Monday, December 29, 2008

The Two Dragos

Drago Centro
525 South Flower Street
Suite #120
Los Angeles, CA 90071

Enoteca Drago
410 N. Canon Dr.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
310- 786-8236

One weekend in early December, a weekend spent primarily Christmas shopping and running errands around town, we spent our budget for fun lining Celestino Drago's pockets. On Saturday evening, after Christmas party number 1, we headed downtown and slipped into Drago Central right before they closed up shop. We settled in at the bar and were told the kitchen would be more than happy to feed us.

I love the look of the place. The manager told us that Drago wanted to ever so slightly emulate the feeling of Drago in Santa Monica, with the stones and glass. However, this is definitely an updated version. Above, see the glassed in wine storage.

I am a huge fan of the outdoor lounge. I can see coming by here in the summer for a drink and some apps with friends and enjoying the night air.

The great table in the bar area, perfect for large parties at happy hour or a special event.

The sommelier set us up with this was lovely once it opened up a little. I wish he would have offered to decant this $120 bottle. I should have asked.

The amuse-bouche was delicious. Proscuitto wrapped figs with chevre inside. I would have ordered an entire plate. My bouche was amused.

For a first course, we shared the langostine carpaccio with pomegranates, olive oil and herbs, and it was delicious. I can taste it in my mouth right now...slightly tangy, slippery langostines, the rich green olive oil and the slight bite of those pomegranates.

I ordered the venison carpaccio as well. Irene Virbiglia said she loved this on her first visit to Drago Centro, and I am unsure why. I found it incredibly flavorless. I was really disappointed in this dish. Maybe the venison was having an off-night.

D ordered a gorgeous winter vegetable salad. I love shooting root vegetables. I have been told 2009 is the year of the root vegetable. This is your year, beets! Can we have a shout out for the turnip? Let's hear it for the sugar beet! This salad was lovingly dressed lightly and flavorfully.

Drago offers three kinds of pasta. He offers a few egg pasta dishes, a handful of durum wheat pasta dishes and several filled pasta dishes. D tried the durum wheat pasta with spot prawns in a puttanesca sauce. This was damn good. Just enough bite. I personally am not troubled by prawns with their heads left on. I love how rustic this makes a dish look. And the width of the pasta made this feel so earthy and comforting on such a cold cold night.

Instead of an entree, I noshed on some side dishes. I tried the truffled soft polenta, in its own little baking dish. Delish and everything a soft polenta should be. No surprises there.

And for a second side I tasted the Italian broccoli with a little olive oil, garlic, and chili pepper flakes. Good. Very good.

All in all, it was a solid showing at Drago Centro. I want to go back, sit down and have a proper meal at a table with friends, having conversation and a more leisurely pace. The very next day, we got up and headed to Beverly Hills for some shopping and stopped in at Enoteca Drago for lunch. I just felt like a Drago weekend.

I like the simple interior of this wine bar/restaurant. It's non-intimidating and lovely. We chose to sit inside, although the beautiful people were all sitting outside on the sidewalk. It was damn cold out there and no heat lamps were provided.

I love the Murano glass chandeliers.

No snargey amuse-bouche to start, instead hearty sour bread with a garbanzo bean and olive oil spread.

I am unsure what herbs were hanging around in that spread, but it was a wonderful and healthy alternative to butter.

I started my lunch with an artichoke and arugula salad. This is not even on their menu on the Enoteca website. It was composed of slivers of al dente artichoke hearts, a mound of barely dressed arugula and shavings of Parmesan cheese. This is one of my favorite salads, ever.

D started with the tuna, white beans and tomato salad. It was great and would have been a whole meal for me. Very hearty, that salad.

For an entree, I had the filet mignon carpaccio with celery salad and pate. This kicked the venison carpaccio's ass. They had it out in a Beverly Hills alley, while face-lifted dowagers looked on. The beef won, hands down.

D again ate a seafood pasta for his main. I cannot choose one pasta over the other, Centro versus Enoteca. Both tasted great, both had seafood, both were in a red sauce...but one was a puttanesca with very wide noodles and this one was a simple marinara sauce with al dent spaghetti noodles. Night and day, salt and pepper, bread and butter. Both fantastic.

