A sea of faux-pumpkins leered overhead when first brought here by our friend Francesca, but I imagine the interior is seasonal. Otherwise there's comfortably faded brick walls, vintage French or Italian prints of foods and wines, and what looks like shredded newspaper on the floor. It's a decor that's been attempted countless times by eateries desiring that "internationally local" feel.
Star Cafe causes a little head-scratching, especially since they're right next door to the Black Cow Cafe, and both are part of the What's Cookn Inc. family, that has kids all over Glendale (Clancy's Crab Broiler, Hamburger Central and even Jax). I suspect there's an alien mind-control cult going on here. If there is, it's fairly successful; Star Cafe has been around for almost a decade and a half, from the beginning of the whole foodie movement. You're initially hooked in by the seasoned puff of bread before you, drizzled with herbs, with a buttery stickiness to the fingertips. There is high-quality chocolate going on in the iced Caffe Mocha, all sweet and swirling strata.
Now, I hate squash and all its unevenly-shaped vegetal kin. I hate it. But the Butternut Squash soup is a tureen of deliciously spicy silk that really illustrates the "Autumnal seasonal foods" concept, and thus my alien mind-control cult theory gains evidential momentum. Bianca continued this newfound fetish with the Curry Butternut Squash Ravioli, a sunny yellow paradise contrasted with bright red chopped tomatoes, that perfectly mixes the "butter" and "nut" and "curry" flavors, and makes me--snarling, sniveling and with much hand-wringing before shrinking back into dark alleyways--admit that butternut squash can be pretty awesome, I guess.
I was a little less experimental; having heard people rave about the focaccia, I had a Chicken Dijonnaise sandwich on this pizza-style, herb-smothered bread. The chicken is breaded and moist and begs to be torn apart and eaten as is. The pasta salad had a few too many hidden green beans and peas attempting to contribute to the mind-control effect, but they didn't hurt at all and I said nay to them.
There's also a red-pepper fettuccine, with roasted garlic and shallots, in a parmesan cream sauce that I shall be returning to try, but of my own free will, not because my mind is in any way influenced. We shall also be sampling the Black Cow Cafe next door with Francesca, who is not sponsoring our entry into any cult in any manner.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Italian, Healthy/Organic, Glendale/Atwater/Eagle Rock, American )
Under the black awning the restaurant is beautiful and comforting, calm and textured, with a sidewalk patio surrounded by iron and wood; a Tuscan feel without being irritating about it. We sit outside; traffic hisses past on Vermont.
We're unreasonably hungry, so we get right to it. A basket of heavy-crusted country loaf, floury and sweet, with an excellent olive oil. A Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Cabernet which is fair, robust but a little too sour. The Smeraldina sparkling mineral water is a much better accompaniment. So far we're doing well.
When the Calamari Luciano comes, we're blown away. Sautéed and only slightly chewy, the squid is almost a pasta-like consistency. The spicy tomato sauce is simply brilliant. Dopamine levels-spiking brilliant. We cannot stop eating this fairly large appetizer, or dipping the bread into it, or picking up our forks one more time, just one more, cannot help from ruining our appetites for the main course. Gott im Himmel. Why am I speaking German? I can't speak German. Dio nel cielo.
Our dinners arrive. The Rigatoni Norcini has ground, almost shredded, Italian sausage and button tomatoes in a brown sauce with just enough tomato to awaken it. The waiter understands my need for many spoonfuls of grated parmesan. Bianca has the Ravioli all Aragosta: black squid-ink pasta, stuffed with lobster, red bell pepper, baby spinach and ricotta, that last giving the contents a nice grainy finish. The pink sauce is savory but the contents are king. We laugh at how amazing tonight is, despite the Dodgers losing their last opportunity to go to the World Series at this very moment.
We are stuffed to the gills and properly sluggish, but order dessert anyway, because we have to know. Now we know. Chocolate Torta. A super-thick ganache baked pielike in a flaky double-crusted pastry that's like a cookie, like a muffin top, like those satisfyingly sandy pie crusts, and absolutely addictive. With freshly whipped cream and sips of Dow's 10-year Tawny Port, we remove the rest of our ability to think straight.
We did not meet Mamma Flora, but we will hug her when we do.
There are no pizzas or paninis on this menu; for that, you had to go to il Capriccio Wood Fire Pizzeria close by on Hollywood Blvd. I think they were wise to separate the two, because there's just too much goodness in this one wonderful Italian restaurant. However, the pizzeria seems to be both Il Capriccio and Di Carlo, and seems drama-laden, so I'll need to get back to you on that.
