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.


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.

Pecorino – No Sheep is Safe

Restaurant: Pecorino

Location: 11604 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood, CA 90049. 310.571.3800

Date: April 9, 2011

Cuisine: Abruzzi Italian

Rating: Unusual, tasty, very slightly over priced.


Pecorino is one of the twelve or so Italians on San Vicente in Brentwood. It’s relatively new, and replaced a good new American called Zax at the end of the street. One might ask why the street needed another Italian. Well it didn’t but Pecorino does offer a different (and good) take on the boot. The place specializes in the rustic cooking of Abruzzo, which is not only interesting and good, but certainly underrepresented.

The facade. Inside is cozy and stylish.

The menu.

Pecorino has a number of premium wines by the glass, which is nice. They are a little pricey, but I still like the option. I got a glass of Brunello followed by one of Amarone.

The bread.

And they serve it with this chickpea paste, which is tasty.

Caprino. Warm goat cheese “Crouton” served on a bed seasonal greens with hazelnuts.

Spaghetti with lobster. Chopped Maine lobster in a light garlic sauce with lobster juices and parsley. This is a really nice pasta. There’s a lot of lobster meat in here too.

Penne. In a tomato and basil sauce with green onions, cherry tomatoes and shaved pecorino cheese.

Lamb “Casserole”. De-boned Rack of lamb with pecorino cheese and artichokes “Chef’s Hometown recipe. This is an unusual, rustic, and delicious dish. It’s mildly cheesy, with big chunks of lamb and lots of artichokes.

Pecorino is a very good place, and it’s nice when an Italian gets away from the same old litany of dishes. It is however, mysteriously a bit more expensive than some of the others of fairly equal quality (like say Palmeri down the street). There’s a good amount of price variation in the Italians, and I’m not sure I get it. Still, the food’s very good.

Quick Eats – Palmeri

Restaurant: Palmeri [1, 2]

Location: 11650 San Vicente Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90049. (310) 442-8446 ‎

Date: February 13, 2011

Cuisine: Italian

Rating: Great, and good value.


Palmeri is one of Brentwood’s vast array of Italian restaurants. It’s one of our favorites though as the food is very good, the prices are extremely reasonable, and the service is very very friendly. Italians in LA fall either have a decent kitchen or they don’t, with only about 25-30% being having any real culinary knack. Palmeri is very solid this way. Everything is tasty and well executed. It’s not the most innovative place in the world, or the best Italian in town, but it serves very good modern Italian at very good prices.

From my cellar. Parker 95. “The profound, dense ruby/purple-colored 1999 Montiano (2,500 cases of 100% Merlot aged in 100% new French oak, and bottled unfined and unfiltered) offers a smorgasbord of aromas, including melted chocolate, espresso, blackberries, cherries, currants, and smoke. Full-bodied, with terrific purity, a multilayered texture, and surprising freshness for a wine of such depth, it can be drunk young, or cellared for 10-15 years. For technicians who care about such things, it has a whopping 37 grams per liter of dry extract.”

Palmeri has very nice bread, including the ever popular homemade grisini.

And best of all, they have this “amuse” (with the bread) of marinara sauce and ricotta baked. With bread, pretty much like pizza.

Barbiatelli, beets, goat cheese, a bit of nuts and fruit.

Carpaccio. Raw “piemontese” beef, thinly sliced, topped with arugula, Parmigiano cheese and mustard. A solid carpaccio, very beefy.

Artichoke soup, vegan.

Penne pomodoro, for our toddler.

Pizza Margherita, tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. With some extra mushrooms thrown in. They do a very nice very crisp Neapolitan pizza. They have a real pizza oven.

Salade Invernale. Endive, baby frisee,  radicchio, grapes, gorgonzola dolce, almonds, prosecco vinaigrette.

Mussels and clams in a garlic tomato broth.

Pizza Fornarina. Mozzarella, St. Daniele prosciutto, argugla, parmigiano reggiano and truffle oil. I’m particularly partial to this pizza. The dough is very tasty and thin but chewy. The salad like combo of toppings top notch, and the bit of truffle oil lends a little extra zing.

The owner, Octavio — always extraordinarily warm and welcoming.

For a second review of Palmeri, click here.