I wish I lived closer to Enoteca Drago, as I would make this a regular habit. Centro is certainly close enough, but I don't see it being a weekly event. I do see it for future occasions and when I feel like treating myself to some wonderful Italian.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

"The time has come," the Walrus said, "to talk of many things:"

8117 W Sunset Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90046
(323) 656-1414

Monday night we found reasons to celebrate. Eight years together and our combined ability to weather this challenging year, still with plans to conquer the universe. We headed to Michael Mina's XIV for a quiet supper to reflect and scheme.

Blogging has definitely changed how I approach eating out. We used to have traditions, habits, comforting places we went and asked for the same table and ordered the same things. This has changed. I now rarely want to eat at the same place twice. And since this was a special occasion, I wanted to hit one of the places at the high end of my to-do list. Michael Mina it is, since we always love his food wherever we end up eating it, Nob Hill in Vegas being far and away our favorite.

His book is not so subtly merchandised throughout the restaurant, as it is elsewhere in his previous XIII establishments.

I mentioned in passing to the hostess that we were celebrating our anniversary, and they made us wait a couple extra minutes for the table...where the general manager left us a lovely Happy Anniversary card, handwritten, and treated us to a glass of Michael Mina sparkling wine made by Iron Horse vineyards. It was full bodied and round, sparkled in the candlelight and was the perfect foot to get started on for a lovely evening.

"Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—
Of cabbages—and kings".

We ordered the 11 course tasting menu. 11. Was this fool hardy? It was fool hardy by maybe 3 courses. They also have an 8 course option. I had read in other reviews that the courses are very tiny, the prix fixe menus are a deal and we didn't want to think, so we dove in. They started us off with a warm naan, atop a creamy mixture of feta and and a sprinkling of herbal dust. Toasty, slightly puffy and warm. A wonderful alternative to a bread basket.

Our next dish out were twin platters of ahi tuna tartare, with ancho chili, pears (teeny tiny nearly imperceptable cubes), mint, pine nuts (?) and sesame oil. The sesame oil overwhelmed all flavors except the tuna. But the pairing of those two alone is enough to make my mouth happy. It was a delicious if not necessarily new in concept.

The third item to arrive was a lovely little arthropodic salad, with potatoes that seem to match the heirloom fingerlings in my fridge right now, strongly flavored celery, chestnuts and light shavings of a pungent dark truffle. Simple, light and wonderful.

"And why the sea is boiling hot-"

Next up, a delicate heirloom tomato salad, with gem lettuce, one long only slightly riple slice of avocado all pleasingly dressed with a bacon vinaigrette....then, and then....bacon bits sprinkled liberally on top. Very fresh, very vibrant, playful in the mouth.

Our wondeful server, in response to my husband's request that we not spend 4 hours eating an 11 course tasting menu, made sure that the food arrived fast and furious. So fast and furious I had to ask them to slow it down. I am not a fast eater. However, this risotto course was lovely, even if it had to sit a few minutes while I finished my salad. Porcini risotto with Meyer lemon and castelmagno cheese. There was a nice cheesy foam around the outside, I could clearly taste the citrus, but what the hey is castelmagno cheese?

Wiki says,

"Castelmagno is a semi-hard, half-fat cheese produced from whole cows milk, obtained from cattle of the Piedmontese breed fed on fresh forage or hay from mixed meadows or pasture. On occasion some milk from sheep or goats may may be added to the cows’ milk. Aside from being eaten on its own Castelmagno can be part of countless recipes, such as in fondues or veloutes and can be eaten along with rice, pasta, polenta, thinly sliced raw beef meat (carpaccios) or grilled vegetables."

I might be wrong in assuming the foam used castelmagno cheese as its cheesy base, but I am thinking yes.

The next fish dish, yay, was an ocean trout. This was served with a curried fennel, light on the fennely anise flavor, maybe due to the preparation. Also, some lovely little sea beans gave the dish some starch to balance the strong flavor of the fish, and sliced concord grapes to add some sweet acid. I loved this one.