There's a valet lot in back if you squeeze through the buildings ($2.50 for validation, $5 otherwise).
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Italian, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park )
Scarantino's preserves its vintage mien, all wood paneling and chocolate brown vinyl booths, wall-mounted iron lanterns spilling amber over the required red & white tablecloths, coils of dry grape vines and white Xmas lights*. Italian ballads--the type for linking arms and dancing a saltarello--strum overhead, occasionally toggling to Bennett and Sinatra**.
The bread is painfully normal, but you get those pats of Darigold butter that you peel away from its waxed backing. You unroll your thick napkin and the full complement of silverware spills out: two forks, two spoons, knife.
The minestrone is fair and greenish, its vegetables in varying degrees of doneness. The chicken parmesiana [sic] is fried nicely golden under a sheet of mozzarella, its accompanying spaghetti blanketed with that silky, slightly glowing ragu you remember from the late '70s.
Is it brilliant? Oh, no-no-no. Why am I writing to you about it then? It's the feel of the place. It recalls the old meat n' cheese restaurants, where flavor applied to the interior as well as the food: the various Two Guys from Italy scattered about the Valley; Barone's on Oxnard; the watery sauce at Pipers on Western back in the late '70s before it became part of Koreatown; Miceli's on Cahuenga; Morigi's on Reseda before it changed management in the '80s. All that. Scarantino's doesn't immerse you in memory like a good Tiki-themed restaurant, but there's a touch of "old guys used to eat here" remaining.
Would I eat here again for dinner, or a quiet, kitsch-seasoned lunch? Sure. Would I take an Italian friend here for a business lunch? No comments at this time.
The Pasadena location (claimed to be the oldest Italian restaurant in Pasadena) is apparently now closed. The Glendale building has a few parking spots sprouting from it, but they need to take down that "Now Open For Lunch" banner from the front; it's been there a year and it's rain-filthy by now.
* Really, the world can do without that now. Restaurants should not be lit by strings of holiday lights.
** "Rags to Riches" and "Nice Work If You Can Get It", respectively.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Italian, Glendale/Atwater/Eagle Rock )
We would never have found this place, hidden in a corner of a massive strip mall, if not recommended by a dear family friend. And lucky, too: Bianca and I were treating my mother to a nice dinner, and Alessio more than fits the bill.
Much attention is given to the fiery, Romanesque decor, all browns and golds under a tiled ceiling; in the plaster of the walls someone had made countless crescent swirls with a trowel. The effect has weight, upscale without feeling too manufactured. A few televisions line the upper walls, but not too disruptively.
A plate of Bruschetta with deeply red chopped tomatoes is provided, as well as hot domes of fresh bread, to dip in explosively garlic-infused olive oil that leaves you a bit worried about your breath.
What pleases us is how large of a flavor is imparted to such sauce-light pasta. The chicken, broccoli and sun-dried tomatoes in the Rigatoni alla Barese seems painfully dry to the eye, but the olive oil and garlic sauce is so rich that it needs no embellishment. The Spaghetti alla Puttanesca with salty black olives and capers still comes off sweet and red, and the Tortellini con Panna e Prosciutto, despite having ricotta cheese*, has a delicate balance of Italian ham and asparagus in a cream sauce.
The bar is small but industrious, and made us a very good French Martini despite their never having made one before. We suggested the ingredients**, and they returned a smoothly rendered concoction. Good bar-work, that.
The tiramisu is excellent, if unorthodox, almost like a carrot-cakelike mousse. The espresso that evening was bitter, however, the only quirk in our dining experience.
With three pasta dinners, a dessert, an espresso, two cocktails and a house wine, it came to just shy of a hundred dollars. Fairly dear, but not as extortionate as some L.A. establishments.
There are other locations tucked away in Westlake Village, Laguna Niguel and Northridge.
* Which I hate, by the way.
** 2 parts Vodka, vanilla-tinged if possible, 1 part Chambord, and 2 parts pineapple juice, shaken and served in a cocktail glass. This is a good drink, I promise you. I have some little experience in these things.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Italian, The Valley )
This used to be where the lazily busy La Belle Epoque was, switching that corner of Los Feliz from a French breakfast nook to a nighttime hipster hangout. Moby clones with shaven heads, guys who wear English driver's caps*, and guys with white sneakers and wine glasses mix with sharply-dressed women, chatting about what movie they're working on or who's visiting from New York or Europe.
