Italian culinary renaissance in LA (good things I ate this week in the City of Angels)

This week found me in LA where I checked in on the wine lists I author and co-author at Sotto and Rossoblu. I also spent some time this week eating out around town to catch up with what has shaped up to be a genuine Italian culinary renaissance here.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to eat at the new downtown location for Terroni (above). But man, what a gorgeous room! I’ll actually be eating there next week and am really looking forward to it. Owner and wine buyer Max Stefanelli is so rad. I had a chance to visit with him and was amazed by the restaurant and cellar tour he offered.

He doesn’t serve a Prosecco by the glass in any of his restaurants. How cool is that?

Bestia was completely packed on Monday night. The Monday after Thanksgiving! I had to pull a restaurant connection string to get a table but man, was it worth it.

I loved the mortadella tortellini (above). I also really loved the pâté and the presentation of the dish (below). Great wine list and great overall vibe and energy in this restaurant, which was one of the pioneers (roughly five years ago?) of the downtown culinary new wave here.

But as much as I loved Bestia and as much as I love the two restaurants I consult with here, the all-time king of Italian cuisine in Los Angeles will always and forever be Gino Angelini, owner and chef at the eponymous Angelini Osteria.

That’s his octopus below. Perfection…

The legendary tagliolini al limone (below).

There’s so much good housemade pasta in LA right now. But Gino was the first to really turn Angelinos on to how great it can be. I can’t think of an LA chef who doesn’t point to him as a pioneer and inspiration for her/his own pasta program.

The pappardelle with duck ragù (below) were also fantastic.

As simple as a dish like that may seem, it really takes a deft hand to achieve the balance that it needs.

Wow, Gino, as always, ubi major minor cessat. I really love and have always loved your cooking. It was great to be back. Thanks for taking such good care of us (and thanks Anthony for treating!).

Now time to get my butt on a plane to Houston where I belong…

Rossoblu makes TOP 10 list in Jonathan Gold’s 101 Best Restaurants (Los Angeles Times)

“The tortelloni, stuffed with the traditional mixture of ricotta and chard,” wrote LA Times food critic in his review of Rossoblu, “could illustrate the concept of Italian dumplings in a textbook.” I took the above photo last week when I was at the restaurant to lead a vertical tasting of Nebbiolo stretching back to 1996.

It was back in New York in the late 1990s when my friend from college Steve Samson (we met on our junior year abroad in Italy) first talked to me about his dream to open a fine-dining restaurant devoted to the cuisine of Emilia-Romagna, where his mother was born. By the early 2000s, when I was just a few years into my wine writing career, he was already talking about the wine list he wanted me to create for it.

We used to call it “the Dream.”

I couldn’t be more thrilled to share the news: late last night, the Los Angeles Times published “Jonathan Gold’s 101 Best Restaurants,” including Steve’s Emilia-Romagna-themed Rossoblu, which landed in the top 10 (at number 10). I’ve been co-authoring the wine list there with my colleague Christine Veys since the restaurant opened this spring and I couldn’t be more proud to be part of such a great team of restaurant professionals.

Seeing Rossoblu up there with restaurants like Spago and Providence (one of my all-time favorites) was like a childhood fantasy come true.

And as proud as I am of the wine program that we’ve created there, the credit goes solely, wholly, and rightly to Chef Steve and his wife Dina, who have always stayed true to the vision that they had for this superbly unique restaurant.

Over the arc of my career in the wine and restaurant trade, I’ve been involved with many high-profile restaurant openings. A restaurant launch is always stressful, chaotic, and unpredictable. The only thing you can count on is that you can’t count on anything when it comes to opening the doors of a multi-million dollar venue.

But the thing that keeps it together is a shared vision and staying true to that vision. None of this would have been possible if it weren’t for the son of schmatta-industry drop-out from Brooklyn who studied medicine in Italy and a wonderful home cook and loving mamma from Bologna.

Mazel tov and congratulations, Steve and Dina. I couldn’t be more honored to be a part of it. Thank you for bringing me along for the ride. I love you guys. Well done and well deserved!

Suffer from Jewish Boy Stomach? Eat at Moruno in Los Angeles (and thanks to Sotto team and guests)

david rosoff restaurant los angelesEvery time Sotto brings me to Los Angeles to work on our wine list, general manager Christine Veys and I try to break away to check out one of the new restaurants on LA’s vibrant food scene.