"And whether pigs have wings."

This dish was my favorite. Jidori chicken, cooked pefectly, so juicy. A decent slice of breast sat atop a truffled elbow mac and cheese with a caramelized onion sauce. This was really mac and cheese. The truffle flavor was not as strong as in the lobster dish earlier, but the cheesiness with the juicy Jidori breast was so satisfying, mac and cheese and protein perfection. He snuck in a little broccoli for good measure.

Whoever was cooking really treated us to something special. On the regular menu, the Kobe beef is a $35 supplement. Out it came as our first beef course. Tender, juicy, tasty little Kobe beef filets atop chanterelles and haricot verts. This was simple, but maybe the best Kobe I have had. I have only had it a few times. The first and most notably at Bradley Ogden some years back. This was better. Maybe it was less overwhelming due to its size. The accompanying mushrooms and haricot verts made it a complete dish in its beautiful little way. I truly appreciate this as a course during our anniversary dinner. This was special.

The last main course of the evening was a small-ish chunk of Worcestershire braised short rib. By this point I was aping the appearance of Violet Beauregard, post-blueberry pie course. I just nibbled at this, but it was perfection. Short ribs are penultimate only to ox-tail on my top ten list of "red meats to eat". I wish I could have done this one better justice.

Brown, sticky, braised and glazed on the outside. On the inside, just medium, falling apart gently as you prod it with the fork. Le sigh.

The next favor our wonderful server did for me was our cheese course. My one request at the beginning of the evening was that there be no more than one dessert course, because dessert always disappoints me. Instead the kitchen sent out a double cheese course so beautiful I could cry. No dessert for my dear husband of 8 long years, and he has a huge sweet tooth.

*insert maniacal laughter*

The first was an aged mimolette. Mimolette?

Wiki says,

"Mimolette is a cheese traditionally produced around the city of Lille, France, and also in some areas of Belgium and the Netherlands. It was originally made by the request of Louis XIV, who wanted a French cheese to resemble Edam. In order to differentiate it from Edam, however, he had it colored orange. A cow's-milk cheese, it normally weighs about 2 kg (approximately 4.5 pounds). Its name comes from "mullet". When young its crust is supple, but with age it becomes harder. It has a grey crust and orangish flesh. The orange color comes from the natural colorant, achiote. Due to its appearance, this cheese is often mistaken at first glance for a cantaloupe. The greyish crust of aged Mimolette is the result of cheese mites intentionally introduced to add flavor by their action on the surface of the cheese. Mimolette can be consumed at different stages of aging. When younger, its taste resembles that of Parmesan. Most cheese-lovers appreciate it most when "extra-old" (extra-vieille). At that point, it can become rather hard to chew, and the flesh takes a hazelnut-like flavour."

This was clearly the extra-vielle, because it was almost crunchy in consistency. So.damn.good. Served with little chunks of chamomile juniper shortbread, and underneath that foam a sweet apple gellee, very stiff in texture.


This cheese serving captivated me. Monte Enebro, with "ash and mold". The "ash" is actually a licorice dust, and the "mold" must be the ever so slightly and prefectly mustily aged goat's milk cheese itself.

Monte Enebro? describes,

"Monte Enebro is handmade in Avila, Spain, by legendary cheesemaker Rafael Baez and his daughter Paloma. The Baezs make their complex goat's milk cheese from pasteurized milk and innoculate the logs with the same mold used to make Roquefort, adding to Monte Enebro's complexity and distinctive it ages, the texture becomes denser and the flavor acquires more intense, pungent finish. Pair this cheese with Sauterenes or a Spanish desert wine."

Despite my deep seated hatred of anything licorice, I found the ash fascinating. And the cheese gobstoppingly delectable, soft almost gooey, ripe and a tiny bit smelly. I just ate it with a fork. The accompanying foam was odd, almost rubbery, and I have no clue what it was made of.

Hennessey XO and some candlelight.

And the now somewhat inevitable trip to the loo down the Alice in Wonderland-esque mirrored hallway.

