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.

Waterloo & City is Victorious

Restaurant: Waterloo & City [1, 2]

Location: 12517 Washington Blvd, Culver City, CA 90066  310.391.4222

Date: August 14, 2011

Cuisine: Gastropub

Rating: Really tasty!

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My wife and I went to Waterloo & City back in May, and I enjoyed it, so I thought we’d try again with a slightly larger group. By way of introduction this is a new wave comfort-food Gastropub joint. This place exemplifies the gastropub trend of more is more.


The menu.


I decided to test out some of the wines I brought back from my Eating Italy trip. This 2006 Brunello by Il Cocco can not be found in the US. The owner/winemaker makes 7,000 bottles a year only of all his wines combined, perhaps 3,000 of the Brunello. He does 99% of the work himself! It’s awesome, if it were rated, it’d be a 96 point wine.


We went for the “prince” of  Charcuterie. Yum yum, heart stopping fun!


The cured meats, and some fine ones at that. There are at least three types of salami and two prosciutto variants. Stone ground mustard. The white stuff is some kind of beef gelatinous product.


The “Pig Trotters, Sweetbreads, and Salsa Verde terrine, with anchovy.” This was a freebee, but was rather too extreme even for me!


“Duck & Walnut Country Pate, orange-apricot marmalade.” This was very nice. Interesting crunchy texture too.


A special. “Boar terrine with romesco.” Really tasty. All that pork goodness you might want.


“Pork & Truffle Pate, Madeira Jelly, toasted Broche.” Wow. With the jelly (you can see it to the left in the zoomed out first photo) this stuff tasted like carmel sauce. The texture was super silky smooth too. Wonderful mouthfeel.


Spaghetti pomodoro for my son.


“Arugula, Grilled Mission Figs, Smoked Almonds, Pamesan.”


“Tuna Tartare, Fried Piquillo Pepper, Avocado.” The tuna part was good but ordinary. The pepper, however, was pretty interesting, although certain FRIED!


Parker gives this silky Rosso 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.” I’d rate it perhaps 91-92, with a little boost for understated style.


A vegetarian special. Some kind of vegi monster on top of cous-cous with a brioche. Apparently it was good.


“Indian Butter Chicken Pizza, Murgh Makahni Sauce, Mozzarella.” I really wanted to try this because I make a similar pizza myself. This one didn’t lather on the Tikka Masala sauce like I do so it was more subtle, but it was damn good, a bit closer to a “normal” pizza. I loved the addition of the raita-like sauce in the middle. I might try that myself.


“Beef shin ravioli, wild mushrooms, red wine, burrata cheese.” This was really good. The meat was super flavorful, as was the rich sauce. But the bacon/burrata combo really sold it.


A special. “Veal with fried polenta and eggplant sauce.” The veal itself was tender, but not super flavorful. The sauce was great, and in combo every was very yummy, particularly the fried corn balls (i.e. polenta).


The dessert menu.


“Sticky Toffe Pudding, Salted Caramel, Vanilla Ice Cream.” Also excellent, with a not so dissimilar flavor profile. Both were intensely sweet. The ice cream helped cut it.


The menu called these “Waterloo Bourbon Glazed Doughnuts with creme anglais and raspberry jam.” But I think that would be the version we got on our first visit here. These were sugared. They were still good, and the carmel sauce in particular rocked, but they weren’t quite as decadent as the glazed.


A special. “Profiteroles.” Pretty classic, with both ice-cream and whipped cream.

Waterloo & City is still going strong. This isn’t a light cuisine — in fact, nearly every dish is loaded with fatty goodness — but it is damn good.

Read my previous review of Waterloo & City here,

Or for more LA Restaurants.

Knocked out by N/Naka

Restaurant: N/Naka [1, 2]

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

Date: August 13, 2011

Cuisine: Modern Kaiseki

Rating: Awesome

ANY CHARACTER HERE

I first went to the amazing Omakase only N/Naka just three weeks ago, but seeing my review, my Foodie Club partner EP desperately wanted to go again. So we did. Now bear in mind that this lovely restaurant has only a set menu (they offer it in two sizes, plus vegetarian) but the talented young chef Ms. Niki Nakayama concocted a whole new menu (just three weeks later!) without a single repeat — and it was even better!

We start off our wines with a light Spanish white. Parker 90. “A candidate for top Albarino of my Spanish tastings, the 2005 Bodegas Don Olegario is medium gold with honey and apricot aromas and flavors. On the palate the wine is viscous with enough acidity to hold things together. Very Condrieu-like at about half the price.”

Saki zuke

(a pairing of something common and something unique)

Chef’s garden eggplant puree, scottish smoked salmon, osetra caviar

Crème fraiche, chives

This opening course had a wonderful silky mouthfeel and tasted of smoked eggplant, a bit like baba ganush.

