Breakfast = Carbs + Salt

The best part about the 26 hour fast of Yom Kippur is breaking it!

Best to start with some wine on a really empty stomach.

Parker 91. “Bottled the week before I visited, his 2005 Morey-St.-Denis en la Rue de Vergy displays aromas of fresh, ripe plum, black cherry, bitter herbs and toasted nuts. Ripe plum and black cherry along with deep rich meatiness mingle in the mouth with notes of mineral salt and iodine and sweet nut oil nuances. Creamy in texture and boasting remarkably fine tannins for a village wine and no hint of its 50% new wood, this finishes with a flattering persistence of crisp, subtly-bitter fresh fruit skin and fascinating mineral suggestions. It should drink fabulously over at least a 5-7 year period.”


Traditional, of course, is deli (i.e. bagels and lox etc.). We get ours from Brent’s Deli, which is my favorite for dairy and fish.


The bagels.


Rye bread of course.


A variety of cream cheeses, old school, new whipped, veggie, and my personal favorite, honey almond (I like the whole sweet and salty thing).


The all important “monster cheese” (what my three year-old calls it).


Various bagel toppings: lettuce, tomato, onion, cucumber.


Brent’s lox is so thick 18 of us toasted 3-4 pounds of it.


Chopped marinated herring. An acquired taste, but I spent too much time in the mid east not to.


Tuna salad (this is homemade by my sister-in-law Wendy).


My personal favorite, whitefish salad. Oh so good.


Salted cod, another classic.


Brent’s slightly sweet cucumber salad (like that) and cole slaw.


And old school pickles.


And fruit.

Plus a bit of homemade chinese chicken-less salad.


Parker 90. “The 2009 Rosso di Montalcino is totally beautiful and elegant in its expressive bouquet, silky fruit and understated, harmonious personality. This is a wonderful, impeccable Rosso from Le Potazzine. Anticipated maturity: 2011-2017.”


And my plate of gluttony. Four bagel halves. I even had another afterward.


The dessert spread is even more deadly.


Parker 99! “A monumental effort, the 2001 Rieussec boasts a light to medium gold color in addition to a fabulous perfume of honeysuckle, smoky oak, caramelized tropical fruits, creme brulee, and Grand Marnier. The wine is massive and full-bodied yet neither over the top nor heavy because of good acidity. With intense botrytis as well as a 70-75-second finish, this amazing Sauternes will be its apogee between 2010-2035.”

It was that good too!


Most of the desserts come from Viktor Benes, an old school Czech bakery with really good Eastern European baked goods. This is a chocolate fudge cake. My in-laws are chocoholics.


Apple pie. Halfway between American style and strudel.


Same with the cherry.


And an assortment of decadent baked goodies. Cookies, macaroons, apple fritters, rugelach, almond strudel-like things etc.

Afterward I stumbled upstairs in a pleasant salt and carb coma. I still felt bloated the next morning too.

Ozumo – Japan invades the Mall

Restaurant: Ozumo

Location: 395 Santa Monica Place   Santa Monica, CA 90401   T: 424.214.5130

Date: July 15, 2011

Cuisine: Modern Japanese / Sushi

Rating: Good

ANY CHARACTER HERE

I’ve been slowly working my way through the new Santa Monica Place Mall dining scene. Which surprisingly, isn’t bad. Not brilliant either, but not bad. They’ve populated the mall with six or so small chain corporate places (restaurant groups of 2-4 restaurants each). These are never quite as good as sole (and chef owned) establishments, but they are better than big chains — barf! So far I’ve reviewed Xino, Zengo, and La Sandia. Now it’s time for the Japanese, Ozumo.


The interior space is large.


With multiple parts and a real sushi bar.

The dinner menu can be found here.


We ordered this decent (but not exactly on the level of this) cold sake. They did have a lot of expensive sakes on the menu, so some of them might be amazing.