On Tuesday evening, after tasting roughly 30 wines with 6 different sales reps, we headed to my friend David Rosoff’s newly opened Moruno in the West Hollywood Farmer’s Market (a haunt of my youth).

That’s the absolutely delicious albacore tuna conserva in the photo above.

The menu is inspired by Spanish and Middle Eastern cookery and is delivered mostly in small plates and on skewers (as David put it, a moruno is “meat on a stick”).

We had a wide variety of dishes, including the roast butternut squash topped with cashews and sesame seeds, one of the guests’ and staff’s favorites, David said.

And of course, we sampled both the chicken and lamb morunos.

what is a morunoEverything was truly fantastic and it was great to see his energetic team working in the kitchen with such focused skill and decisive sense of mission.

But the thing that really blew me away about the experience was how good I felt the next day (sparing you the details, I’ll presume you know what I mean).

Whenever I travel for my work (and this year, I already have four trips to Italy and visits to New York, Miami, Santa Barbara, Boston, and LA under my belt), one of the greatest challenges I face is the combination of fatigue and distressed digestion (I’ll leave it at that).

best spanish wineEven though Christine and I really dug into our meal with gusto at Moruno, my “day after” was bright and sunny, as it were.

Maybe it was thanks to the superb Grenache Blanc by Cellar Frisach from southern Spain that made the difference. Zinging acidity in this hillside wine from the high lands, vibrant fruit and great balance, with restrained alcohol. I really dug it, especially at just $45 a bottle.

David, from one Jew to another, I LOVE your restaurant. The ultimate mark of a great meal is how you feel the next day and man, I woke up ready to go… as it were…

In other news…

My goodness, what a lovely night at Sotto last night where we launched our new wine list with a guided tasting of five new wines by-the-glass!

I can’t tell you how many times I lead tastings where guests show up only wanting to tell me about how they once visited Gaja.

Last night’s group was one of the best and most fun that I’ve ever tasted with: a very gracious ensemble of wine lovers who asked informed questions and shared thoughtful impressions of the wines. Thank you, everyone, for joining me.

And super heartfelt thanks to Christine for being such a great friend and colleague and for believing in my crazy reboot of our list (which I love).

And I also have to give a shout-out to my Texas family who surprised me by showing up at the tasting unannounced and staying for dinner. It was so fun to connect with them in LA and wonderful to know that I have family that supports me in what I do for a living. What a thrill for me to see Aunt Gladys enjoying my wine selections!

Now it’s time to get my butt back on a plane for Houston and some much needed downtime with Tra and the girls… Thanks for being here.

Sagrantino stories: Umbria gave LA its name

From the department of “de urbe angelorum”…

perticaia sagrantino 2010Yesterday found me tasting wine in Los Angeles at Sotto, where I’ve been co-authoring the wine list for nearly four years.

There wasn’t a lot of wine to taste: the longshorepeople strike in Oakland has left many California-based importers without any new wine to show.

I did, however, get to taste with Alessandro Meniconi (above), the winemaker at Perticaia in Montefalco, Umbria (at Sotto, we serve southern Italian wine nearly exclusively but I when I’m in town, I occasionally taste central and northern Italian wines for my personal betterment).

When he arrived at the restaurant, the last tasting in my schedule, he happened to be using his phone to search for the origins of the toponym Los Angeles.

As fate would have it, the name’s origin stretches back to the village of Assisi, not far from where Alessandro makes wine.

A Franciscan missionary, I learned, named the Los Angeles river after the Porziuncola, the small church in the hamlet of Santa Maria degli Angeli, just outside of Assis: El Río de Nuestra Señora La Reina de Los Ángeles de Porciúncula (the River of Our Lady Queen of the Angels of Porciuncula).

The city that grew there would ultimately be known as Los Ángeles.

I also learned that Perticaia, the name of the winery where Alessandro has been working since 2008, gets it name from an Umbrian dialectal word for plough. It’s not an -aia wine, as many would imagine.

His 2010 Sagrantino showed beautifully in the tasting and although it’s aged for twelve months in barriques of varied age (including some new), the wood was perfectly integrated into the wine.

