Pasta

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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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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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.

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