“Kinoko Miso Soup. Nameko, shiitake and enoki mushrooms in a rustic Koji miso soup with negi.” A nice miso variant. I liked all the mushroom action.


“Hanabi. Slices of hamachi and avocado drizzled with a warm ginger and jalapeño ponzu sauce.” This is their interpretation of the classic Nobu dish. Everyone has it now. This version was a tad overdone, throwing in a few more elements and disguising the fish. But at the same time it was tasty and nothing clashed.


“Special heirloom tomato salad.”


Toro sashimi. I’m trying to low carb it so I’ve been doing more sashimi. This was good toro, but it reinforced my conclusion that this Rolls Royce of fish does better as sushi than as sashimi. Somehow it’s fat content needs the rice as a foil.


“Yiya Yakko. Chilled silken tofu, fresh ginger, negi and tamari shoyu.”


Here are the traditional sauces. The tofu itself was perfect. And truth is this is exactly how I’ve gotten it in Japan. The problem is that the straight up soy sauce is a little bland for the tofu. This is a flaw in the classic dish, not the restaurant. The deadly hot Korean version I had recently at Moko was tastier — and vastly more nose shattering.


Some various sashimi. Salmon, scallop, albacore. This was all good, although not ‘amazing,’ I’d say 8/10 on the fish meter.


“Yamabuki. Fresh uni, shimeji and shiitake mushrooms in a healthy Genmai brown rice risotto.” This made me suspend my “low carbing” for a dish. I would have liked more uni (sea urchin) as there are only two tiny pieces. The risotto itself was very good. It tasted more “healthy” and brown rice than a classic Italian version, which would have been slightly yummier. But it did have great texture, particularly with the mushrooms. Overall a very pleasant dish.


Here is the other bar, which is ‘first come first serve.’ These mall places are huge though, and as of yet there is no problem getting into any of them even at prime time.


They even have some cool outside seating, although not as nice as Xino or Zengo’s patios which are fantastic.

Overall, Ozumo is good. I’d probably rate it 7/10. The food was quite good. The service, like all the mall places, needs some work. I think they hire too many young inexperienced servers. The food’s not as good as many of LA’s other top sushi joints, but it’s solid (remember I’m a serious sushi snob), and considerably better (and cheaper) than over trendified mediocre fish joints like Katsuya Brentwood or Sushi Roku. As far as the mall goes, it’s in the league with Xino and Zengo, and certainly better than La Sandia.

Click here to see more LA sushi posts.

Food as Art – N/Naka

Restaurant: N/Naka [1, 2]

Location: 3455 S. Overland Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90034. 310.836.6252

Date: July 22, 2011

Cuisine: Modern Kaiseki

Rating: Awesome

_

N/Naka opened only three months ago. It’s the brainchild of chef/owner Niki Nakayama and is a rare entry (along with Urwasawa) in the Kaiseki category of Japanese. This is a traditional style of extended meal of small highly ornate dishes that is simultaneously traditional and modern. Originally it was a form of Imperial cuisine from Kyoto, but in the hands of Nakayama it’s received a bit of a modernist twist ala infusions of ideas and techniques from Ferran Adrià, the Spanish genius responsible for many modernist trends in cooking.


The unassuming frontage is on Overland just south of the 10 freeway.

Inside is minimalist, Japanese inspired, and very attractive.

Small attractive details are very Japanese.

Be warned, this restaurant has no ala carte menu at all (yay!). There are three options. A 10-13 course Modern Kaiseki, a nine course smaller Kaiseki (still long), and a ten course Vegetarian Tasting. All three options can be coupled with wine pairings. Below I will present the long Modern Kaiseki and the Vegetarian.

Modern Kaiseki (w/ wine pairings)


Graham beck sparkling, south africa. A nice dry champagne style pinot.

Saki Zuke

(A pairing of something common and something unique)

Cauliflower tofu, marinated salmon roe, uni butter, micro greens.