I was really impressed by the gorgeous balance of this vintage, which by all accounts has delivered some fantastic wines in central Italy.

His 2009, also very good, was big and bold, with rich fruit. But the 2010 was much more approachable thanks to its equilibrium. I liked it a lot and Alessandro is pouring it today at the Tre Bicchieri tasting in San Francisco.

That’s the only LA story I have time for today. Time to get back to the tasting block. Check back tomorrow for my amazing encounter with wine glasses that sing (no joke).

@SottoLA wine list named one of “best in LA” by @SIreneVirbila @LATimes #DreamComeTrue

sotto los angeles

Above: Our very first staff wine training at Sotto in Los Angeles when the restaurant opened more than two years ago.

What a thrill for me and Tracie P to learn that S. Irene Virbila has named the wine program at Sotto, where I co-curate the list, one of the “best” in Los Angeles!

It means even more to me because I grew up in Southern California and went to U.C.L.A. for both undergrad and grad: like it was yesterday, I remember my first starry-eyed meals at Valentino and Spago, two restaurants also named in this shortlist of top wine programs in Los Angeles. And now my name is up there with theirs! Wow…

fatalone primitivo

From day one, my co-curator and bromance Rory Harrington and I have taken a very radical approach to the list at Sotto and we’ve never strayed from that course. We have always featured food-friendly wines that truly reflect the grapes with which they are made, the place where those grapes are grown, and the people who grow them.

But like a tree that falls in the forest when no one is there to hear it thump, our wine list wouldn’t have any meaning if guests didn’t enjoy our selections. More than two years into this project, I never stop being thrilled by watching someone taste an old Taurasi, Gaglioppo, or Gioia del Colle Primitivo for the first time. Of all the rewards that this experience has delivered, this has been the greatest by far.

I’m currently on paternity leave from my monthly visits to the restaurant. But I’ll be back again in September and we already have some interesting wine events lined up for the fall.

Thanks SO much to everyone for supporting me and the restaurant in this adventure. And thanks from the heart to Ms. Virbila for taking the time to enjoy the wines that we love so much…

incredible dinner @SottoLA last night with my ladies

Georgia P has so much fun in restaurants… she LOVED Sotto last night in Los Angeles (where daddy works).

Involtini di melanzane, classic eggplant rolls cooked in tomato. Chefs Zach and Steve are really reaching new and even greater heights with their cooking these days…

Fusilli di grano arso al ragù di coniglio e porcini, toasted wheat fusilli with rabbit and porcini ragù. This dish was tough to photograph but amazing, balanced in its flavors and textures, and the pasta cooked perfectly al dente. This might be my top dish for 2012.

Rapini (cime di rapa) con collatura, broccoli raab with garum (anchovy sauce), so simple and so delicious.

Sardinian pane frattau, classic Sardinian pane carasau (crunchy, thin, savory flatbread) that has been soaked in water, layered (in this case) with pork innards, topped with an egg (look at the color of that yolk!), and baked. This dish will definitely go in my top dishes of 2012 post at the end of the year.

Many erroneously believe that frattau means fretta or hurry in Sardinian. But it’s more likely that it means grated, possibly akin to franto.

Amazing meal… truly amazing… a note on the wine will follow later today… stay tuned!

Mike Andrews at Bootleg Bar

I was very geeked to catch the last set of my good friend Mike Andrews’ Wednesday night residency at the Fold at Bootleg Bar in LA last night after my shift on the floor at Sotto.

Mike and his music continue to inspire me (as they have since we were teenagers in La Jolla).

His new album, Spilling a Rainbow (Everloving), is now available… Check it out…

Obsessed with K-ZO in LA

Since I began commuting monthly to Los Angeles to work with Sotto where I curate the wine list, I’ve become obsessed with K-Zo, a wonderful Japanese restaurant on Culver Blvd.

I took Giovanni there yesterday for lunch before we headed to the restaurant. It was fantastic.

Chef/owner Keizo Ishiba (above) is so cool and I’ve waited on him at Sotto. Super nice guy and a master in his kitchen. Can’t recommend it highly enough.

In other news…

Sweet potatoes!

Tracie P has been blogging about Georgia P’s baby led weaning here

Giovanni and I are heading to Napa today… Stay tuned!