The interior is warm and nicely moody, with black and white photos of Italian singers and film stars, but on a cool L.A. summer evening, grab a sidewalk table and gaze across the street at Mexico City restaurant, whose continued existence still puzzles us.
The staff has been quick and gracious to us, placing a white bag of hard flaky bread and a small ramekin of whipped butter on the table, and asking us for our water preference: tap, sparkling or still (we go for the last, which nets us a big bottle of Natura). We also recommend the special drink of the evening, a white sangria made with strawberries and oranges, very light and fresh.
This is a quiet Italian-inspired repast, more a dip into Hollywood-adjacent culture than a humble, filling Italian restaurant (for that we'd go over to Vermont for Palermo or il Capriccio). The menu is small and concentrated. A few margherita-style pizzas, thin and rectangular like Cheebo makes. A simple spaghetti and meatballs arrives on a small plate, the pasta past al dente in the American-Italian fashion, the meatballs quite firm, but somehow mixing perfectly with the melted parmesan. The risotto jambalaya makes us miss New Orleans**, although it is but an interpretation: a trio of shrimp atop a mixture of Andouille sausage and chicken.
Dessert is a pleasant expense, since the meals don't stuff you silly. Bianca likes the bomboloni, a sugar-dusted pastry not unlike a beignet, with crème fraîche and chocolate gelato. While I eye that enviously, I like the affogato, which is a tall glass of vanilla gelato with a shot of espresso you can pour over it, rendering it an electric, vanilla-tinged coffee shot. A glass of Graham's 10-year tawny port doesn't hurt.
Little Dom's is open for dinner until eleven (midnight on Fridays and Saturdays), which is a nice thing for a Los Feliz restaurant to be. Good luck with the parking.
* But not as well as I do.
** No surprising feat; we miss New Orleans at the drop of a hat.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Italian, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park )
Urban developers are desperately trying to invent a new Sunset & Vine scene, tailor-made for investors and lifestyle seekers, yet (slightly) freer of the seediness that makes Hollywood & Vine famous. It's centered around the Arclight, Amoeba Music and a few hip eateries. Good luck with that.
With that as the cultural habitat, Magnolia--situated right by the Bowery and the Fabiolus Cafe--should be an attitude-heavy, pretentious L.A. restaurant banging elbows with other attitude-heavy, pretentious L.A. restaurants. It's open every day until 2am, which is a nice thing to have in Hollywood, and it does have a rhythm: every eight minutes another taxi arrives with a trio (always a trio) of angular miniskirted women, who click into the restaurant, eat probably very little, then clack back out and off to whatever club they were going.
But each time we've been to Magnolia it's been a culinary home run. Sit on the front patio along Sunset, in the covered back area, or the immaculately designed interior, all cherry wood and rocks and water, and slightly too musically loud. The waitstaff has always been gracious and enthusiastic, gushing that what we order is indeed to die for or their personal favorite.
We haven't disagreed. Our current favorite appetizer is the risotto-stuffed croquettes, mouth-filling and rich, served with a garlic aioli over arugula. The dinners are properly proportioned, simply presented. The rigatoni bolognese is a hearty veal/pork marriage, not too tomato-heavy and therefore not sour. The Macadamia crust on their mahi-mahi creates a brilliant rockiness of texture, made addictive with a luscious lobster sauce, Chinese long beans and jasmine rice. Even the burgers and grilled ham and swiss are carefully constructed, moist and worthy of plate-cleaning.
A cocktail is as expensive as L.A. standard allows (about twelve bucks), but expertly made, brought out and poured from its tiny metal shaker. I particularly recommend the French Martini (Belvedere vodka, Chambord and pineapple juice, made slick and just sweet enough) and the Catalina (Flor de Cana 4-year rum with pineapple, orange and lime, heavy and bitter). Both are subtle enough to sneak up on you after a pair of them.
Dessert. Bread pudding with bananas, chocolate chips and peanut butter? Ridiculous. A mint-chip ice cream and chocolate chip cookie sandwich? Made even better when I went half-mint chip, half-espresso gelato at the waitress' suggestion.
Parking is valet, at an only-at-Sunset-and-Vine rate of seven dollars... or you can park in the Arclight structure for less and march over.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Italian, Hollywood, American, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs )