Restaurant: Piccolo [1, 2]
Location: 5 Dudley Ave, Venice, Ca. 310-314-3222
Date: Nov 5, 2010
Cuisine: Northern Italian
Rating: Much above average neighborhood Italian.
The location of this upscale neighborhood Italian has always been weird. You turn on Rose, and find it about 30 feet from the seedy boardwalk on Dudley, conveniently located near the drug dealers and others who hang out on the Venice boardwalk at night. Don’t worry it’s well lit, and they recently installed their own valet.
A couple years ago my wife and I had gone when the place had been under the shepardship of Antonio Mure, a talented local chef whose cuisine instantly said to me: “Verona” (certainly not a bad thing). Most Americans don’t realize how much Italian cuisine varies by region. In those days there were no reservations, only an hour long wait standing with the other yuppies watching the pot clouds drift by. Now you can reserve, even on Open Table. The space seems larger too. Mure moved on to various other restaurants, including the much lamented by me, Il Carpaccio. In any case, they new chef is named Bobo, and he’s also from the Veneto, a good thing, and totally obvious from the cooking.
I apologize for the picture quality as I forgot both my 5D Mark II and my little S90 backup camera and had to resort to the iphone 4, which really has come a long way for a cel phone camera.
You can see by the dishes that he is an innovative cook, and this is neither an old school italian menu, nor even a typical example of modern LA Italian. “Caprese Rivisitata. heirloom tomatoes, burrata, revisited microbasil, sicilian olive oil.” Here Burrata (one can never go wrong with Burrata) tops layers of tomatos, some even pureed.
The wine list was pretty reasonable, and had a wealth of northern Italians. I didn’t bring wine as it was just a quick dinner, and so settled on this reasonable 2007 Marcarini Barbaresco. It was only $40 for a half bottle and was very pleasant for such a young wine. If I’m going so young, I often prefer Barbaresco over Barolo as it’s more approachable early on.
The group that spawned Piccolo originally, and at various points included La Botte, Wilsons in culver city, Il Carpaccio, and Ado — I’m not fully educated on how they’re all connected — has always had good bread. Excllent for sopping up those buttery northern Italian sauces.
I ordered this odd pairing slightly skeptically. Warm seared Hamachi over buffalo mozzarella with clover, olive oil, and a kind of basil Pistou. It was good. Very good. Usually fish and cheese pairings don’t work. It was the pesto-like sauce (just off camera, in little blobs) that really drew all the elements of the dish together.
Pumpkin ravioli. This is the Chef‘s interpretation of my wife’s most favorite pasta, a specialty of Mantua (less than an hour from Verona). In the most traditional dish the ravioli are stuffed with a mixture of pumpkin or squash and Amaretto cookies, then lightly covered in butter sage sauce. These had a slightly different shape, and no Amaretto. They were perhaps a tiny bit too al dente, and the sauce coverage not quite a 100%, but still good.
This is a risotto with sausage and a fontina-butter sauce around the edge. I’m very partial to certain kinds of risotto when done right. This one was excellent. In a good risotto, the buttery flavor is so intense that it encourages very small bites. The rice had just the right texture. The sausage was good, but I’ve had slightly better (there is this joint in Philly’s little Italy which has been grinding it’s own since the 19th century — their slogan is something like “nothing but the pig.”)
LA has a lot of very good Italian places, a lot of mediocre ones, and a lot of terrible ones. This one is very much above average and worthy of being in the rotation. It’s different too, being a little more experimental and modern, typical of Italy’s bustling north. Many other places have stronger Sicilian or Tuscan influences. I happen to love Sicilian food too, it’s just different, which is a good thing. It’s nice to have some Veneto in the mix. For some reason, as beautiful as Tuscany is, it’s never been my favorite region on the culinary front, perhaps because of it’s emphasis on heavy meats. Not that it’s bad, food is never bad in Italy, but many of Italy’s other regions are more to my taste food-wise. I still long to find real Sicilian deserts in the states. In Philly or NY you can get a real Cannoli, but I’ve never, ever, found a real Cassata alla Siciliana in the states. Even Celestino Drago who is a world class Sicilian Chef, and a friend of mine, makes a modernized version (which can be seen HERE). It’s good, but I prefer the totally old school one with the Ricotta that separates and goes bad in 8 hours.
A second review of Piccolo can be found HERE.