Dominick’s

8715 Beverly Blvd. West Hollywood, CA 90048(310) 652-2335 dominicksrestaurant.com

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I’ve been to Dominick’s twice now, with about 10 years in between those two visits and not much has changed. It’s still just very mediocre Italian food and a waste of your money and time. Especially when there are so many better Italian options in the city (Capo, Via Veneto, Piccolo, Valentino…). But since most of the great Italian is on the West side, I suppose Dominick’s has its place in a pinch. Granted I’d still take Villa Blanca in Beverly Hills over Dominick’s any day, but enough of the woulda, coulda, shoulda- If you go, be sure to get a table in the garden at the back, it’s much nicer than the inside. No need to add insult to paccheri.

Of my two-time sampling, the soft polenta with black truffles proved far and way to be the best thing on the menu and the only thing I would ever dare use a word more effusive than “good.”  The spaghetti and meatballs was a very distant second clocking in at one notch past average. Everything else from arancini to artichokes, was a big ole C average.

There was, however, one other exception on the dessert menu, the pear fritter/begniets were pretty solid. But other than that, the rest of the desserts were back to blahsville. Oh, and as for that pic above, that’s their crawfish boil, and I must admit, it does looks pretty damn tasty. Not sure how Italian it is, but people seem to swear by it, so perhaps I’ve just been ordering wrong? guess I’ll have to find out when I return to Dominick in another 10 years.

2 teeth

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Bar La Grassa

800 Washington Ave N. Minneapolis, MN 55401(612) 333-3837 • barlagrassa.com

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There is an old saying in the restaurant biz, Holy Fuckoly! I mean I knew it was going to be good, considering it’s the sister restaurant of 112 Eatery, my former favorite in Minneapolis, but I had no idea how good. I mean like world class good. Like Ultimate Italian Restaurant good. Like I-need-to-quote-Bill-Paxton-in-Aliens-2-good- “Stop your grinnin’ and drop your linen.” I never understood what that actually meant until now.

To explain, the linen droppin’ starts in tandem with the eye poppin’ as you pass through the lively dining room on your way to your table, craning your neck at the dishes on other people’s tables like an over-sexed teenage boy walking through Bryant Park during Fashion Week. The piles of jumbo grilled shrimp. The heaping bowls of gnocci. The monumental lobster and egg burschetta. It’s so overwhelming, by the time you get the menu in your paws, you honestly don’t know whether to shit or go blind. So we did what anyone would do in that situation, we deferred to our waiter.

The waiter of which I speak is a half Seminole, half Italian joyful man named Alex, with the longest braided ponytail I’ve seen since Crystal Gayle. But don’t let that throw you. He was ponytailed perfection, nailing it with almost every single recommendation. He was attentive and friendly and masterful at striking that balance between overbearing and MIA.

And now, a dinner so beauteous I actually learned something about myself that night. That I am capable of multiple foodgasms. It started with the best balls of arancini one could ever hope for. Made ridiculously moist with the aid of duck confit, then served over a shallow taleggio pond. But equally life-changing was the soft egg and lobster bruschetta with white truffle oil. An Ultimate on two fronts; scrambled eggs and bruschetta. You simply must get this. You need this. It will single handedly make up for every bad thing that has ever happened to you in your life.

For entrees we were in a pasta kind of mood, so we passed on the secondi and doubled down on the primi. One from column A (dry pasta) and one from column B (fresh pasta). Both were stunningly good and equally inventive. The dry pasta being a spicy calamarata with sushi grade raw tuna that melted in your mouth (pictured), cooling the flames. Such a wonderful, textural experience- like the oral equivalent of running through a sprinkler on a hot Summer day.

But as amazing as the tuna pasta was, the gnocci with cauliflower and orange was the stuff of kings. The pillows of potato so unsurpassed I can only recall one equal, the pumpkin gnocci from Blue Hill at Stone Barns. And the flavors within it were reminiscent of the brilliance at Piccolo in Venice, CA. Perhaps due to its use of cinnamon and spice. But this was no copy cat. No, this cat was a horse of a different color. Which is even starting to confuse me with the mention of all of these animals. But net, net, just order the friggin’ thing. You will love me for it. And speaking of, you’ll also love me for this tip, there’s a gorgeous $44 dollar bottle of Sangiovese that drinks like champ with all of the above.

