Los Angeles, CA 91602
Saturday night two of my favorite people, C & K, were in town having a girly weekend. One of the many things we bond over is our love of Top Chef. We analyze every minute of each episode, critique dishes, deconstruct character flaws, and so on and so forth, ad infinitum. They spent Friday night assisting me in my myriad of désastres macarons while watching every episode of this season's Top Chef on the kitchen TV. We are all anticipating the upcoming showdown between the three remaining culinary heavyweights Bryan, Kevin and Michael, in that order we think. C & K were on a Top Chef tour of the city this weekend, hitting Stefan's Friday afternoon for lunch, Fabio's Firenze Osteria with D and me Saturday night and planning to brunch at The Jar (TCM, but still) Sunday morning. We had a beautiful dinner (with a few small flaws) and wonderful service at Firenze.
C & K both started the evening with a virgin Mintcucumber from the drinks menu at the bar. K is not a drinker (and loves to drive, so is always happily the designated driver). Let me qualify that by saying she is funnier sober than any other three slightly inebriated amateur comedians I may have ever come across. C has a smaller and more pointed reason for staying sober. It involves a lot of belly rubbing and jokes about gaining weight. :-) These alcohol free cucumber and pineapple concoctions were delightful, sweet and herbaceous with a touch of mint, seltzer instead of gin.
ketel one martini
D and I started with our usual Ketel martinis. I like the presentation here. It can take me awhile to drink a martini this behemoth in size. It's always nice when the martini coupe sits in an ice bath, keeping the drink fresh yet undiluted.
Firenze Osteria is elegantly and unmistakably Italian. Leather chairs at the tables and bar, dark wood convertible plantation shutters on the windows, and large format photographs of Italian landmarks.
In the bread basket we were served a focaccia and a crusty country bread. The focaccia was lovely, not overly oily as is sometimes the case. And for dipping, a picante olive, caper and sun dried tomato dipping sauce. Delicious.
prosciutto e melone
To start, K ordered melon and prosciutto. If it looks to you like the portions are large, your eyes are not deceiving you. Everyone's starter portions were very generous. The quality of fruit and meat here high, with a touch of luscious burrata on the plate drizzled lovingly with balsamic. What I do not understand on this plate are the coccoli, fried Italian fritters. They were incongruous with this light summery dish.
insalata di pere
C jumped in with a poached pear salad, made very flavorful by crumbled bleu cheese, caramelized walnuts and Pecorino cheese in a light red wine dressing.
insalata di burrata
D started with a gorgeous burrata salad on a bed of arugula with sun dried tomatoes, roasted mushrooms and pine nuts with aged balsamic sweetly dribbled everywhere. The flavor of the balsamic was immensely sweet, and a perfect foil against the richness of the burrata and verdant arugula. This might have been my favorite of the starters. I had course envy. I also was happy both salads were nothing alike. Sometimes one sees a couple salads with different ingredients and the same dressing or a similar flavor approach. Not here. Completely different flavor profiles, both delightful. One autumnal and earthy, the other with strongly contrasting flavors and textures.
carpaccio di manzo
Top Cheftestant Fabio won an Elimination Challenge on the basis of this classic Italian raw beef dish.
Filet, arugula, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, with an olive oil and lemon vinaigrette. Here, Lean Wong shows us how to make Fabio's Top Chef version of beef carpaccio with the infamous spherical kalamata olives. Again, generously portioned. Perfectly succulent meat, bright greens, the nuts and citrus round out the flavors. Loved.
C was excited to see Rosenblum on the wine list. Her father and Rosenblum are colleagues in their life-work, the starting of Rosenblum Cellars being a side project he started in his garage. This 2006 Rockpile Zin was perfect for everyone (C just had a wee taste), jammy at the start with a softer more mellow finish.
insalata di anatra
Cooking and eating, eating and cooking all weekend long, I didn't have enough of an appetite for pasta. I tried instead the crispy duck salad for a main. Sauteed duck with wild mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes and roasted pine nuts over mixed greens. This was wonderful. I ate every single bite. Cleaned my plate 100%.
ravioli di brasato
K ordered short rib ravioli with high hopes on both her and my side of the table. While the quality of the house made pasta was marvelous, the taste of the beef and texture of the pasta were overwhelmed by the richness of the Tallegio cheese sauce. It was just too much.
tortellacci di zucca
C tried the butternut squash tortellini in a light cream and butter sauce. While still creamy, the sauce here was lighter, but the butternut squash-ricotta filling was overwhelmingly sweet. Wow sweet. Prohibitively sweet. When a pregnant lady with a sweet tooth is unable to finish her butternut squash pasta dish, there might be an issue.
linguine frutti di mare
Predictably, D asked for the seafood linguine in red sauce. I thought this was great, and D thought it was solid with abundant seafood and good herbed tomatoey flavors, but the sauce was a little soupy.
valrhona chocolate gelato
Capping off our meal with this gelato was inspired. We were all stuffed and sleepy, but how can one pass up a rich Italian chocolate ice cream? One shouldn't and four clearly will not. So rich, it was almost like a frozen chocolate mousse.
Two good friends of mine traveled to Moorpark to eat at Cafe Firenze 6, maybe 9, months ago. Coming away underwhelmed, T described Cafe Firenze as an upscale Olive Garden. Now that's no faint criticism. This meal, despite a couple hiccups, can in no way be described as anything even in the same neighborhood as an Olive Garden. I'd like to see a couple of the sauces lightened up so the beautiful pasta is the star. And the filling in the tortellacci turned a little more in the direction of savory, use the current recipe for pie or cupcake filling. For the most part, this restaurant is earning its reviews here and here and here legitimately, with wonderful food and a polished atmosphere.
The service? It was flawlessly gracious from start to finish. (Except the weird thing with bringing water bottles to the table at the beginning of the meal. That's kinda weird in a used car salesman kinda way.) The host & hostess, our servers and bartender? Friendly and welcoming in the best way. While I don't see it replacing Mozza as the hub of Italian food in Los Angeles, Firenze Osteria is a much needed addition to SFV dining. If I lived closer I would be a regular at the welcoming bar, my go to food the crispy duck salad and the wine in my glass the Terlato-Chapoutier Shiraz Viognier blend.