by RICCARDO COSTA
My recent trip to Los Angeles brought to my attention four special restaurants: Drago Centro, Tom Bergin, Napa Valley Grille and The Griddle. If you want to start with a top-notch breakfast then The Griddle can satisfy all your hankerings.
Choose from a giant plate-sized stack of pancakes served with practically any accompaniment you can think of, luxurious French Toast, and many egg specialties with names from famous movie titles. I ordered the “Some Like It Hot” eggs. The chicken tequila sausages in it were phenomenal. If you want to treat yourself to a high end sophisticated Italian meal then Drago Centro is the place to go. I had their burrata.
A key sign of burrata quality is when you cut into it, it has to be extremely creamy inside and this one was exactly that. The freshly made basil pesto is a perfect match for this cheese dish. The Gnocco fritto (I just love this simple dish) was puffy and soft. It’s a perfect stand-in for bread and by far more interesting to the palate. When I think about the Pappardelle with roasted pheasant meat sauce I get hungry for it once again. The pheasant meat sauce, which had been marinated and perfectly cooked, dressed freshly made tasty pasta. What really surprised me was the creaminess of the sauce. It stuck to the long pasta so you didn’t have to work too much to keep the two together. I could devour that dish every day.
It’s a must try and very original too. As for a main course I chose the Caciucco (cuttlefish and baby scallops in a warm tomato sauce). Although it’s a very simple dish, it’s not easy to find in NYC and definitely not that well known to the American audience. The tomato sauce becomes like a warm soup which you can sop with bread (in this case gnocco fritto). It’s delicious and filling. For dessert La Terrina was my favorite. The combination of chocolate and olive oil in a terrine is one that I’ve never tried but worked perfectly well together.
If you’re more in the mood for an Irish meal, then Tom Bergin is the place for you. Tired of the usual and very boring mozzarella sticks? This restaurant offers fried Cooleney cheese. It’s much better and tastier than mozzarella. As main courses go, I strongly suggest the hearty Irish Stew with braised lamb and potatoes or the House-cured corn beef and cabbage. With both of these Irish specialties the quality of the meat was exceptional.
The corn beef, with a slightly smoky taste and some whiskey notes, transported me back to the Dublin James Joyce knew. I love lamb, but I’m not a fan of stew. However, this Irish stew is very different from others; the meat doesn’t fall apart but maintains its form and the lamb is marinated in a way that sheds its gamey taste. The portions are very generous so you will be sated after the last morsel. Order their special honey tasting beer for it goes very well with any kind of meat. For dessert, don’t miss the chocolate cake. If you’re looking for more local cuisine, then the Napa Valley Grille is your spot.
The atmosphere and décor is lovely and makes you feel like you’re in the real Napa Valley and not just in the city. Soft lighting, spacious tables, and relaxed intimacy make it a great venue for a date or a business dinner. Chef Taylor Boudreaux welcomed me and we had a nice conversation about his food, naturally. I had the burrata with figs and prosciutto as an appetizer. Tender and super fresh, the cheese melted as soon as you cut it.
The combined sweet and salty tastes of figs and prosciutto is a perfect match for this dish. The sweet corn agnolotti offered are incredible. Get them. Thin layer pasta, perfectly cooked, with a black truffle beurre fondue that adds an earthy taste of to the sweetness of the corn. If you’ve gotten a plate, chances are you’ll order another because they’re that good. I ordered the branzino and a burger.
Why a burger? Because it’s not as easy to make as it might appear. Branzino doesn’t require sauces or any topping, if the fish is of high quality and is gently cooked all you need is some lemon, and that’s exactly how it’s served in here. The Angus burger comes with a black truffle aioli and apple smoked bacon. Served on home-made buns, their sweetness enhances the marinated flavor of the prime meat.
Speaking of food, LA has nothing to envy of New York. Excellent and diverse restaurants abound here just waiting for you to try. The restaurant scene here has definitely improved over the last 10 years with more appreciation of foreign cuisines and greater finesse in serving them.