I was curiouser and curiouser to see if there were any traces of the Coconut Teaszer left behind.

There was no cocaine residue on the counters, and no IV needles in the bin. Mais, bien sur non! The transformation is complete.

We had a wonderful time, service was personalized, elegant and friendly. The Mina team has done a wonderful job creating something unique. I hope the unorthodox style of asking customers to dine similarly en masse with their parties will not put too many people off after the initial fervor dies down. The food is wonderful and this gem is a lovely addition to the Los Angeles culinary scene. This pig has wings.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Obama & Babies Drink Galvatrons: The Remix You Have Been Waiting For

I was almost hazed into drinking a Galvatron last Friday at Bar C. I was tempted.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Yelp Elite Event at Royal/T in Culver City

8910 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 559-6300

Last Friday, the gang loaded ourselves up into the car and headed to Culver City so C and I could pop into the Yelp Elite Holiday Party at Royal/T. Royal/T Is a seriously cool venue. If you know anything about me, you know a little about my joy for all things Japanese (all things except all the mysteriously "closed" bars full of customers in the Golden Gai, but that's another post). Loved Royal/T.

Royal/T is both a cafe and an art space, and the art reaches out to the community through giant plate glass windows. I wanted to *smoosh* this giant plastic puppy in the window.

No royalty is complete without a crown.

After we got through the long greeting line, which went quickly despite the length, we were almost immediately offered some adorable purple mini-cupcakes. There is nothing I like better than food that is made to look uneatable, and these were adorable. Little chocolate cupcakes with purple frosting and gold metallic sprinkles.

If you have been following my blog, you know I am a little obsessed with public bathrooms. After looking at lots of fun art and retail spaces, I was dying to see the bathroom. We grabbed a slightly alcoholic ginger lemonade with soju and headed for the ladies. Charming.

Excellent toiletries. Veddy nice.

The bathroom is decorated by framed media coverage of Royal/T and their cosplay motif. Nowhere near as much fun as Bar C, but still very cool. Bar C really sexifies the cosplay element, making it a little more American. But really, in the French Maid cafes in Akiba there is very little skin on display. There is a definite air of innocence, just waiting to be corrupted, but not quite currupted yet. Royal/T copies that feeling a little more authentically. Problem: not near enough booze flowing. That could be my own personal issue.

The art is not restricted to the static. Royal/T also boasts a small screening room. The night of the party they were screening pics of Elite Yelpers' holiday photos, sent in ahead of time. We walked in and sat down in the cozy seating area and within a minute were greeted by ourselves, larger than life.

The above photo was at my very special birthday party two years ago, and the below was New Year's eve at the infamous Stearn's in Lake Havasu City.

Our time spent at Royal/T was brief. It was super crowded and the line to the small, understaffed bar was 100+ humans long, in my estimation. So we hung for a bit, said hello to a few folk then headed for the treats at the back door.

This fun piece of business was waiting for us. The Port-A-Party!

A hybrid of the Port-A-Potty and an OG iPod, open the door and there are disco lights and a real iPod playing house music. Dance, little sister!

On the back table, piled high, were the gifts everyone brought. Each Eliter was asked to bring a bi-gender gift of roughly $10 or less. The above was included in the card attached to my gift. A lotto scratcher, when scratched revealed I had won 10k. 10k!!!!!! 10k!!!! Fail. No, I did not win 10k. This was a joke scratcher. Pewp. Under the wrapping was something even less palatable.

Donuts from the much heralded Mr. Donuts in Glendora. I hate donuts.

They look tempting, these long twists of deep fried glazed dough. But I know, when I put them in my mouth I will be unhappy. C, however, never met a donut she didn't, er, like.


Nom nom. Or something to that effect.

I felt bad for her though. Her present was neither so intriguing nor so entertaining. Plastic fucking decorative lemons. Present fail.

All in all, we had a great time. The event was fun and I will go to another more properly lubricated Elite event. And we ended up first at the Repeal event at 7 Grand, then finally at my favorite place, Bar C. Successful Friday evening.