Zensai

(Main seasonal ingredient presented as an appetizer)

Japan ayu, pacific lobster roll, nanohana, daikon and kanpachi, lotus

Root kinpira

Zooming in, the Japanese Ayu. This is a smelt relative known as sweetfish. It was crispy and grilled. Alongside are cubes of watermelon and aged balsamic. The combo was lovely.

This is the lobster roll. Kind of like a piece of uber california maki.

A bit of diakon with either eel or kanpachi inside, not 100% sure. The little tomato is from chef Niki’s garden (as are many things in the meal).

Nanohana, a kind of broccoli rabe.

Lotus root kippira. Slightly sweet with a bit of crunch.

This is an alternative form of the dish for my wife who doesn’t eat shellfish or meat. You can see the lobster is replaced with a bit of seared Toro! N/Naka requires that you specify which menu and dietary restrictions a few days in advance, but they are very adept at customizing the menu.

Now stepping up to this killer California Chardonnay, Parker 95! This one is from EP’s cellar. “The Chardonnay Belle Cote is always a more exotic wine. There are 2,200 cases of the 2005 Chardonnay Belle Cote, a wine with undeniable notes of crushed stones, white peach, orange, nectarine, and quince. Medium to full-bodied, with zesty acidity, stunning minerality, and a firm structure, this is a gorgeous, French-styled Chardonnay that should drink nicely for up to a decade.”

Modern zukuri

(modern interpretation of sashimi)

Japan bonito, marinated onions, ponzu, myoga, shiso, shiso air,  ginger

A lovely bit of bonito. And not only do I love shiso, but I get to try it as “air!” Although the real shiso had a bit more flavor punch than the airy form.

Fantastic containers add to the fun.

Owan “still water”

Black cod and shiitake, green tea soba, nameko mushrooms, dashi broth

This is one of those mild, but lovely, Japanese soups. With a vaguely sweet, soft mushroomy fishy taste. Very pleasant and soothing.

Sake- shichida, sago  japan. This is an ultra-ultra rare sake I had the previous time and it blew away the entire table (except for the 6 year-old who was left out!) One of the best sakes I’ve ever had. Each grain of rice is hand shaved before brewing!

Otsukuri

(Traditional Sashimi )

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

Kumamoto oyster

Zoom into the bucket, where you can see the shima aji , sea bream, santa barbara sweet shrimp.

And then over here, past the hand ground wasabi, to the Big eye otoro and Kumamoto oyster. The Toro (o-toro is the most premium Toro) was absolutely amazing.

An alternative basket my wife received. She has hamachi belly and scottish salmon instead of the shellfish.

To pair with the upcoming lobster, this Parker 90 white from Alto Adige in Northern Italy. “The 2008 Muller Thurgau literally sparkles on the palate with well-articulated aromas and flavors that come together with notable harmony. The finish is subtle and nuanced in its suggestions of mint, flowers, lime and passion fruit. This polished white also happens to be a terrific value. Anticipated maturity: 2009-2012.”

Yakimono

Pacific lobster, maitake, enringi, tamale sauce

This was a wonderful dish, and the pairing (recommended by the sommelier) with the crisp white was delightful.

My wife had to tough it out with this fish alternative, topped with a bit of dynamite.

Another lovely container, opening to reveal:

Mushimono

Unagi and gobo chawanmushi, frozen foie gras torchon powder

On the left a traditional Japanese custard with mushrooms. On the right frozen foie gras powder! This second item was sprinkled into the custard to add killer meaty umph! Really nice interplay of textures and fats.

Shiizakana

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

Abalone pasta, pickeled cod roe, abalone liver sauce

I had this pasta on my previous visit, but knowing this, Chef Niki gave me a different one! (below) Still, this one was amazing (or so I remember and so the rest of the party said).

Chef’s garden kabocha ravioli with truffles, brown butter sage, manchego

My wife received this dish, perfectly in sync with her taste. It was gone in about a millisecond.

Spaghetti with uni, ikura, poached eggs, seaweed, truffle

I got this, which was also delicious, tasting strongly of uni and the briny bright tone and texture of the ikura — two sushis often paired together and two of my favorites. Yum. This kind of interesting east/west fusion is very unusual, and brilliant.

As we move into the meatier portion of the menu, this 94 point Burgundy. “The Chevillon 2008 Nuits-St.-Georges Les Vaucrains projects an amazing sense of deep, dark concentration. Latakia tobacco; peat; rushed stone; roasted red meats; soy; and ripe, fresh blackberry inform the nose and absolutely stain the palate. The tannins here are as ultra-fine as they are formidable, and the tug on my salivary glands as relentless as are the finishing flavors. If this doesn’t leave you reaching for a napkin or your lips fluttering, probably no wine will. The energy and salinity here render a wine that you feel as if you must strain through your teeth nonetheless fleet-of-foot, enticing, and invigorating.”

Niku

Snake river farms kobe beef ishiyaki

Plus butter cubes and sisho peppers.

Then out comes a little hot rock.

You drop the butter on top, then the meat and cook to your taste. Like a mini version of Totoraku.

The non-meat substitute is baked miso cod, always a favorite.

