Authentic Tastes of Italy in Los Angeles: June 5 – 20, 2010

Filetto D’Agnello Farcito (Filet of lamb rolled with spinach, baked tomatoes & olives, pan roasted - served with alfalfa sprouts, potato cake and rapini) - Il Moro

This week, I had the privilege of joining other food writers at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills for a very special lunch presentation, courtesy of the Italian Trade Commission in Los Angeles and Italy-America Chamber of Commerce West. That very day was National Italian Day, when the ambassadors of Italian culture presented to us the fruits of their research and labor, hoping to spread love for Italian culture by a critical element: The food, of course. They have taken the task of representing Italian cuisine in major American cities, hand-picking the best Italian restaurants in the area based on authenticity and quality of ingredients.

Pannacotta alle Fave con Insalata di Granchio, Fave, Piselli ed Asparagi (Fava pannacotta, Dungeness Crab, English peas, favas and Sacramento Delta asparagus) - Il Grano

At the lunch, we were honored with the chefs’ presence who were all hard at work in the kitchen while we sampled the dishes – but who also prefaced each dish with an explanation of the heart of what we were about to eat. One dish each from the six chosen premier restaurants were presented and washed down with wine pairings, and the results were simply stunning. Sal Marino from Il Grano served a Fava Panna Cotta topped with Dungeness Crab and English peas. It was refreshing and delicious, had a fun consistency and effectively opened up our palate for the plates to come. The Cecaluccoli (rolled with three fingers, not just two) from Celestino Drago had a tomato sauce that absolutely popped, complimented by dried strips of eggplant and a triangular sliver of delicious, tacky Pecorino.

Risotto al Gorgonzola “Dolce Latte” con Barbabietole Rosse e Gialle (Gorgonzola “Dolce Latte” Risotto with Market Red and Gold Beets) - Locanda Del Lago

A standout was a bright red, and extremely rich, risotto from Locanda Del Lago’s Roberto Maggioni. The flavors in the risotto also had a great vibrancy from the beets which shone through the Gorgonzola’s weight, while the risotto itself had great bite. But the Secondi from Il Moro – the perfectly prepared filet of lamb which had spinach, tomatoes and olives rolled into it – was probably the best lamb I have had in recent memory. It kept its characteristic taste while uncharacteristically avoiding the gamey aftertaste thanks to its freshness. It was tender to the fork, juicy and all the more made perfect by being plated with potatoes and rapini, topped with alfalfa.

Cecaluccoli con Pomodorini di Salina, Melanzane e Pecorino (Homemade pasta, cherry tomatoes, eggplant and Pecorino cheese) - Drago

Valentino’s dessert was also a standout, putting a spin on the archetypical Italian gelato. The Cassata (sponge cake) deliciously lay inside and at the bottom of a ricotta cream with the prickly pear gelato framing the dome. It was plated with pistachio crumbs, chopped strawberries and an additional scoop of raspberry gelato as a counter. Delicious!!

If you have a chance, go to one of these hand-picked restaurants for one of their prix fixe menus, each of which features a dish that was presented at this lunch. Caffé Roma will be serving their Polipo e potato (Grilled octopus with fingerling potatoes) in their prix fixe. But they are all extremely delicious dishes made with top-notch ingredients and are available starting tomorrow (June 5) through June 20. If you’d like to indulge, get the wine pairings. Note all the restaurants’ locations, as well. It looks like the Westside wins this one.

All food and wine were hosted.

Saturday, June 5 – Sunday, June 20, 2010

Lunch and Dinner (see menus)

Caffé RomaMenu
350 N. Canon Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
310.274.7834

DragoMenu
2628 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90403
310.828.1585

Il GranoMenu
11359 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
310.477.7886

Il MoroMenu
11400 W. Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90064
310.575.3530

Locanda del LagoMenu
231 Arizona Avenue
Santa Monica, CA 90401
310.451.3525
@lagosantamonica

ValentinoMenu
3115 Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90405
310.829.4313

The stars of Italian food in Los Angeles

A Neopolitan Tradition Continues At Marino

Risotto alla Salsiccia e Funghi

There are few Italian restaurants that strike me as having an authentic charm it can call its own. But now that I’ve been introduced to to the hospitality and cuisine of Marino – I can now point to a place that prides itself as much on attentive service as its food. Great conversation and the freshest ingredients: I can only describe it as The Italian Way. I’m a fan.

Antipasti

Sal Marino – son of original restauranteur Ciro, who first opened Il Grano in Santa Monica – personally took care of Caroline on Crack, Joshua of FoodGPS and me one night at the restaurant nearby Paramount Pictures. As our team of servers came out with our food, we were increasingly overwhelmed by not only the quantity but also the presentation of things on their menu. We started out with an antipasti dish that included eggplant, zucchini, beets, sweet roasted red and yellow peppers with capers and cipollini onions seasoned with marinara. Decidedly seasonal, the dish whetted our appetites for the real heavyweights to come.

Carciofi Ripieni alla Rosanna

The baked artichokes were rich, creamy and stuffed with two different cheeses. Though they look small, they were so rich as an appetizer I could have actually shared one. Call me weaksauce.

The fried calamari that came out were noticeably fresh and had a perfect breading. Apparently, the calamari doubles as that also supplied to sushi chefs – not your typical filler appetizer with something to hide from being fried.

The Risotto alla Salsiccia e Funghi came paired with a delicious, house-made Maccheroncini sauced with an Amatriciana marinara (tomato with caramelized white onion and pancetta). The risotto in particular was my favorite – okay, yes, I am partial to risotto – but the homemade sausage in the risotto was especially good, as was the fact that three different kinds of mushrooms were included: oyster, shiitake and porcini. The porcini is so delicate it actually dissolves into the risotto upon preparation.

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