Sicilian Style – Drago

Restaurant: Drago

Location: 2628 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90403. T: 310/828-1585

Date: February 5 & October 15, 2011

Cuisine: Italian

Rating: One of LA’s top Italians!


Celestino Drago and his brothers have a bit of a mini Italian culinary empire here in LA with a number of different restaurants and concepts. These include the flagship Drago, a branch in Pasadena, Il Pastiao, Enoteco Drago and Piccolo Paradiso in Beverly Hills, Drago Centro downtown, Panzanella in the valley, a bakery, catering, and probably something I missed. All of these places are top notch and despite the expansion there is a real attention to quality.

Originally from Sicily the family blends tradition with the modern to make some of LA’s best Italian. Having eaten all over Italy I have to say that the two areas with the best food are in my mind the Piedimonte/Venato and Sicily. And the later wins hands down for desserts. Celistino doesn’t purely stick with Sicilian cuisine anyway, but very much pulls in the latest Italian culinary trends. In particular, the pastas, usually homemade, are phenomenal.

He’s also incredibly creative and adaptable. He’s catered about 8 or so of our events and that includes some whacky stuff. In 2006 we even did a party themed after the Ancient World where all of the dishes were based on the ancient Roman cookbook by Apicius. I just gave Celistino a copy with circled dishes and he adapted these VERY OLD (1900 years old!) recipes and brought them to life. Very interesting.

Anyway, Drago is the flagship restaurant of the empire, and its most formal. They have a big Menu well represented in every category, including good hearty meaty dishes. Certain favorites persist, but it’s always being adapted and changed (something I like), and includes seasonal stuff.

As usual I brought wine. Parker gives this 92 points, “The 1999 Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Nuova, from newer vineyards near Castelnuovo dell-Abate in the southern part of Montalcino, is sweet, spicy, and weighty on the nose, with the aromas given additional push and penetration from the alcohol. The important volume and length, the solidity of the structure, and dense, liquorice-laden finish are those of a wine destined for long life. Drink: 2005-2018.”

For January, the theme is game! We don’t see it as much here in America, but Italians love meat and game, and no one in LA does it as well as Celistino and crew.

Because the group owns its own bakery, they always have really good bread. This is just a small selection, at the bakery or catered events they can go nuts with grain.

An amuse. Arincini, which is basically a friend risotto. In this case one with a bit of cheese, tomato, and ground beef. Inside it retains the creamy cheesy quality of the risotto, paired with a hot crunchy outside. Now I prefer my risotto in normal form, but these certainly are tasty.

A vegetarian squash soup.

“Elk carpaccio, candied walnuts, mache, spiced pear chutney.” You can see a dusting of fresh pepper. This was a wonderful and different carpaccio. The elk meat had almost a spicy quality to it, certainly more gamey, and the sweetness and crunch of the walnuts paired perfectly.

Panzenella. My wife loves this salad. It isn’t on the dinner menu and they made it up for us on the fly, so it actually doesn’t look like it usually does. At lunch the “normal” version can be had, and several of the other Drago Group places have it all the time. Its crunchy bread, tossed with tomatoes, mozzarella, cucumbers, etc.

A mixed tri-color salad of greens with goat cheese.

“Burrata, market beets, arugula, pistachio, fried shallot.” Most Italians have a beets and burrata these days, but this way a particularly good one with a very interesting sweet dressing.

Another favorite and a Celestino classic. This is pumpkin ravioli in a parmesan cream sauce. Inside is a pure of pumpkin, slightly spiced. A homemade spinach pasta, and then a rich cream and cheese sauce. This is a varient on the truly tradition tortellini de zucca where a slightly smaller normal fresh pasta is used, and the stuffing mixes pumpkin and amaretti cookies, and then the sauce is just butter and sage. This version is richer obviously.

“PAPPARDELLE AL FAGIANO. Pappardelle, roasted pheasant, morel mushroom.” This is one of my favorite Drago pastas. A rich winter dish of hearty fresh pappardelle, chunky pheasant, and morel mushrooms.

