italian

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.

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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!

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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.

Osteria Mamma on Urbanspoon

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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.

Pizzeria Mozza on Urbanspoon

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