Capo Hits a Triple

Restaurant: Capo [12, 3]

Location: 1810 Ocean Ave, Santa Monica, Ca. 310-394-5550

Date: September 14, 2011

Cuisine: Italian with Cal influences

Rating: The food here is really very very good.

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Capo is an occasional favorite of mine and I’ve reviewed it before HERE and HERE. They have a particular high end (but not formal) blend of California style (Farmer’s Market ingredients) and Italian tradition. But it’s not a strictly traditional Italian, more interpreted through a vaguely Tuscan / California vibe.


The intimate dining room.

They have very good bread at Capo, particularly the crispy things.


Capo always puts out this little humus-like spread. I suspect it’s fava beans. It’s addictive though.

We settle down to examine the MENU, which is big, and always a difficult decision because there is so much great stuff on it. They have an odd menu format, in which each item is identified by only it’s principle ingredient, forcing you to guess or ask how it’s actually prepared. Plus they have “fill in the blanks” on the menu which are filled in by a separate sheet of daily specials. No big deal, but it’s kind of bizare. Doesn’t matter though, as the food is great.


I got this 2004 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva at the vineyard in Tuscany. It was just released as it’s aged for 5-6 years in old oak. “From vines in Castelnuovo dell’Abate, is gorgeous, layered and elegant in its violets, tar, licorice and cherries. The finish is long and impeccable, but this is a somewhat ethereal style, with aromas and flavors that are already a touch forward relative to most 2004 Riservas. Ideally the wine is best enjoyed within the next decade. Anticipated maturity: 2010-2020.”

It’s worth noting that Capo has a peculiar corkage policy (I rant on it here). In short, you can bring one and no more than one bottle, and that it must not be on their list.


The amuse, a cone of tomatoes. Essentially like a tomato bruschetta — in a crispy cone.


“Heirloom tomato vegetable salad.” Very fresh Farmer’s Market vegetables.


The same salad, but with Burrata. Which, like bacon, makes everything better.


“Burrata black truffle bruschetta.” Besides the shaved vegetables and the bread underneath this is a big blob of burrata, fresh truffles, and a whole poached egg! It was pretty good, but decidedly rich. In some ways similar to my special eggs, in some ways like the famous Melisse truffle egg.


“Steak tartar.” The fries and aioli are obvious. The meat was delicious! There was a lot of pepper in there, and olive oil. But mostly it just tasted of wonderful raw beef. One of the better tartars I’ve had. Maybe a little shaved parmesan would make it even better!


We killed the first bottle (from my cellar) and bought this one off the list. It makes a horizontal of sorts, being another 2004 Brunello Riserva. It was good, but not quite as good as the Potozzine. “The 2004 Brunello di Montalcino comes across as lean and powerful in its expression of red cherries, tobacco, spices and earthiness. The aromas aren’t perfectly clean and the wine’s structural components seem to have the upper hand over the wine’s density and richness of fruit, suggesting the tannins will ultimately dominate the wine’s overall balance. Anticipated maturity: 2010-2018.”

“White corn ravioli.” You can’t beat fresh pasta in a butter sauce.

This is “buccatini with lamb ragu,” and it’s one of the best pastas I’ve ever had.  I’ve come back like three times for it. I love a good ragu, and the buccatini (spagetti with a tiny hole in the middle) is perfect. The dish is rich and meaty, divine. I always order it.


Capo has an impressive wood fire in the corner that they cook a lot of the entrees on. The prices are pretty punitive, but they’re good. Plus the fire lends a wonderful wintery smell to the whole dining room.


Bronzino, grilled, with vegetables.


Dover sole.


Veal chop, nice and rare.


This is the “chocolate soufflé,” an excellent implementation of the classic. You have to preorder it at the beginning of the meal.


And they add a big dollop of fresh whipped cream.


The “chocolate volcano cake,” also with whipped cream, also preordered.

And this. This was to die for. “Meyer lemon semifreddo,” with a blueberry or blackberry sauce. Everything about this was spectacular, one of my all time favorite deserts. The cold-soft texture, the bright lemon flavor, and the tart sweetness of the berries. OMFG!