“Cavatelli al ragout di capriolo, venison and porcini ragout, chestnut.” This is one of the reasons I come here: for dishes like this. While this is a special, there are always many great pastas, and this is a level of pasta perfection that you WILL NOT find at 95% of LA’s Italians (although we certainly do have some other great ones: Angelini Osteria, Capo, Georgio Baldi, and many more). This particular dish is a homemade larvae shaped Cavatelli (pasta perfection) coupled with this incredibly rich winter ragout. The chestnut adds a little crunch and further winter cheer — chestnuts being very popular/traditional in Italy in Dec/Jan. Stylistically I would have to say this is more a Roman or maybe mountains near Rome kind of dish than explicitly Sicilian, but I could be wrong. Doesn’t matter, it’s great.

“Risotto alla quaglia, foie gras stuffed quail, pearl onion, port reduction.” Pink Risotto! This was a slightly weird dish. Good, but unusual. The quail was great, perfectly tender and who can fault a little fois gras thrown in? The risotto itself had a kind of tart sweetness too it, and the onions added even a bit more sweetness. It was also perfectly cooked, and overall a very pleasant dish, just not as orgasmic as the cavatelli — and the color is amusing, like the weird pink pizza one of my friends made the other week.

In keeping with being Sicilian, Drago always has fantastic desserts.

Gelato, chocolate and maple sugar. Really very fine gelato, I’m sure made on premises. It’s hard to find good gelato in LA, but this is.

“Dolci di nocciole, hazelnut brown butter cake, praline crunch, salted caramel gelato, apple rum puree.” This is perhaps a deconstructed version of a more traditional Italian dessert, not Sicilian perse as most of those use fresh Ricotta and almonds (yum yum yum!). This was nice, but a tad dry. When all the flavors combined they did so excellently, but I would have loved more gelato as it was SUPERB. Hell, just the gelato and some candied hazelnuts would have been incredible. The ice cream itself tasted a bit like the incredible Gjelina butterscotch budino. So while really good, I think this dish could perhaps be better served by a slight format change.  Perhaps piling the cake into layer separated or covered by gelato. Or maybe just more gelato would solve it :-).

This was just a simple little meal (for Drago) with only the family, so we never even really made it to the excellent meat courses. Rest assured, you can’t go wrong here (or at any of the groups places). Sometimes I’ll come here with a really big party and get tons of stuff, so I’ll have to document that next time I do.

Click here to see Eating Italy posts.

Or for more LA Restaurants.

Quick Eats: Osteria Latini 2

Restaurant: Osteria Latini [1, 2, 3]

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

Date: Dec 03, 2010

Cuisine: Italian


As I mentioned last time, Osteria Latini is a reliable and reasonable neighborhood Italian. It proved that yet again.

From my cellar. Parker gives it 91 points. “The 2004 Brunello di Montalcino is a fresh, vibrant offering bursting with dark cherries, violets, underbrush, minerals and sweet toasted oak on a medium-bodied frame. The wine reveals terrific balance in an energetic, focused style, with firm yet ripe tannins. The finish is long, clean and refreshing. This is a gorgeous effort from Loacker. Anticipated maturity: 2011-2019.”

Tomato, basil, goat cheese.

“ARTICHOKE SALAD, Marinated thin sliced artichokes, heart of palm and parmesan in a lemon dressing.”

“INSALATA BELLA, Arrugola, Pears, sun dried cherries, pine nuts, goat cheese and 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.

“BEET SALAD, Diced red beets, endive, pine nuts, walnuts, dried cherries and goat cheese.” This is Latini variant on this now ubiquitous dish.

Another special, “duck prosciutto with gorgonzola sauce. The duck has a very nice smokey flavor.

Branzino, roasted whole with a lemon butter sauce. They took it away to filet.

“PENNE ARRABBIATA , Penne rigate with spicy marinara sauce, garlic, olive oil and parsley.”

RISOTTO DI ARAGOSTA, Sautéed with lobster, light marinara sauce and white wine.” I got this again because I love lobster and i love risotto,

“CHICKEN MILANESE OR PARMIGGIANA, Pounded and breaded. Sautéed with marinara and mozzarella cheese.” This chicken must have been the size of Godzilla. It’s lightly breaded, sauced, and has both parmesan and mozzarella.

Special pasta, spaghetti, salmon, zucchini, and tomato.

Here is the sea bass.

The chef brought some out in their raw form to show us.

This mixture of prosecco, lemon sorbetto, and meringue is very refreshing.

For other Osteria Latini reviews, click HERE or HERE.

Or for LA Restaurant reviews.

Or an entire month of eating in Italy!