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.

Eating Certaldo – Il Castello Certaldo

Restaurant: Il Castello Certaldo

Location: Celtaldo, Italy

Date: June 24, 2011

Cuisine: Tuscan

Rating: Nice view, ok food

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Ah, the last meal in Tuscany! (except for breakfast) We took a couple hours to visit the cute little town of Certaldo. The old town is up on a hill and you ascend by funicular. The town was great, but there weren’t a lot of restaurant options. We chose the most likely looking.


At the end of the main drag.


And the dining terrace turned out to have this rather lovely view.


And pretty courtyard.


The menu.


Olive oil and vinegar.


House wine, white.

And red. Both decent, very cheap.


Local meats, including the big one which is a special local salami with saffron in it.


Bresaola with pecorino and arugula.


Marinated mushrooms and artichoke hearts.


The now familiar panzanella. Last time you’ll see it though as we’re leaving Tuscany.


A risotto with vegetables, peculiar in being slightly soupy, but supposedly decent.


A truffle risotto soup (haha, just a soupy risotto). Tasted good though.


Local pasta in pomodoro sauce.


Spaghetti alla carbonara. Not bad, although perhaps not as eggy cheesy as it could have been.


Ravioli with cheese, butter, and sage. Those that ate this felt the ravioli might have been packaged.


THe same ravioli, but with a truffle sauce. They were fine.


Roasted potatoes.


Pork fillet in balsamic sauce.


Saltimbocc alla romana. Veal with ham and sage. Pretty tasty actually, but salty.


And a bit of gelato to finish.

This was a decent meal. The patio location — which we had entirely to ourselves — was absolutely world class. The food was good. Not great by any meals, but decently executed. The company, though, was as good as the view, so all was good.

Click here to see more Eating Italy posts.

Eating San Donato – Pizzeria Pretorio

Restaurant: Pizzeria Pretorio

Location: San Donato, Italy

Date: June 22, 2011

Cuisine: Pizza

Rating: Best pizza we had on the trip

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The wine guide who took us to Montacino seemed to have very good taste in food, and so we’d asked him where the best pizza in Tuscany was. He was confident it was a place in the tiny town of San Donato called Pizzeria Pretorio. We trekked for 30 minutes each way just to find out.


San Donato is one of those pretty small stone towns. It wasn’t very big, so it didn’t take long to just stumble into the joint.


And they turned out to have such a terrible view.


And cramped unappealing terrace — not!


The menu.


One thing about this terrace — it was hot hot hot in the Tuscan sun. So I took an artsy water bottle shot.


And we felt that pizza called for beer, in this case the special premium “silly beer!”


Here is pizza margherita with mushrooms.


Calzone Napoli: Ricotta, prosciutto, cotto, salami piccante, mozzarella.


La fabrizino: small tomatoes, sausage, porcini, mozzarella and arugala.


Then the piece du ressistance: the four seasons. We don’t know exactly what was on this, but clearly the green pesto & zucchini part was spring, the sausage winter, the squash part fall, and the remaining one summer.

Overall Pretorio was some damn fine pizza in an impeccable location.


Then walking out we stumbled onto this: an artisan gelato place.


Oh the hardship. This turned out to be one of the three or so best gelatos I had in Italy too.


The didn’t have a lot of flavors, but those they did were really good.


Chocolate.

Lemon.


And my trio: Cassata di Siciliana (ricotta with candied fruits), chocolate with cherries!, and nutella. All three flavors were fabulous, but the nutella was hands down the best nutella gelato I’ve ever had (and I’ve had plenty). It was so thick I wondered if it just WAS nutella, but really I know better as even at fridge temperatures nutella becomes unspreadable.

Click here to see more Eating Italy posts.

Eating Montalcino – Le Potazzine

Restaurant: Ristorante Le Potazzine

Location: Montalcino, Italy

Date: June 20, 2011

Cuisine: Tuscan

Rating: Tasty traditional

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We took a most excellent wine tasting tour of Montalcino (the home of the one and only Brunello). This was led by a top flight young guide named Matteo Perinti, who took us to a pair of top flight small wineries (but more on that itself later). In between we stopped at Montalcino the home base for Brunello.


Montalcino is one of Tuscany‘s long list of ugly locales — just kidding. It’s a gorgeous mediaeval village — with a LOT of wine for sale.


We went to the restaurant owned by the Le Potoazzine vineyard, which was one that we visited. Not only was their wine incredible, but they run a nice restaurant.


For lunch we actually had their IGT Tuscan, slightly down the curve than this amazing Rosso Di Montalcino, but I didn’t get a photo. If you can find the above wine in the states do — it was incredibly seductive.


Tuscan Prosciutto.


And a wider selection of local cured meats.


Panzenella, the very traditional “salad” of stale bread crumbs, onions, tomatos, and fresh olive oil.


Bruschetta with tomato, basil, and olive oil. Tuscan’s have no fear of serving bread too many ways.


Minestrone soup.


Gnocchi done the simple way, with cream, butter, and cheese.


Risotto Brunello. Very fitting, and very tasty.


Local wide pasta fresca with vegetables.

This was a nice little lunch place. Certainly nothing radical about the cooking but every dish was delicious.

Click here to see more Eating Italy posts.

Eating Poggibonsi – Osteria da Camillo

Restaurant: Osteria da Camillo

Location: Poggibonsi, Italy

Date: June 18, 2011

Cuisine: Tuscan

Rating: Very mediocre

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We were in Poggibonsi to drop my brother off at the bus/train station and we spent a few minutes wandering around and then picked a likely random lunch restaurant. This turned out to be our worst pick of the trip compared to expectations. It looked like all the other likely places — and it was even very touristy — but the food just wasn’t very good.