A nice plate of little petit fours, not so usual at American Italians, more french. In Italy sometimes you’ll get treated to little almond cookies and shots of grappa or sambuca.

So to conclude, Capo is hands down delicious. The food is VERY VERY GOOD, and the service is top notch. The intimate little atmosphere is great also. It’s just very expensive — definitely not a good value — perfect if someone else is paying :-).

Two other Capo meals HERE and HERE.

For more LA dining reviews click here.

Or for a legion of great eating in Italy itself, here.

Hostaria del Piccolo – Pizza + Pasta

Restaurant: Hostaria del Piccolo

Location: 606 Broadway, Santa Monica, CA 90401. P: 310-393-6633

Date: August 27, 2011

Cuisine: Italian

Rating: Good new casual Italian

ANY CHARACTER HERE

Hostaria del Piccolo is a casual new Italian with a Pasta/Pizza emphasis from the people that brought us Piccolo (my review here).


It’s located in a chic modern space at the corner of 6th and Broadway three blocks behind the Santa Monica Promenade.


The interior has a modern rustic quality.


And they have a lovely patio, which given that it was 5pm on an 85 degree perfect California August day totally ruled.


Given the weather, I decided to take a cue from my Italian friends and order a glass of Lambrusco Frizzante. Sparkling grape juice with a kick, what more can you ask for in the heat?


Very nice thick and buttery grissini.


The menu. Secondi are not numerous in quantity, but they have a lot of pizzas and a number of tasty sounding pastas.


“CANTALUPO  tuscan melon and Bresaola.” Artfully arranged!


“MESCOLATA organic greens, roasted tomatoes, sliced almonds.”


Rigatoni pomodoro for the boy.


“PAPPARDELLE tomato sauce, roasted eggplant, mozzarella di bufala.”


“SALSICCIA  tomato sauce, smoked mozzarella, sausage, bell peppers, Castelvetrano olives.” I actually ordered the FARCITA (which was a white prosciutto pizza) but he must have misheard me and anyway this was a tasty pizza. The sausage was very tender and flavorful. The crust was really yummy, and the whole thing not overly burnt like some wood oven pizzas are. If you want to see my Ultimate Homemade Pizza, click here.


“AGNELLO Marinated and grilled New Zealand lamb chops, roasted garlic sauce.” Very nice tender straight up grilled lamb chops. Bone gnawing good.


The dessert menu. We were full and didn’t order any.


But they brought my 2.75 year-old this ice cream cone as a freebee and he was mighty pleased.

Overall, Hostaria del Piccolo is a very nice new contemporary Italian, with a heavy pizza/pasta focus. This is sure to make it a crowd pleaser. They could use to beef up the variety of anti-pasta and secondi a bit, but what I had was very nice.

Click here to see more LA dining posts.

The open kitchen inside.

Or for a legion of great eating in Italy itself, here.


Osteria Latini 3

Restaurant: Osteria Latini [1, 2, 3]

Location: 11712 San Vicente Blvd.Brentwood, CA 90049 310.826.9222

Date: August 20, 2010

Cuisine: Italian

Rating: Excellent neighborhood Italian

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We have a regular rotation of neighborhood Italians. There are so many of them, but only a few make the cut as genuinely good. Osteria Latini is one of them. You can see my previous reviews here and here.


Olive and chickpea/squash/bean pastes.


The 1997 Biondi-Santi Brunello. This is a solid Brunello I had bought years ago in Italy (probably in 2000). It probably scores somewhere in the low 90s, maybe 91 or 92 points.


A special, lobster bisque.


“BELLA SALAD. Arrugola, pears, dry cherries, goat cheese, shaved parmesan.”


A special, calimari steak stuffed with lump crabmeat and drizzled in ponzu sauce. This is unusual, and certainly has a bit of fusion about it — but it’s good.


Gnocchi genovese (in classic basil pesto).


“ACQUERELLO RISOTTO. Organic carnaroli, sea urchin, truffle scent, lemon zest (Please allow 20 Minutes).” A very nice subtle sea urchin risotto. This special hand shaved rice takes 20-30 minutes to cook.