The only miss, and by miss I mean mortal, was the crespelle (Italian crepe) with salted caramel gelato. It was certainly good, but after its predecessors, it was condemned to a plight of soaring expectations. I mean anything short of making my face fall off was destined to be a failure. The salted dark chocolate cookie that came with the check, however? Let’s just say I’m scheduled for face replacement surgery in the coming weeks.

***Having been back twice since, I can add a few more dishes in my continued love affair with this restaurant. The first being the Berkshire pork tenderloin with salsa de peperone. It’s pretty incredible, making it a VERY tough choice between this and the pastas above. The chicken is also quite good, breaded and squashed a bit, but juicy as all get out. And while very good, not sure it’s worth passing on some of the other stars I’ve suggested. For smaller plates the shishito peppers were good, but pretty standard (to be read like Dr. Evil). And having now tried two of their other bruschettas, I strongly urge that you stick with the lobster, because the drop off is steeper than Mt. Everest. And last but not least, dessert continues to be where BLG struggles the most. The Pot du Creme was just okay and the ice cream, while the clear winner of the three desserts I’ve tried, is not exactly a tour de force.

5 teeth

Via Veneto

3009 Main St. Santa Monica, CA 90405 • (310) 399-1843 • viaveneto.us
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Caught between Capo and Piccolo, Via Veneto is yet another extremely strong, authentic Italian right on Main Street in Santa Monica. They have a great wine list, very good service and a simple, but nice décor.

For eats, I highly recommend doing a split ravioli order as they have some of the best I’ve ever had. Try the lobster and the asparagus as a dynamic duo. Or if you’re into three-ways, add the sweet potato as well- they’re all good. But believe it or not, the asparagus reigns supreme.

They do many other things well too. From carni to antipasti to salads like the caprese. But none of them can even touch the ravioli. So if you don’t think you’re in the mood for ravioli, don’t go. It’d be like going to Disneyland when you’re not in the mood to be around kids.

4 teeth

Valentino

3115 Pico Blvd. Santa Monica, CA 90405(310) 829-4313valentinosantamonica.com

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When you compare to the likes of Capo, Via Veneto or Piccolo its definitely on the stuffier side. And the decor is bit on the dated side, as are many of its patrons, but I have to hand it to Valentino when it comes to the food. Quite impressive. Easily lives up to the hype in culinary arena.

The prosciutto with melon was among the best I’ve ever had. Top notch San Daniele delivering heavenly slices of buttery pork with razor-thin pops of saltiness, paired with the most spot on, perfectly ripe melon. Landing stuck like Mary Lou Retton with pine tar on her feet.

The other dish I will never forget was the risotto with white truffle shavings.  Now I know you could practically put white truffles on balsa wood and it would taste amazing, but I’ve had truffles before and since, and for some reason no other experience has matched this one.

But as good as the food was, sadly I’m not sure I would ever return, partly because some of the other dishes weren’t as special as the two I mentioned and partly due to the overall experience/setting, which wasn’t my bag. That said, if you are 60 or older- or simply feel 60 or older, this place should be perfect for you. And I don’t mean that in condescending ass-y way. I’m being sincere. The second I turn 60 I am heading back there for sure, assuming it’s still open.

3 teeth

Angelini Osteria

7313 Beverly Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90036 • (323) 297-0070 • angeliniosteria.com
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The best part of the meal, far and away was the fact that we sat next to Ed Norton and Flea.

The second best part was the service. Love the fact that these are real, authentic Italians. Every one of them. All shouting around the noisy cramped dining room. It’s chaos, but it’s a cozy chaos.

The food, unfortunately, was a major disappointment. I don’t know what the hell Giada was thinking when she named this the “best lasagna she ever ate.” My wife makes better lasagna and she’s Turkish!

As for the buratta caprese, the tomatoes were a bit on the mealy side. Capo’s is MUCH better.

And the dessert was just eh. Didn’t even bother to finish, and don’t even recall what it was, which is telling in and of itself.

There are SO many better Italian restaurants in LA from Capo and Piccolo to Valentino’s, Villa Blanca and Via Veneto. I’m not even sure why this place is still in business.

2 teeth

 

Giorgio Baldi

114 W Channel Rd. Santa Monica, CA 90402(310) 573-1660giorgiobaldi.us

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I know it’s probably blasphemous to say this, but I honestly find LA to have better high end Italian restaurants than NYC. Now with that said, Giorgio Baldi is not among them.

