Monday, February 1, 2010

Drago Centro (Los Angeles, CA)

Quick note: All photos were taken by Nick with his slamdickityslick camera.

My good friend Nick and I wanted to re-ignite the spark that was missing from our Bro-Mance after a month of working at our new jobs. What better way than to re-unite over food? So we planned to meet for dinner during DineLA. After perusing the menus over the course of a week, we settled on Drago Centro.. conveniently located 3 blocks away from my office :P

For those unfamiliar to the Downtown  area, one way streets, or the massive building park that Drago Centro is located in, you may get lost going to the restaurant. If you rely on your navigation you may get lost since it takes you down the wrong street. Not only is the restaurant hard to see at night, the underground parking is even harder.

The opening is no more than 2 car lengths wide and the signage is in small text/unlit at night.  For those that do go... the entrance is on 5th, right past Flower, immediately on your left... 3 hour free valet parking with validation, a rarity in Downtown nowadays.

After you've finally found Drago you're greeted by a sleek modern decor. What used to be adorned with blood red chairs and modern art in its first year of conception is now occupied by black paint, glass, and bright light spotlighting a few tables. My kind of restaurant! I'm a sucker for dark decor with white linen and bright lights shining on the tables but not the diners. Reminds me of the Staples Center during Laker games.
Now when we first entered the restaurant we were set on getting the DineLA menu. Drago was one of the few places where their DineLA menu actually matched their own menu. They weren't giving you a half assed attempt at a "prix fixe" menu to draw you in and feed you food they'd never serve on their own menu. I don't know how many times I've seen chicken dishes on DineLA.. ugh.. a real pity. I remember back 4-5 years ago when San Diego's Restaurant Week gave you 3-4 choices off of the restaurant's regular menu...

That's a rant for another day............... and we're back on topic.

BUT our plans were thrown array when the waitress told us one of the specials of the day, Fresh Shaved Black Truffles over Ricotta stuffed Agnolotti. I'll be damned if I wasn't ordering that as one of the dishes. After huddling for a quick audible, Nick and I decided to individually get an appetizer and a pasta and split the black truffle dish.

We discussed our intentions with our server and she happily offered to have it put in as our "second" course.

After our menus were whisked away, we were promptly served with the Amuse. 

Fresh Mozzarella with a basil puree and micro parsley

A light yet flavorful beginning to the meal. The creamy texture of the basil mixed with the cheese combined into a sea of soft milky goodness. Lickin my lips from the get go.

Shortly after the Amuse we were given a bread basket of pipping hot bread.

Really, who can say no to hot crunchy crusted ciabatta and french loaf? Certainly not I and if you do.. I'm pretty sure you also hate puppies and sunshine.

And what after destroying the bread basket we started on the appetizers.

First up to bat is the
La Burrata

Burrata, tomatoes, olive oil, crostino

There are few dishes out there that I almost have to order when I see it. Anything with Burrata and tomatoes is on that short list. It's that almost marshmallow like pull to the cheese that makes me do the happy dance in my mouth. Didn't hurt that this plate came with three generous pieces of God's gift to cheese.

We had to get one of their most popular appetizers...

l’insalata di polipo

 baby octopus salad, blood orange, wild greens

I felt the octopus was a little chewy but I really enjoy the bitterness that comes from wild greens. They add an oompf to the dish that mixes really well with the bold citrus of blood orange. 
We quickly dispensed with the appetizers and moved onto the second course. I could smell the second course coming from a mile away. The rich aroma of funk is so distinct that you can't forget it.

Yum. Black truffles.

Even yummier, black truffles over my pasta. 

Ricotta Agnolotti, olive oil, black truffle from Norcia

A simple dish. Egg based Agnolotti made in house, a light fresh olive oil, stuffed with creamy ricotta. Simply put together to allow the black truffle to shine.  Nick's first experience with black truffle and I could tell I've ruined his wallet for life. There's just something about the earthy richness that truffle imparts to a dish that just makes every taste bud in your mouth sing for joy. 