A wonderful blend of textures and flavors. The tufo was soft and gelatinous, the uni is… well uni-like, and the bits of Ikura (salmon roe) burst in the mouth as little flavor morsels. Delicious.


2008 — brooks riesling, williamette valley, oregon.

Zensai

(Main seasonal ingredient presented as an appetizer)

Soft shell crab, avocado sphere, scallop “dynamite”

Seared bluefin toro avocado rice, miso marinated black cod


Soft shell crab, avocado sphere, red pepper sorbet. The nicely friend crab and the sorbet played nicely off each other.


miso marinated black cod. Pretty much the Matsuhisa classic!


Seared bluefin toro avocado rice, caviar. Seared toro is always good, nice pairing.


scallop “dynamite.” This was pretty delicious. The soft, slightly chewy, bits of scallop played deliciously off the rich dynamite.


2009 — erbaluce di caluso, favar, piedmont, italy. Parker gives this 88 points. “The 2009 Erbaluce di Caluso is an unusual white that in many ways recalls Pinot vinified off the skins. Flowers, red berries and minerals come together nicely on a mid-weight yet generous frame. Clean, mineral notes reappear on the finish, giving the wine its sense of proportion. Anticipated maturity: 2010-2012.”

Modern zukuri

(modern interpretation of sashimi)

Tuna and escolar checkers, ponzu reduction, italian black truffles

A delicious blend of little sashimi cubes and a richer more European sauce, plus the truffles. Very nice.


2010-shesbro roussanne, carmel valley, ca.

Owan “Still Water”

Lobster “shinjo” mousseline, chef’s garden momotaro tomato broth

You break up that little lobster thing into the soup, and eat that way. The soup had a delicious and light tomato dill thing going on, and the lobster added just a touch of richness.


Sake-kimura junmai daiginjo, akita, japan. This was a spectacular sake, tasting strongly of anise. This is the kind of sake where they shave every rice kernel down before making it!

Otsukuri

(Traditional Sashimi )

Big eye otoro, shima aji , sea bream, santa barbara sweet shrimp,

Kumamoto oyster with uni

Some classic sashimi. The fish was all first rate, the wasabi hand ground.


Rw draft sake, suehiro syuzo, aizu japan. This was a fresher, younger sake.

Yakimono

Japan sazae butter yaki with maitake mushrooms

Japanese conch (like we had at Matsuhisa), but even more delicious as it was mixed with really yummy mushrooms and quail egg.


2007 — slumberger gewurstraminer prince abbes. Medium sweet.

Yakimono 2

Foie gras with eggplant, miso balsamic, shiitake mushroom

Double yum! Fois gras done up like BBQ eel (with some eggplant and mushroom).


2009 — elke chardonnay- anderson valley.

Shiizakana

(Not bound by tradition, the chef’s choice dish to be paired with wine)

Spaghetti with abalone, truffles, pickled cod roe, abalone liver sauce

This was a pretty amazing pasta dish, blending east and west. I’m not usually a huge abalone fan (although I have it often enough). It’s usually too chewy, but this wasn’t at all. There was a combined truffle and briny taste to this dish, not unlike a good spaghetti botarga, but also a truffle and butter/liver influenced richness.


2009 — evening land vineyards blue label pinot noir, eola amity hills, oregon. “Evening Land Vineyards is a group headed by movie magnate Mark Tarlov that also owns Pinot vineyards in the Sonoma Coast and Santa Rita Hills and is making wines in Burgundy. They gained control of one of the Willamette Valley’s prized properties, Seven Springs Vineyard, and created an immediate sensation by signing on Dominique Lafon of Comte Lafon in Burgundy as consulting winemaker. The Evening Land group is also making a major effort to restore the health and vitality of Seven Springs. The most recent development is the addition of renowned Master Sommelier Larry Stone as President and GM of the group in August 2010. Over the past 2-3 years there has been an awakening among some of the Willamette Valley’s most distinguished vignerons that their region is capable of producing world class Chardonnay. With Dominique Lafon and Larry Stone on board, there is no question that Evening Lands will be playing a starring role in this drama. There are now two serious Gamay producers in the Willamette Valley, Doug Tunnell of Brick House being the other.”