Terrible service. Rude and affected. Which would’ve been semi-tolerable had the food at least been worth the abuse, but in all fairness there are so many other great Italian options in Santa Monica alone, that I’m not sure why anyone would ever bother with a blowhard like Giorgio’s? I assume the prima donna’s there are doing it because Hollywood royalty eats there. Whatevs. It’s LA baby. Hollywood royalty eats everywhere. So lose the tude pisan!

Not one dish we had was memorable. Whereas places like Capo, Via Veneto, Piccolo and even Valentino’s all managed to wow far moreso than Blah-di’s.

2 teeth

The Ultimate Caprese Salad

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Jeans Georges – New York, NY

I know a lot of people find this place very hit and miss, but for us it was more of a grand slam. So many great dishes. And among those was one very simple classic, done with such an inventive culinary twist it left an enduring impression. Obviously in such a basic dish ingredients are key, so let’s just assume they were impeccable. But what one shouldn’t assume is that it was just tomato, basil and mozz, because you’d only be 33% right. It starts with a gigantic beefsteak tomato. Gigantic in both size and flavor. But then, it is topped with a layer of finely crumbled feta. And on top of that, raspberries? Now, of course there was also a wonderful oil and balsamic. And, there might’ve even been finely chopped basil to brighten the berries. But whatever it was, the one thing it wasn’t was forgettable.

Piccolo – Venice, CA

On a presentation level alone I have to tip my hat to Piccolo, because they break the mold and throw out the plate when it comes to their caprese. Served upright as a parfait, this tower of Summer bliss leaves nothing to be desired. And what may at first seem like a gimmick quickly translates to sheer oral pandemonium as its flavors ping pong around your mouth like the gold medal round of Olympic table tennis.

Capo – Santa Monica, CA

This is the most traditional of the lot, but even Capo takes a slight detour from the norm, opting for a ridiculously creamy burrata in lieu of your standard mozz. The tomatoes are also something special. A medley of heirloom in a host of flavors, shapes and colors ranging from sweet to meaty to “no, I’m not sharing.”

The Ultimate Pasta Dish

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Piccolo – Venice, CA

Unlike the other pastas on this list, Piccolo’s Venison, Clove and Cinnamon Pasta is a bit on the wintery side. And after the insanely brutal winter we just endured I’m sure about half of you just skipped to the next one. Well, your loss. This pasta is truly something special. And unique. I haven’t had anything like it anywhere. Nor have I ever even seen it on a menu since. But I can tell you this, shitty winter or not, next time I’m at Piccolo, I’m getting it again.

Capo – Santa Monica, CA

The Quattro Fromaggi is like a pillowcase stuffed with dreams. Only the case is made of pasta and the dreams are made from four of the creamiest cheeses to ever explode in your mouth. It’s literally as if fireworks made of cheese are putting on a show for your taste buds. And it’s about a dozen other metaphors I could think of as well, but some of them are sexual and gross, so perhaps the single most compelling thing I can say is this: One time my wife couldn’t make the trip to LA with me, so I begged the chef to vacuum seal an order of the pasta, so I could fly back with it and she could have it at home. Yes, it’s THAT good. And yes, I remind her of that every time I do something stupid… So about once a day.

NoMad – New York, NY

The crab pasta is so deceptively simple that you’ll likely overlook it on the menu. Well, that is, unless you heed my advice. So what makes this pasta all that? Balance. Proportions. It is a clinic on the alchemy of cooking, made effortless by the way its impeccable ingredients come together. The spicy hit from the black pepper. The acidity from the lemon. The tender, meaty, saltiness of the crabmeat. And the starchy, crunchy bed of al dente pasta. It’s simply divine.

Osteria – Philadelphia, PA

You won’t find it on the menu, which only makes it that much more fun to order, because you’ll impress anyone else at the table who’s not in the know. And impress them you will, because it’s easily the best thing they make. Now, for some of you, here’s the rub. It’s chicken liver pasta. But wait, wait, wait! It’s friggin’ awesome chicken liver pasta. So rich and savory. I mean if there was ever a time to give chicken livers their day in court, this is it.

Manzo – New York, NY

It’s not often that you come across a pasta that can hold its own in the company of steak and pork belly. But the anglionotti at Manzo does so quite handily. As if the juices from a perfectly cooked rib eye were somehow magically injected into the dumplings, so when you bite into them, it’s that exact same sensation you get when you bite into a wonderful, medium rare cut. Bellissimo!