Oh by the way, what you see above is a half portion. O_O! Imagine eating two plates of that. Drago is certainly generous with the truffles!

Our tastebuds had to rest after such a treat our "main" courses arrived. 

 le pappardelle al fagiano

pappardelle, roasted pheasant, morel mushrooms

I would be hard pressed to find more perfectly cooked pappardelle. The thickness of the noodle was perfect and the creme they added to the sauce gave it excellent structure. One of the best cooked pastas I've had the pleasure of eating. 

The pheasant is prepared two ways. The pheasant leg is confit and the breast is sous vide. After they are cooked separately they are then sauteed together with a creme reduction. 

i paccheri

paccheri, spot prawns, puttanesca sauce

Puttanesca is a hearty but salty sauce that's far more tangy than rich like your normal tomato based sauces. They fill this sauce with capers and herbs to give it that savory taste. It's accompanied by two expertly cooked spot prawns. Unlike most spot prawns that have a very dense meaty characteristic to it, these were incredibly soft. Both styles have their place for my palate but I really enjoyed this preparation.

After talking to the GM Matteo and Chef Drago over the course of dinner, they knew I had a passion for food...or as my lovely girlfriend would say aka I am a fatty. So they offered us a surprise after we finished our pasta. Normally when I think surprise from the chef I expect a dessert or a taste of something.. not a full blown entree for each of us.

The waitress set in front of both of us
la trota salmonata

arctic char, swiss chard, beet puree

To be honest, I had looked at this dish before we ordered our pasta and I considered ordering it. What pulled me away was my constant bad experiences with seafood at Italian restaurants. Fortunately my luck had changed. I LOVE LOVE LOVE when fish is left rare in the center. Not raw like seared Ahi, but a medium rare piece of fish. It adds so much to the complexity of the fish and really shows the quality of the fish as well. This dish was a perfect example of that. A crisp peppered skin on the top and a beautiful piece of artic Char on the bottom.

The beet sauce was subtle and did not overwhelm the delicate flavors of the artic char. It all worked wonderfully together and I'm glad I've finally had a good piece of fish at an Italian restaurant.

Our waitress came by after we finished the seafood course and asked if we wanted to partake in any desserts. She offered us her two favorites, the spumoni and Meyer lemon squares, as suggestions. The way she described the spumoni sounded scrumptious so we had to order it to share.

lo spumone

pistachio semifreddo, cherry gelato, chocolate, meringue

The dish requires you to split it open to get into the multiple layers. What a delightful play on an old Italian dessert classic. Marshmallow meringue holding in the layers of pistachio creme with a center of cherry gelato and a base of chocolate cake. I really enjoyed the meringue, it added a candied flavor to the dessert that brought all the flavors together nicely. 

Once we started to get into the dessert a new plate landed in front of us once again compliments of the house.

 la crostata di limone

  meye lemon tart, thyme meringue, vanilla shortbread, mascarpone gelato

I was not as enamored with this dessert as the previous. I'm just not a giant fan of heavy lemon based items. I don't like key lime pie and I'm don't like lemon sorbet. If you were a lemon fanatic you can taste the fresh tart lemon over a nice vanilla shortbread. But the lemon was just too much for me, especially since I just finished something very sweet. 
What I did like were those little candy bars along the tarts. They melt away in your mouth in a mascarpone goodness.

All in all an excellent meal. One of the best Italian restaurants I've had in Los Angeles. Hopefully you trust my opinion enough to know that I was not swayed by the lure of free food in giving this restaurant a good review. I really enjoyed it and I enjoyed the personal level of service at the restaurant. The wait staff was professional and they were very accommodating with Nick taking pictures. They even set a small table on the side for him to put his bag. 
Matteo runs a tight ship and the dedication and passion was obvious whenever he came to talk to us about the food we were eating. I'm glad I tried this restaurant and I'm glad I finally found a good Italian restaurant in LA.

I'll leave you with a picture of Nick, Hostess, Chef Drago, and I!