

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