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.

Rustic Canyon 4

Restaurant: Rustic Canyon [12, 3, 4]

Location: 1119 Wilshire Blvd. Santa Monica, Ca 90401. 310-393-7050

Date: May 13, 2011

Cuisine: Farmer’s Market Californian

Summary: Excellent Seasonal New American

ANY CHARACTER HERE

As a seasonal market driven California restaurant Rustic canyon can be counted on to mix up the menu a bit fairly frequently. It’s a friday night favorite for us, and we return every two months or so. Many of the specific dishes change, but the overall types and categories stay consistant. If you are interested in the previous meals at Rustic Canyon, meal 1 heremeal 2 here, and meal 3 here.


The front.


Today’s current menu.


Spanish style – olives on the table.


I got a glass of Riesling.


“Burrata, roasted artichokes, fava beans, stinging nettle pesto, ramps toast.” This is sort of like make your own cheese bruschetta as the blog of Burrata (here for more on this wonderful cheese) can just be slathered on the toast.


“Asparagus soup, asparagus tips, smoked bacon.” It was of course the lardons that made this entire dish.

“Roasted beets & farro, roasted beets, feta, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, red onion, fennel, yogurt.”


This was a special, not on the menu. A squid ink homemade pasta with botarga and fiore di sardo (Sardinian peccorino). Very nice, with a sweet and briny flavor.


The desserts, which are very good here, but we were full.

Check out other LA meals here.

Fraiche Santa Monica

Restaurant: Fraiche Santa Monica [1, 2]

Location: 312 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90401. Phone : 310.451.7482

Date: March 19, 2011

Cuisine: Cal French Italian

Rating: On the way up.

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This particular location adjacent to the Barnes and Noble on Wilshire near the promenade has a fairly checkered past. Two or three years ago the Fraiche group turned it into Riva. This was supposed to be a coastal Italian, but to my taste wasn’t really Italian at all — although they made a decent Pizza. In any case, it failed and they rebooted it as Fraiche Santa Monica with an entirely new menu and staff, albiet an identical interior. This is sort of a spin off of the Culver City location (REVIEW HERE).

One corner of the back room. I didn’t have much of a wide angle lens (food after all). It’s a pretty nice space.

The wine by the glass list.

“Bourgogne Pinot Noir, Les Chapitres de Jaffelin, Burgundy, 2009.” As a burghound this was about the bare limit of drinkability for Pinot Noir. A little sour and acidic and decidedly unbalanced. But then again, I rarely expect much from “Bourgogne” (Burgundy which is not AOC to a particular village or vineyard).

The bread was hot out of the oven, and very nice and crunchy. Oilve, mashed and oiled.

Today’s menu. This is actually the second time I’ve eaten at Fraiche SM (I did so once right after they opened) and in the meantime they have moved the menu to be much closer to the new one at Fraiche Culver City (detailed review of that here).

“POACHED PEAR SALAD, Endive, baby wild arugula, candied walnuts, Point Reyes blue cheese, red wine vinaigrette.”

“Baby Beets, House Made Ricotta / Orange / Pistachio.” Sweetness of the beets meshes with the cheesy sauce. Beet salads have become very passe, but when well done (like this one), I like them.

“ROASTED PEPPERS ARUGULA & BURRATA, Shallots, 12 year old balsamic and extra virgin olive oil.” This was as good a Burrata as I’ve had at a restaurant. They still aren’t quite as sensual as my own take on the cheese.

Valpolicella Ripasso, Classico Superiore, David Sterza, Veneto, 2008.” Much better than the generic Burgundy. This was a fine wine of the type. Grapey, but not as much so as an Amarone.

“MUSHROOM RISOTTO, Arugula, Pine Nuts, Pecorino.” Nice nutty, mushroomy risotto.

AGNOLOTTI, Mushrooms,  mascarpone, truffle butter.” These are really good. The pasta is nice fresh egg pasta. It tastes mostly of butter and mushroom. Butter!

“GARGANELLI, Mushroom Bolognese, Parsley, House Made Ricotta.” I actually expected this to be a meat pasta, but it’s vegetarian with the “ragu” being made from mushrooms. It was tasty, particularly the ricotta which, being homemade, was more like a real Sicilian Ricotta than one usually gets here. The mushrooms leant it a fairly rich taste, but it wasn’t heavy at all (like a meat one would be).

“Rigatoni, Beef & Pork Ragù / Scallion / Gruyère.” This one was great. basically a Bolognese, but really good. Close even to one of my ultimate pasa favorites, the lamb ragu at Capo (SEE HERE).