Niku

Snake river farms kobe beef kushiyaki skewers, baby corn

A small portion of yakaniku, ala Totoraku (see here). Delicious and rich. Not quite the beefy effect of the mega secret beef meal, but a nice note in this complex dinner.

Sunomono

Halibut fin ceviche

Yuzu omoi, yuzu blend sake

A tasty little intermezzo.


Sake- shichida, sago  japan. This apparently is an ultra-ultra rare sake.


In the glass. It was darn good. Darn good. So were all the sakes, but I liked this one and the first one the best.


Housemade ginger.


Some traditional sushi. Jeju island hirame, o-toro


yellow tail belly, shima aji


live scallops, uni shinkomaki. Overall the sushi was good, but not quite at the level of the very top dedicated sushi places. Still, it was very very good sushi.

Shokuji

(Rice dish)

sea trout and roe chazuke

It’s traditional to end the savories in Japan with a “rice dish.” On the left we have a very traditional bit of salmon like fish, rice, and nori. Refreshing and stomach settling.


On the right were two pickles cut roll pieces. I loved these. I’m a huge Japanese pickles fan and really enjoy the crunchy vinegar thing.

Dessert

Black sesame crème brulee, fruits

A very nice crème brulee with a soft sesame flavor.

There was also a dessert wine, a light medium sweet late harvest wine, but I forgot to get a photo of it.

Dessert

ice cream on cornbread

Tasted of corn, and ice cream — big surprise. Light and yummy.

Vegetarian Tasting

Saki Zuke

(A pairing of something common and something unique)

Cauliflower Tofu with Truffles

Zensai

(Main seasonal ingredient presented as an appetizer)

Chilled chef’s garden kabocha soup, braised wakame seaweed with shiitake

Lotus root “kinpira”, grilled eggplant, shiso tempura with tofu & avocado


grilled eggplant


braised wakame seaweed with shiitake


shiso tempura with tofu & avocado


Chilled chef’s garden kabocha soup


Lotus root “kinpira”

Modern Zukuri

(Modern interpretation of sashimi)

Compressed watermelon, cucumbers, baby yellow squash, baby zucchini, yuzu

Kimchee air

Otsukuri

 (Sashimi )

Arrowroot konyaku, whith konyaku, spinach, kabocha, baby taro

Nanohana ripini, carrots

Owan “Still Water”

Potatoe “shinjo”, chef’s garden momotaro tomato broth

Shiizakana

(Not bound by tradition, the chef’s choice dish)

Spaghetti wild mushrooms, truffles

Yakimono

Lotus root mochi, spinach teppanyaki


avocado, Sushi-eggplant & shiso


shiitake, grilled konyaku

Maitake roll, cucumber and plum

Shokuji

(Rice dish)

ocha zuke with wasabi nori

The desserts were the same as the Modern Kaiseki. Overall a pretty spectacular job of approximating the full range of proteins using only vegetable sources. Vegetarian (or otherwise protein restricted) foodies should delight in this.

I was extremely impressed with N/Naka, and you can bet I’ll be back soon. The food is highly elaborate and offers a full suite of flavors meticulously prepared. I very much enjoy even the fully traditional Kaiseki dinners, but this slightly modernist take was even better. Sometimes chefs with inferior pallets will introduce modernist techniques into traditional meals and create uncomfortable taste pairings. Niki Nakayama clearly has a very sure and confident palette, as I found every dish harmonious and balanced.

I just hope the somewhat adventurous and all-tasting format doesn’t make it difficult for the restaurant to thrive (and I wouldn’t change that at all for myself, but some might be intimidated). I have the feeling that the menu changes up frequently, and is very seasonal, and I hope that’s the case — because I’ll be back! (And I was, click here for a second meal)

Or here for other LA Japanese restaurants.