OSSOBUCO ALLA MILANESE. With saffron risotto.” Latini’s version of the classic dish. Certainly good with a very nice meaty bone. The risotto could have been perhaps a tad creamier.

Two “rounds” of freebee desserts. This mixture of prosecco, lemon sorbetto, and meringue is very refreshing.


Chocolate chip cookies and biscotti.

Osteria Latini is always reliable. They have a big menu of modern Italian favorites and pretty much everything is very good.

For more LA dining reviews click here.

Or for a legion of great eating in Italy itself, here.

More Drago – Via Alloro

Restaurant: Via Alloro

Location: 301 N. Canon Drive – Beverly Hills, CA 90210. Phone: 310.275.2900

Date: August 5, 2011

Cuisine: Italian

Rating: Very nice

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The Drago brothers have an ever expanding little empire going in Beverly Hills. This includes Il Pastaio, Enoteco Drago,  Piccolo Paradiso, and Il Buco. Plus several others on the westside, the valley, downtown etc. I’ve reviewed Celestino Drago’s flagship Drago and I’ve been to most, all are very good.


Via Alloro is new, managed by brothers Giacomino and Tanino, and only two blocks from Il Pastaio. We decided to grab a quick lunch there and check it out.


Lots of good choices on this menu. The PDF.


Excellent bread as at all Drago restaurants.


A slightly different take on fried zucchini flowers. Stuffed with ricotta and mozzarella. Then served over a light tomato sauce.


“Vitello Tonnao. Chillded veal in tuna sauce, with parmesan and capers.” This was damn good, with the very tasty zesty salty sauce really bringing out the flavor of the meat.


Lots of great pastas here — no surprise. “Homemade ravioli filled with sweet corn, served with truffle fondue.” Hard to beat that.


And “Saliccie al forno. baked sausage with mama Drago’s stew.” This is a very Southern Italian dish and I have to say it’s the best Italian sausage I’ve even had. Incredibly succulent, with fennel, and a very bright and zesty “gravy.”


Expresso to recover!

Off to a great start on the latest BH Drago Italian. I’ll have to come back for a more extensive dinner.

Click here to see Eating Italy posts.

Or for more LA Restaurants.

Villetta – More Italian in Brentwood?

Restaurant: Villetta

Location: 246 26th Street. Santa Monica, CA 90402. 310-394-8455

Date: July 30, 2011

Cuisine: Italian

Rating: Very good, but prices are steep

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One of the great mysteries of the culinary universe is how Brentwood in general, and San Vicente in particular, is able to support so many Italian restaurants. Every time someplace closes and resets it comes back Italian! The only other option in the entire town are 3 Japanese and a couple chains (CPK and Cheesecake — but you all know I don’t eat chains).


This gorgeous 1920s space used to be Chez Mimi, an old school French place that my wife and I used to eat at quite a bit.


It’s still very cute with a little bar inside.


A quaint dining room.


And most importantly a lovely patio. I had been trying for about three weeks to get into this new place but it was always booked on opentable.com, so we just showed up at 6:15 and had no trouble getting a “bar seat” in the patio.


They give you to start faggioli (Tuscan white beans) mashed with garlic and salt, and drizzled in olive oil. For such a simple thing, it’s surprisingly delicious. You can see the old school version here in florence about half way down the post.


The bread, two types.


The wine list was a bit odd. Three quarters New World. Which for an Italian restaurant is strange. They also had no half bottles (boo hiss) so I had to get glasses, which is expensive. The pours were generous though. This is a decent Amarone (but $25 a glass!).


And a Pinot Grigio from the Venato. I’d never drink Ca wine with Italian when there are so many great wines from the boot.


The menu.


“Villetta ‘Caprese’ with heirloom tomatoes, bufala mozzarella, basil pesto and grilled bread.” Villetta claims to be farmer’s market driven, and you can see that here in this lovely caprese. Very high quality ingredients.


Same goes with the “burrata, prosciutto, cherry tomatoes and bruschetta.” These were good enough tomatoes that I was able to put aside my nightshade aversion and eat half of them. Nice prosciutto too, probably from parma.


“ravioli with zucchini and chive blossoms and sweet corn.” Also very nice homemade pasta. Very straight up but delicious butter-sage sauce. Note though that this is the large ($25) portion.