We were too full for desserts but Fraiche has really good ones, so I snuck in a photo of the Budino from a trip to the culver city joint. You can look there for a bunch more dessert photos. The dessert menu is nearly identical.

“Carmel Budino, Vanilla Mascarpone, Sea salt.” Mildly carmel/creamy with that nice salt factor. Good, but not quite as good as the similar dessert at Gjelina (SEE HERE).

Fraiche SM seems to be settling into its groove. It was better than last time, and quite a bit better than Riva. It isn’t a lot different than the Culver City location, but the menu is slightly smaller, and missing the assorted “pots of stuff” that are fairly unique over there. It does still have the very good fresh pastas. I need to try I nice meaty one.

Piccolo – A little Italian

Restaurant: Piccolo [1, 2]

Location: 5 Dudley Ave, Venice, Ca. 310-314-3222

Date: February  26, 2011

CuisineNorthern Italian

Rating: Neighborhood Italian, hybridizing toward modern.

 

Piccolo is a neighborhood Italian located in a rather sketchy area of the venice boardwalk. For a previous review, look HERE. I few years ago it was a very Italian place with a veronese regional menu. It’s still very Northern Italian, but under a new chef has been growing more bold and modern. Mostly this consists of deconstructing classic dishes.

The menu.

Parker gives this an 89, “The 2003 Brunello di Montalcino is a pretty, supple wine with sweet red fruit and an accessible personality. The heat of the vintage is felt in the sweet notes of fruit and oak that linger on the finish. Ideally the oak could be a little more integrated and the tannins might be more finessed, but this is a nicely poised effort from Altesino. Anticipated maturity: 2008-2015.”

I would have given this a 90 or 91 myself. It’s a very nice approachable Brunello.

“caprese rivisitata, heirloom tomatoes, burrata, revisited. basil, ligurian olive oil.” Notice we have more or less the traditional ingredients of the Caprese, but they have been deconstructed and reassembled in a new form, as a sort of gelled parfait.

“Tortelli di prosciutto cotto. ravioli filled with truffle-prosciutto cotto, Italian mascarpone sauce, micro celery.” Piccolo has very fine, very fresh egg pastas. This one is stuffed with a bit of ham, and served on a very buttery cheese sauce. The pasta was nicely al dente.

“Large ricotta gnocchi in a butter sauce sauce with a mascarpone foam.” Also a rearrangement of traditional elements.

“agnello al rabarbaro. boneless, natural lamb shank slow-braised in rhubarb-port, tuscan melon-foe gras risotto cake.” At some level an osso bucco with risotto, but with lamb. And slightly deconstructed, the meat is off the bone and piled in these little cylinders. The meat and its sauce was very tasty. The risotto though felt dry and crunchy, and didn’t have that creamy texture I love in good risotto.

The dessert menu.

“Bignole. Pastry puffs filled with Belgian Gianduja chocolate cream.” Close to profiteroles. The inside was mildly hazelnuty, the sauce a classic creme anglais.

“Semifreddo. Imported Amaretto cookies soft-frozen cream.” This was really good. The semifreddo itself a gelato-like ball of Amaretto, with some nice texture too. I love Amaretto, and this tasted very strongly of them, with that nice cold texture. The stripe of sauce is carmel, which made for a lovely convo.

Breakfasts of Champions

During my mom’s birthday weekend we seized on the opportunity of a fridge filled with pizza ingredients to whip up a number of Gavin-style breakfasts. First I made my Spanish eggs (SEE HERE). The next day my brother cooked up one of his signature frittatas.

This is a big fluffy omelet stuffed with cheese and veggies.

Plus some fruit, cheese, and fresh squeezed blood orange juice (the trees had a bumper crop this year).

Then on monday a slightly different, less fried take on the Spanish eggs. A little salad, some lox, and La Brea bakery toast with pesto and romesco, arugala, and peppers.

Here is the romesco on the left, and the pesto on the right (SEE HERE for more on the pesto).

A peek under the salad at the sauces.

Some eggs poached normally. Not as crispy as the olive oil “poaching” of the classic Spanish eggs.

An egg in place.

My brother chose to supplement with ricotta.

I went with burrta. I always go with burrata (MORE on the ultimate fresh cheese HERE).

A final shop, with nice contrasty lighting and some cracked pepper. Cutting into the egg of course provides lots of yolky goodness.