Zengo – Macro Mall Medley

Restaurant: Zengo [1, 2, 3]

Location: 395 Santa Monica PlaceSanta Monica, CA 90401. Tel. 310.899.1000

Date: May 20, 2011

Cuisine: Latin-Asian Fusion

Rating: Color me confused — It’s in a mall, and it’s pretty good.

ANY CHARACTER HERE

As I discussed previously, this is a slightly commercialized but pretty tasty mall restaurant whose appearence has accompanied the rooflift of Santa Monica Place. This one is Latin-Asian fusion. Sort of Asia de Cuba meets Rivera.


The roof terrace is pretty awesome. I wish more places in LA had great outdoor spaces.


“Hot & sour egg drop soupfoie gras-pork dumplings / enoki / green onion.” This is one of two repeats from last time. It had a very inserting note to the sour, from tamarind I think. The richness of the dumplings too is very nice as is the texture of the enoki.


“Crunchy calamari salad, Lemongrass / Mixed greens / Orange-coriander sauce.” This was a tasty salad, mixing a nice dressing with tasty calamari. The batter was very good, with something sweet in it. The fry was a little strong, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t taste good.


“Thai chicken empanadas. Chile poblano / Oaxaca cheese / mango-curry salsa.” These were heavy little fellows, and I mean literally. They weighed about twice what I would’ve expected. They tasted good too, but weren’t exactly light.

Achiote-hoisin pork arepas, corn masa / avocado / crema fresca.” These are serious flavor bombs. The meat tastes a bit like a good short rib, and goes perfectly with the typical pairing of avocado and crema fresca. There is just a bit of heat from the chilies. This is one of my favorite dishes.


Chicken Tandoori. Masala-achiote roasted chicken / black bean dal / cilantro & mango salsa.” The chicken itself was so soft it felt (and looked) a bit like shrimp. Tasty too, but not one of my absolute favorites.


“Chipotle-miso glazed black cod. Daikon radish / pea sprots lemon-togarashi aioli.” This is a reinterpreted version of the Nobu Matsuhisa classic. It’s a tad overdone.


“Beef short rib udon noodles. Shitake / Asparagus / Basil / Cilantro / Ginger-hoisin broth.” It’s hard in this picture to see the beef and the noodles underneath, but they’re there. This and the calamari were probably my favorites of the new dishes we tried this time.


Another view of the roof deck.

While this was still a tasty (and reasonably priced) meal, we did better with our selections the previous time. Perhaps that is because we forced ourselves to order some new things when some of the other ones (that we’d tried before) sounded better. I guess we know our own taste because they did!

Seconds at Sotto

Restaurant: Sotto [1, 2]

Location:  9575 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90035  310.277.0210

Date: April 26, 2011

Cuisine: Sicilian and Sardinian Italian

Rating: Bold flavors, off to a great start!

ANY CHARACTER HERE

We needed a restaurant to celebrate the end of passover that was very bready. Our first choice was Pizzeria Mozza, but even a week in advance they were booked until 10:30, so that was a no go. Instead we went back to Sotto which has a host of extremely robust homemade pastas and pizzas.

For my first review of Sotto, click here.


Sotto is up there on the new (and admirable) trend of having serious mixologists behind the bar. This is a vodka orange martini of some sort. There is more in there, but apparently it was very good.


And this was a vodka, lime, fresh mint, and some really interesting stuff I can’t remember. Again, it was supposedly really good.


The menu.

This unusual Italian white from my cellars was wonderfully flavorful. Almost bright yellow in the glass it had the kind of interesting floral taste that is completely absent from so many generic whites.


“Maharrones de pungiu (sugo semplice, fiore sardo).” A wonderful homemade take on a simple tomato and cheese pasta. The choice of fiore sardo (a Sardinian cheese) gave it a slightly different tang.

