Restaurant: Capo [1, 2, 3]
Location: 1810 Ocean Ave, Santa Monica, Ca. 310-394-5550
Date: April 30, 2010
Cuisine: Italian with Cal influences
Rating: The food here is really very very good.
Capo has always given me slightly mixed feelings. Not about the food, that part is great, but they have a bit of an attitude at times, and it’s too expensive. I just don’t expect Italian to be super expensive, which Capo is, unless it’s Northern Italian Haute Cuisine, which we have basically no real examples of in Southern California. And they’ve given me trouble several times about my wine (which I always bring), as they’ve an unusual and restrictive corkage policy that is enforced with great zeal. But the food is fantastic, and one of their pastas is the best ragu I’ve ever had — and I’ve spent a lot of time in Italy.
It’s a lovely restaurant too, with a fun intimate atmosphere, and the very high prices give it a full-on star factor. A couple years ago I sat next to SKG (Spielberg, Katzenberg, and Geffen). Spielberg seems to love high end Italian, because I’ve seen him four or five times at said establishments — not that I blame him.
Entering, they now have a pig leg on the counter. I have to admire that. It’s “Jamon Iberico de Bellota,” which is extremely fine ham from Spain. The downside is $60 for one little plate! One time when someone else was picking up the tab I tried it here — with a side of Burrata. It was good, but no ham — as much as I like it — is worth $60 for a few slices. Particularly after having spent the month of June in Spain where every restaurant has a wall of pig legs and you can get a plate of the stuff for $6-10.
This isn’t from Capo, in fact it’s a store in Madrid known as “Museo del Jamon.” This is a chain, and such displays are commonplace in Spain, a land in which pigs live in mortal terror.
I brought this wine, Parker gives it 94 points, saying, “Luciano Sandrone’s 1998 Barolo Cannubi Boschis is another of the standouts in this tasting. Layers of perfumed dark fruit flow effortlessly from the glass with wonderful depth and purity. The wine offers a long, intensely harmonious personality and a refined, aristocratic finish. The 1998 is an excellent choice for readers who may also be cellaring bottles of the 1996 or the 1999, two wines that offer considerable upside potential. Anticipated maturity: 2009-2019.”
Now this brings me to my little corkage rant. Capo’s corkage policy is that you can bring one and no more than one bottle, and that it must not be on their list. It’s enforced — I’ve been rejected for having a wine on the list twice — so it requires me to download the list before going and research which wine I can bring. They have a huge list. It’s not bad, but it is VERY OVERPRICED. I once went through all 112 pages on paper at home with the Parker website and couldn’t really find any good price/value ratios. I know making a profit at a restaurant isn’t easy, but a have several beefs with this kind of list. I know a lot about wine, and have a very experienced palette. Lists like this are stuffed with wines that are good on some aspect, like winemaker, but fail in another, usually vintage. When there’s a crappy vintage in Bordeaux where do you think all the “cheap” Pauillacs go? Restaurant wine lists, priced as if they were from 1982. But the real problem is that a wine I would pay $150 for — and I buy carefully at auction or from well priced dealers I know well — is $400 or more on these lists. It pains me to pay $150, and there is just no way I’m going to pay $250 dollars extra for the privilege of a waiter mangling my cork with a stupid leverage corkscrew when I have thousands of bottles at home. When I have to order off the list it means I have to drink vastly inferior wine, and still pay $150-200 for it — and my friends are so appalled at the price anyway that I automatically pick up the tab. So until Capo (and the couple others that have even worse policies. Giorgio Baldi you know who you are!) modify their lists to only markup by about $40 I can’t be fully satisfied. Frankly, I would go to both all the time if they had open corkage policies. Enough said.
Capo always puts out this little humus-like spread. I suspect it’s fava beans, and it was mostly eaten by the time I got my camera on it. 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.
Lest you think I’ve been all negative, let’s get to the real meat of the matter, the only thing that really makes a restaurant — the food. “Maryland crab torta.” This really is Crab Norfolk, and it’s probably the best one I’ve ever had, and I spent summers as a boy in Oxford Maryland, land of the blue crab. This is a big juicy pile of delicious blue crab, drenched in butter, and their special touch is a little Meyer lemon in the mix. Bellissimo!
My wife got to this faster than the camera did. But you can see the egg in this fresh pasta. I LOVE fresh pasta. When I went to Italy first in the 80’s, when Italian in the States pretty much meant lasagne, chicken parm, and red and white table clothes, the pasta was a revelation. It never gets old. Some kind of cheese tortelloni in butter sauce. I snagged one. Yum!
This wasn’t my dish, and I can’t remember what it was, I’m sure it was good.
“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.
We had to switch up to the overpriced wine list because of the above mentioned corkage policy. Another problem with most wine lists is that the wines are too new. Capo does have some older stuff though, and often there are some tolerable deals (relatively speaking). This is an example, a 90 point Barbaresco, and the list had it for $120. Well, I’d generally get a 94-96 point Italian for that price. I try not to buy things under 92. This is a nice wine, and drinkable, but it isn’t a great wine. I can’t afford great wines off the list, and that bums me out. My cellar is full of great wines. Parker says, “1998 Vignaioli Elvio Pertinace Barbaresco Nervo—Dark ruby in color, this superb Barbaresco features an intense nose of spices, menthol and minerals, and flavors of crushed raspberries, plums, and strawberry jam. It is a gorgeous, multi-layered wine, with plenty of structure and length on the palate. The three wines I tasted from the Nervo cru are irresistible, alluring wines with great personality. They are superb values as well. 90 points/drink now-2010.”
This was a chocolat creme brulee, the deserts here are just as good as the food.
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. I didn’t show it, but they also have this huge wood grill fireplace and sizzle up killer Tuscan-style porterhouses and other grilled meats. The food is VERY VERY GOOD, and the service is top notch. The intimate little atmosphere is great also. My only beefs are with the high prices, and the annoying corkage policy.
For another review I wrote of Capo, CLICK HERE.