Sunomono

Marinated halibut fin, cucumbers, ruby red grapefruit

Yuzu omoi, yuzu blend sake

The bright marinated flavors and the sweet/sour sake go perfectly together.

Shokuji One & Two

(Rice dish- sushi)

Jeju island hirame, o-toro

Aji (mackerel), hamachi belly.

Aji (mackerel) on the left. Not sure what’s on the right.

Mirugai, shinkomaki, miso hamachi, sesame butter chazuke.

And the other two of above, but I’m not sure which is which :-). live scallops on the left.

R.L. Buller Calliope Rare Muscat. Yum Yum! Parker 100! “Giving aromas of dark brown sugar, black strap molasses, licorice and preserved walnuts, the deeply brown colored NV Calliope Rare Muscat is again incredibly sweet and viscous with a good amount of acid to balance and is decadently rich and nutty / spicy in the very long finish. All these vintage blended fortified wines are bottled to drink now and though are stable enough to hold, they are not designed to improve with cellaring.”

Shokuji

(Rice dish)

A fish with a miso sauce on rice with seaweed.

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

Chocolate tiramisu, ruby red grapefruit and passion fruit gelee, fruits

 These were all extremely tasty. The grapefruit thing in the middle was particularly intense with a lovely gummy texture.

Kids Omakase

EP and his wife brought his young daughter with them and she got a special “kids omakase” which was very cool.

An assortment of rolls, including toro cut roll!

Ikura (salmon eggs), sweet shrimp, and bonito sushi.

Some of the best looking tempura I’ve ever seen.

Yellowtail belly sashimi. That was one lucky girl!

N/Naka really is a very special place. Both meals I had here were spectacular (here for the first). This second was, if possible, slightly better too, which was always wonderful because often one finds a slight bloom to come off a place on repeat meals. This was very much avoided by the completely new menu, which only three weeks apart was impressive. The quality of ingredients, preparation, and presentation here is pretty stunning.

Try it!

Click here to other LA Japanese restaurants.

Or other Foodie Club extravaganzas.

Eating the Skys – Continental

Restaurant: Continental Airlines

Location: Somewhere above the Atlantic

Date: June 30, 2011

Cuisine: Inedible

Rating: Barftastic

ANY CHARACTER HERE

So after an epic four weeks of eating in Italy — where the worst meal was merely mediocre — we boarded the first of our planes for home, specifically the Milan to Newark flight on Continental. And so, our final meal of the trip:


A lovely 2011 Ginger Ale, Seagrams.


Bread with softener and additives, served with pastic wrap.


A fine salad of wilted iceberg lettuces.


Soaked in packaged milk and emmulsifiers, it becomes… slightly more edible — and sadly the best item on the menu.


Chicken Parmesan with scalloped potatoes, mushy peas, and nitrate sausage. This was actually a kid’s meal (served to my son). As it was considerably more edible than mine (below) I picked at it.


Dry frozen rock hard chicken “breast” with teeth breaking noodles, soggy asparagus and canned tomato sauce.

Seriously Continental (and sadly they aren’t alone, really all the American airlines are just as bad) you ought to be ashamed of yourselves. This stuff is completely pathetic and was actually literaly inedible. You would have had to pay me more than $100 to try a second bite of that rock hard chicken. It’s not just a matter of cost, it’s a matter of giving a shit about all aspects of the product you offer. I think airline executives ought to be required to eat coach airline meals 100% of the time while on the job! That’d shake things up fast.

Click here to see more Eating Italy posts.

Eating Santa Margherita – dei Pescatori

Restaurant: Trattoria dei Pescatori

Location: Santa Margherita, Italy

Date: June 29, 2011

Cuisine: Ligurian

Rating: Solid lunch

ANY CHARACTER HERE

On this particular morning we had actually visited the nearby town of Camogli and wanted to eat lunch there but we fell afoul of that particular Italian (and French and Spanish) pitfall: the extremely narrow lunch hour. Basically you can only sit down to lunch between 12:30 (sometimes even 1) and 2. They just aren’t open any other time. Conversely, nearly all other services shutdown 12-3. In any case, our toddler nap schedule didn’t allow waiting around in Camogli so we went back to Santa Marghertia.


We picked this likely looking place right across from the western marina.

The usual multi-page menu.


And bread.

Their house Vermentino even has their name on it — sort of.


Caprese di buffalo.


Acciughe al limone. Marinated anchovies. I became very fond of this dish last year in Spain. Fresh white anchovies marinated in vinegar. Yum.


Penne pomodoro.


Trenette al pesto. Fettuccine-like pasta with pesto.


Spaghetti pomodoro.


Ravioli di pesce con salsa bianca di San pietro. Ricotta ravioli with white fish sauce.


Ravioli di noce. Ricotta ravioli with walnut pesto. This was the second best implementation of this, good, but not as good as at Antonios.

Overall this was a perfectly pleasant lunch. The pastas were very good.

Click here to see more Eating Italy posts.