“Casarecce (braised lamb ragu, egg, pecorino).” This was one damn fine pasta. The pasta itself had exactly the right texture and firmness of good homemade egg pasta. The ragu was nicely flavorful and meaty. Yum! I love great ragu, and this was my favorite pasta of the night. Some other great takes on ragu can be found here at Drago or at Capo.


“Squid ink fusilli lunghi (pistachios, bottarga, mint).” These long firm ropes had a really interesting texture. There was no overt taste of squid, just a slight sweetness and a rich nutty quality to the pesto-like sauce. Tasty, but also fairly mild despite the “frightening” sounding ingredients.


“Toasted grain capunti (ragu bianco, black trumpets, rapini greens).” Another great pasta. The noodles themselves had an almost whole wheat quality to them, but they still had the nice al-denta pasta fresca thing going on which is a hallmark of all the Sotto pasta. The sauce was cheesy, earthy and delicious.


“Ciceri e tria (tagliatelle, chickpeas, baccalá).” The last of these ingredients is salt cod, and this is essentially a fish pasta. But without any fishiness. Instead it has a creamy salty taste, one of the better fish pastas I’ve had. The noodles were nice and firm, with a toothy feel and the little grissini added some nice texture contrast.


As we move up to the heartier pizzas, I pulled out this Amarone (from my cellars). “The 2000 Amarone has developed relatively quickly. The fruit remains fairly opulent, but suggestions of earthiness and worn-in leather suggest early signs of oxidation are creeping in. Ultimately the 2000 comes across a touch rustic and four-square. Anticipated maturity: 2010-2012.”


“Pizza Marherita (tomato, mozzerella, basil, EVOO).” Your basic Marherita, but well done. These pizzas have a VERY wood fired taste going on, much like those from Gjelina, they are a little over-fired to my taste. The dough is good, but they taste very strongly of the grill (char, smoky flavors). When I do them on the stones in my hot gas grill (see my Ultimate Pizza) they showcase the dough and toppings a bit more.


“Campagnola (sunchokes, fennel, mozzarella, marjoram, house-cured lardo).” A more mushroomy pizza. It was actually fairly mellow, possibly because we had them leave off the lard (which would have added a definite porky richness). Still it was very good.


“Guanciale (house-cured pork cheek, ricotta, scallions, fennel pollen).” This was my favorite pizza of the night. They have REALLy good ricotta here at Sotto, as good as I’ve had outside of Sicily (although certainly not close to that, which is incredible). The mellow softness of the cheese blended perfectly with the rich fattiness of the bacon. This also was not a hit you over the head pizza, but it was very good.


The dessert menu.


Classic Sicilian cannolis. Because of the quality of the ricotta, these were good, on par with the other high end cannolis in town (like from Drago). Still, not in the same league as those in Sicily, but they never are. A slice of candied orange shoved through them would have pushed it up a notch.


“Bittersweet chocolate crostata, hazelnuts, salted rosemary caramel.” This looked amazing, and the texture was fantastic and very chocolaty. There was a slightly odd flavor tone in here, which might have been the rosemary. I’m not sure it added, although certainly I enjoyed it.


“Sheep’s milk yougurt panacotta. Thyme, honey, almond amaretti.” This was a yummy! Like tangy yoghurt with all sorts of sweet goodies. I love amaretti too.

Overall there is a bit of split opinion among our party about Sotto. Some of us love it for exactly the same reason the other don’t. The flavors are bold, the preparations original, traditional (in their own way), and unabashedly not fully censored in an American way. The ingredients are great too. They could probably use to tame down the burn factor on the pizzas, but I love the rest of it, and the pastas are amazing. However, if you prefer the straight up and simpler tones of boxed pasta and sauces with only a single flavor note, look elsewhere.

For my first review of Sotto, click here.

Also, since this is a Sicilian/Sardinian place, I would like to issue my Cassata Challenge. Above is a photo of a Cassata di Siciliana that I took in Palermo. This is perhaps my all time favorite dessert and I have NEVER found anyone who makes it for real in America. Surprise me! Do it!

For my another of my reviews of Sotto, click here.

Or for a review of Drago, another Sicilian restaurant.

Sotto – Sicily con Sardo

Restaurant: Sotto [1, 2]

Location:  9575 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90035  310.277.0210

Date: April 16, 2011

Cuisine: Sicilian and Sardinian Italian

Rating: Bold flavors, off to a great start!

ANY CHARACTER HERE

This new venture into the crowded LA Italian scene is a welcome change of pace. Sotto offers very reasonably priced regional Italian dishes (southern, with a Sicilian and Sardinian slant) with an unabashed traditionalism of a sort. There is no real effort on this menu to cater to the long standing American Italian palette, as influences as it is by late 19th century Southern Italian cooking. This is no red sauce (restaurant with red and white checkered table cloths and chianti bottles).

Located in the rising lower Beverly Hills district we had to fight through crowds leaving shul to descend into the packed, loud, and hard surfaced interior.

The short but very reasonable menu.

James Suckling gives this 2004 Poggio Il Castellare Brunello 94 points. “A decadent and ultra-rich red, with plum tart, prunes, cooked meat and berries. Full bodied, with soft and silky tannins and a long, flavorful finish. An aromatically beautiful wine. Best after 2012.”

“Pittule pugliese (vincotto, ricotta).” These little fritters tasted like supreme funnel cake, and were delicious with the fresh ricotta and vincotto (which is a sweet grape must). The amusing thing, for me, about this dish is that it’s pretty much straight out of Apicius, the 1800+ year-old cookbook. Delicious any way you cut it, but very filling.

“Blistered little gems (anchovy garlic pestata, breadcrumbs, pecorino moliterno.” An interesting salad with a smoky grilled flavor.

“Shaved beet and mixed chicory salad (wheatberries, lemon vinaigrette, fiore sardo).”

Olives. There was a little wait between the first and second courses and they brought us these complementary olives.

“Bruschetta lardo.” And this gratis charred bread spread with lard and fennel pollen. Very wood fired (not to mention rich taste). I was in danger of extreme over eating before the entrees even came.

“Maharrones de pungiu (sugo semplice, fiore sardo).” A wonderful homemade take on a simple tomato and cheese pasta. The choice of fiore sardo (a Sardinian cheese) gave it a slightly different tang.

“Casarecce (braised lamb ragu, egg, pecorino).” This was one damn fine pasta. The pasta itself had exactly the right texture and firmness of good homemade egg pasta. The ragu was nicely flavorful and meaty. Yum! I love great ragu. Some of my other favorites are here at Drago or at Capo.

“Pizza Marherita (tomato, mozzerella, basil, EVOO).” Your basic Marherita, but well done. These pizzas have a VERY wood fired taste going on, much like those from Gjelina, they are a little over-fired to my taste. The dough is good, but they taste very strongly of the grill (char, smoky flavors). When I do them on the stones in my hot gas grill (see my Ultimate Pizza) they showcase the dough and toppings a bit more.

“Pizza Salsiccia e friarieli (sausage, broccoli di ciccio, mozzarella, chillies).” A very nice meaty sausage paired with the bitter tones of the Italian brocoli. Interesting, and good.

“Bittersweet chocolate crostata, hazelnuts, salted rosemary caramel.” This looked amazing, and the texture was fantastic and very chocolaty. There was a slightly odd flavor tone in here, which might have been the rosemary. I’m not sure it added, although certainly I enjoyed it.

After 11 and the place is beginning to thin out a bit. I really enjoyed Sotto and it BOLD take on Italian. This is heady stuff, and the homemade pastas were totally amazing.

For a second review of Sotto, click here.

Upstairs 2 – Modern Tapas, Lots of Wine

Restaurant: Upstairs 2

Location:  2311 Cotner Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90064 Tel. 310-231-0316

Date: October 10, 2010 & April 15, 2011

Cuisine: Modern Tapas

Rating: Bright flavors and a lot of options.

ANY CHARACTER HERE

Upstairs 2 is located just above the Wine House on Cotner. This is one of the two great wine stores on this road, the other being Twenty Twenty Wine Merchants which is even more erudite (and closer allied to my taste in wine). Upstairs offers not only a big wine list and extensive by-the-glass offers (in multiple sizes) but a rich and varied menu of modern American tapas. As you know, I love tapas style dining because of the ability to try more than 2-3 flavors and the much more flexible composition of dinner menus.

This review is a composite of two different dinners. I show both a small set menu and a variety of “regular” tapas off the menu.

The menu.

The bread and olive oil.

Tonight there’s a little tasting menu with wine pairings. It appealed to me so I gave it a try.

This riesling was to my taste.

The cold cucumber soup, creme fraiche, and dill, not as much. I was hoping for something a little closer to middle eastern yogurt salad. This was very cucumber and dill. I enjoy those flavors but the thin texture of the soup (almost watery: the texture not the flavor) put me off somehow.

I funky powerful white.

“Half lobster tail, spinach polenta, black truffle butter.” This was the best dish of the three. The green stuff was rich and creamy and went very nicely with the firm lobster meat.

A pleasant barolo.

The osso bucco itself was tasty. The meat was firmer than a traditional osso bucco, and tasted almost like lamb. The succotash was okay.

I should have ordered ala carte. The dishes were okay, but I could have done better picking myself.

ANY CHARACTER HERE

And so, here is a collection of modern tapas designed to be shared by the whole table.

“Blood Orange Caesar Salad, Pumpernickel Croutons, Shaved Parmesan.” Very close to a traditional caesar, just with a little extra sweetness thrown in.

“Grilled Mahi Mahi, Crispy Corn Pancake, Black Bean Hummus, Avocado Mousse.” Sort of a modern fish taco!

“Medjool dates wrapped in serrano ham, stuffed with asiago cheese.” These are always yum central. The sweetness of the dates, the savory of the cheese, and the salty bite of the ham blend wonderfully.

“Lobster BLT on brioche, bacon, frisse, roma tomato, housemade mayo.” Another winner. I didn’t even mind the tomatoes here.

“Tandoori chicken salad, artisan greens, grape tomatos, raita, meyer lemon dressing.” This was great too. Somehow tandoori chicken does okay on salad.

“Crispened eggplant, fresh mozzarella, ricotta, marscapone cheese, chunky tomato and basil.” Mini pizza-like in flavor.

“Mixed heirloom tomatos, rainbow microgreens, citrus vinaigrette.”

“Lamb sausage flatbread, Moroccan red sauce, asiago cheese.” Not so mini pizza!

“Grilled Local Sea Bass, Purple Potato Ravioli, Ginger Beur Blanc, Black Sea Salt.”

“King crab ravioli, veronique sauce.” I love these butter sauces on delicate pastas.

“Grilled bison hanger steak, yukon smashed potatoes, red wine sauce.”

“Slow Roasted Kurobuta Pork, Sticky Rice, Oregano and Citrus.” This was really tasty, with a sweet asian pork thing going on.

“Moroccan Roast Chicken, Plums, Olives, Capers, Couscous.” Lots of flavor here as well.

“lamb meatballs, ouzo and mint.”

“Pappardelle Pasta, Veal ragu, Fresh Basil, Asiago Cheese.”

Dessert menu.

“Valrhona Chocolate Chip Gelato.”

“Sticky Toffee Pudding, Vanilla Bean Ice Cream.” This was good, not amazing, but good, particularly with the ice cream. I wanted even MORE toffee flavor, but I’m an extremist.

Overall Upstairs 2 is a good place, particularly in that it offers a lot of variety and really strong flavors. It’s particularly good with a part of 4 or 6 and people willing to just order up a storm and share it around. The good, extensive, and flexible wine options are great too. Also if you buy a wine downstairs, there’s no corkage.