Gjelina Scores Again

Restaurant: Gjelina [1, 2, 3]

Location: 1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd, CA 90291. (310) 250-1429

Date: Jan 11, 2011

Cuisine: New Californian

Rating: Perfect lunch!

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My brother and I love Gjelina’s for lunch. Nowhere else in LA is the casual New American done so right. This is my second review, you can find the first here.

Today’s menu. It changes up constantly, although there are similar themes.

They always have Burrata, which my loyal readers know I just adore (CLICK HERE for my home version).  This is “Burrata with Salted Anchovy, Pepperonata & Mint Pesto on Toasts.” Interesting. This has a vague resemblance to the classic Spanish dish done so well at Botin in Madrid (CLICK HERE to see). The anchovies were the salted kind, although good ones. I would have preferred the fresher Spanish fish, but it was still a soft and tasty dish.

“Wood Roasted Cauliflower with Garlic, Parsley & Chili.” We always get this here, as it’s one of the best Cauliflower dishes I’ve had. Sour, tangy, and a tiny bit spicy.

This was a new pizza I hadn’t tried before. “Duck Sausage, Black Trumpet Mushroom, Garlic, and Mozzarella.” Good, but not as good as their “Lamb Sausage, Confit Tomato, Rapini, Pecorino & Asiago.” Or perhaps I’ve just become jaded by Ultimate Pizza.

Pizza at Gjelina’s always comes with the red pepper, parmesan, and oregano. A sort of high class variant of what you’d have on the table at a New York or Jersey pizza joint.

Niman Ranch Lamb Burger with Harissa Aioli, Roasted Tomato & Arugula,” is usually on the menu, and for a reason. Not only are the seasoned fries great (particularly with the aioli and the harissa), but the burger is totally succulent lamb city.

Close up of that pink!

And the best thing at Gjelina: “Butterscotch Pot de Crème with Salted Caramel & Crème Fraiche.” This is an absolutely perfect desert to my taste. Rich creamy butterscotch creme, carmel, and a bit of salt.

No disappointments here.

If you liked this New American, click for reviews of similar places: Rustic Canyon (REVIEW 1, REVIEW 2), Tavern (REVIEW 1, REVIEW 2), or coming soon, Fig.

Quick Eats: Divino

Restaurant: Divino

Location: 11714 Barrington CourtBrentwood, CA 310.472.0886

Date: Jan 07, 2011

Cuisine: Italian

Summary: Solid value.

 

Divino is another of Brentwood’s seemingly endless supply of Italian eateries. I find this one in the upper middle of the pack. It’s pretty good, and very reasonably priced, but not brilliant. The menu can be found here.

I ordered this “super tuscan.” Very nice wine actually, grapey in the extreme. Parker gives it 92 points. “This is a superb set of releases and I can’t recommend the wines highly enough. The 2003 Testamatta (70% Sangiovese, 15% Colorino, 12% Canaiolo and 3% Moscato Nero Malvasia Nera) is a deeply concentrated, expressive wine packed with the essence of black cherries, licorice, smoke, minerals and underbrush. It is a surprisingly fresh, finessed and elegant wine for this vintage, even if it can’t quite match the sublime 2004. Anticipated maturity: 2009-2018.”

They have regular bread and this “pizza bread.” This is just pizza dough baked in the pizza oven with no toppings, and then drizzle with olive oil. I do this extensively myself at home during the course of Ultimate Pizza (see here for more).

“Mozzarella Divino. Slices of fresh mozzarella & roma tomato, with extra virgin oil and basil.”

Beet and burrata special. Yes, even after going through two whole tubs of Burrata at home this week (CLICK FOR DETAILS), I ordered this. Nice burrata prep. The cheese was in perfect soft ripeness, and went well with the beets.

A “free” intermezzo of tomato, goat cheese, and eggplant, with basil. This was tasty.

“Ravioli Zucchini. Freshly prepared pasta filled with ricotta cheese & spinach topped with fresh zucchini sauce.” These were perhaps a little mushy, I like my pasta a bit firmer.

Another special. Spaghetti with lobster. Very nice. There was a bit of celery in here that lent this a very slightly asian noodle salad flair.

We didn’t order desert, but they gave us for “free” these little Italian cookies. The only sugar was the… sugar. They would have gone well with expresso.

All in all Divino does a nice job for the money. They aren’t revolutionary, but the food is solid and reliable, and they are considerably way modern than some of the Italian joints that haven’t changed their decor (or menu) since the 60s.