The menu.


This inexpensive Chianti Classico (probably 10-15 euros) was perfectly nice though.


Classic bruschetta with liver. These weren’t bad, one of the places better items. They weren’t however even close to the best bruschetta we’ve seen.


Mixed bruchetta, also fine. Starting from upper left and going clockwise. Fava beans, lard, mushrooms, and tomato.


Spicy pici with walnuts. This pasta tasted like glue. Paste. It was pretty gross. I think they added flour to the sauce, making it like elmers.


Tagliatelle al pesto. Edible, but very mediocre pesto.


Green tortelli with fossa cheese and yellow pumpkin cream. I didn’t try these.


Linguine with cheese and pepper. This was really bad too. Not even close to the amazing pepper and cheese pasta at Trattoria Pepei. I could barely eat a few bites. The pasta was pasty. Those thin slices of pecorino has an unpleasant melted cheese taste, and the sauce — there barely was one — tasted of paste.


Penne pomodoro.


Tagliatelle with tomatoes, olives, capers and hot peppers. Didn’t try this either.


Chicken, green beans, tomatoes, mushrooms. This was fine, not horrible. Not really a dish that does it for me though.

This place was completely unique for this trip in that it actually had bad dishes, several of them. That pretty much makes it the worst meal, even though it wasn’t horrible or anything. But it goes to show, eat out 50 times in Italy and you can find a dud!

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Eating Tuscany – Villa Breakfast

Location: Staggia, Italy

Date: June 11-25, 2011

Cuisine: Tuscan

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This is our third year renting a villa in Europe for a big chunk of June. I’ve experimented with different ways to handle the breakfast situation for a large number of people (9-15 is what we’ve had). It’s not practical to go out everyday, it would just take too long to wrangle everyone, and a free for all at the house (which we tried last year) has all sorts of issues. Namely the challenge of restocking the groceries and cleaning up. So, our houses at this year’s villa arranged to set and clear a continental breakfast table, to which we added some local products. Overall it worked out very well.


The first thing I need is my coffee. Cappuccino this time of morning. Our hosts made them, which was convenient as last year my dad was making them straight for 90 minutes every morning. Given that many people have two, and the slow speed of the little home machines, it’s hard to churn a lot of them out.


The full spread.


Various dry goods, yogurts, jams, cereal, orange juice.


Fruit, cookies, toast, blood orange juice (yum).


We also put out some of the local cheeses, mostly Pecorino.


And more.


And the stubs of all sorts of them.


A few cow cheeses from the local market.


No Italian breakfast is complete without Prosciutto.


Or Salami.


Our hosts also baked a variety of pastries and breads over the two weeks. Homemade croissants in this case.


A really yummy chocolate torte. Buttery crust, with congealed nuttella type filling.


We had some extra ricotta and our baker turned it into this wonderful cheesecake.


Chocolate inside, with a tasty crust and coco top. It was like breakfast tiramisu!


Pound cake.


Cherry tart.

Delicious chocolate cake, tasted like a giant brownie. Nothing like chocolate to pick you up in the morning.


Tuscan apple pie. Really good stuff, perhaps drier and more bready than the American version, halfway between that and an apple strudel. Delicious.


Blackberry tart. These kind of fruit tarts are typically Tuscan.


Mixed local fruit.


And cherries, which are local and in season.

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Eating Florence – Nove IX

Restaurant: Nove IX

Location: Florence, Italy

Date: June 17, 2011

Cuisine: Modern Tuscan

Rating: Tasty!

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Our Florentine friend brought us to this attractive new place on the banks of the Arno river as the sun was making it’s way into that great tunnel in the west.


It’s actually about three blocks to the left of this, past the Ponte Vecchio. Nove IX is more typical of a city like Florence than most of the Tuscan restaurants we have been eating at in that it’s a bit more modernized, trendy. Still, the cuisine is solidly rooted in the local countryside.


The menu.

The have their own olive oil.


This 90 point Chianti Rufina is readily available in the Florence area. “The 2007 Chianti Rufina Riserva shows the open, opulent personality that makes this vintage so alluring. Ripe, silky tannins frame a core of red fruits, flowers and spices, all of which come together with unsual grace. Though medium in body, there is wonderful generosity to the fruit, not to mention fabulous overall balance. Anticipated maturity: 2010-2015.”


This is a tartar of beef with parmesan.


And on a more modern note, a tartar of tuna with avocado and tomato.


And one of white fish (perhaps even yellowtail) with citrus and a light frise-type salad. Certainly showing those Matsuhisa type influences.


The Nove IX take on the mixed salad.


Risotto with spigola (sea bass), lemon, and Florentine zucchine.


Spaghettini with pesto of zucchini flowers.


Paccheri (wide pasta) with tomatos, mozzarella and fried eggplant.


Shellfish ravioli in creme of zucchine sauce.


Trofie alla genovese. Traditional twisted little pasta with pesto (basil, olive oil, garlic, parmesan, and pine-nuts) as well as a bit of sliced potato and green beans. This was the best pesto I had until we got to Liguria (where pesto comes from).


Chopped chicken with green beans and balsamic sauce. Not so far off from a chinese dish!

Nothing at all wrong with Nove IX. The food was great, and it was a welcome change to see a little bit more updated menu without compromising at all on quality.

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