“Santa Barbara spot prawns with salad of borlotti beans, mizuna and orange citronette.” These were pretty darn delicious. Even the beans underneath were incredibly good with garlic and olive oil. Again this is the large ($50!) portion. You can see the Ligurian version of this same dish here.


A little free watermelon sorbet to cleanse the palette.


The dessert menu.

“Chocolate chip cookie sundae with vanilla and chocolate gelato, whipped cream and chocolate sauce.” This was delicious. I don’t think the ice cream was actually gelato though — but it was good. I’d put good money on it coming from Sweet Rose Creamery across the street as it had the same kind of consistency.

Overall, the food at Villetta was first rate. Really good actually, and the service was very friendly too (not super fast, but warm). The prices however are high. They also have what looks to be some really good pizza, as they have a full wood fired pizza oven and a chef from Napoli, but we didn’t try it. So I’d put this in the same category with Capo, Georgio Baldi, and Vincente of excellent but overpriced westside Italian.

Click here to see more Italian than you can shake a stick at.

Or more LA restaurants.

Eating Santa Margherita – Pizzeria Santa Lucia

Restaurant: Pizzeria Santa Lucia

Location: Santa Margherita, Italy

Date: June 29, 2011

Cuisine: Ligurian / Pizza

Rating: Good pizza

ANY CHARACTER HERE

On our last night in Italy (/cry) we wanted an early and quick meal prior to getting up at 4am the next morning. So I asked the hotel staff where they went for pizza and they all voted Santa Lucia as their favorite.


It’s located in the heart of the eastern marina, inside a cluster of many restaurants.


The menu.


The have a pleasant little patio. It was also just across the street from the Carousel, so I took my 2 year-old son while we waited.


On my last night I was a bad boy and ordered pasta and pizza at the same time! Again the waitress looked at me funny. This is lasagna pesto. Very simple, fresh noodles with fresh pesto and cheese. Simple but good.


The last shredded carrot salad you’ll see for awhile.


Santa Lucia takes its pizza seriously enough to have dedicated knives. Italians almost never serve pizza precut.


Pizza funghi (with mushrooms).


Pizza Margherita, apro pos in this town.


Pizza Prosciutto.


And mine, Pizza di mare. The seafood pizza is always a bit of a gamble, but as we were sitting right on the marina I figured I’d give it a go and I wasn’t disapointed. The briny factor was there (as it should be) but light.

Santa Lucia was a nice little pizza place, not quite as good as Pretorio in Tuscany, but in the three or so best we had on the trip (the third being Pizzeria Notte E Di).

Click here to see more Eating Italy posts.

Eating Santa Marghertia – Da Michele

Restaurant: Da Michele

Location: Santa Margherita, Italy

Date: June 28, 2011

Cuisine: Ligurian

Rating: Solid

ANY CHARACTER HERE

Another evening pick in central Santa Margherita, just a block away from the previous night’s Antonios.


Right in the main drag.


The outside seating was right on the square/street in front of the restaurant. I wish they did this more in America.


The menu.


Vermentino is one of the better quality local whites.


Seafood anti-pasta. This wasn’t as good as the raw plate the pervious night. But it was certainly tasty enough. This is more traditional, being marinated shellfish for the most part.


Another example of ravioli di noce (in walnut cream sauce). Also good, but not as good as Antonios’s version.


Trofie Genovese. Local pasta twists with pesto, potato and beans.


Tagliatelle ai gamberi, curry e piselli. Noodles with shrimps, curry, and peas. Something a little different, but very good. In it’s own way a little like a dish from Singapore. Maybe it’s the British influence in Santa Margherita.


Sea-bass Genovese. With potatoes, olives, pine nuts. This is the more traditional form.


Scampi all’agro. Shrimp in sweet and sour sauce.


This was basically a butter Vinaigrette, and it was absolutely delicious with the crawfish-like creatures. Finger licking good in fact.


Chocolate mousse.


Tiramisu.

This was a very solid and enjoyable meal. The food was a tiny bit better than La Paranza, but not as elegant or refined as that of neighboring Antonios.

Click here to see more Eating Italy posts.