What a timely follow up to my previous blog entry about Riva- last week I dined at the newly opened Minestraio Trattoria in West Hollywood. It hadn’t even been open for a week, but the restaurant was packed. The restaurant was reopened by famed Italian chef Gino Angelini (of Angelini Osteria and La Terza; he is also Jason Travi’s mentor), in the previous La Terza space. The interior decor and layout has not been changed at all. This was a tad bit disappointing, as well as the large flat screen TV by the bar airing ESPN. Seriously, what is it with the sports bar thing?
Especially in these tough economic times, Minestraio Trattoria is a breath of fresh air. There is no pretentiousness, no attitude, and no ridiculously overpriced meals. We got friendly smiles, wonderful service, spectacular food, and a great deal. Minestraio is very reasonably priced, but they absolutely do not compromise on the quality of the food.
For starters, the bread and olive oil was superb. I knew that I shouldn’t be filling up on bread, but I couldn’t stop. The olive oil was green, earthy, rich and nutty. Just delicious. We had the chopped salad with chicken, avocado and cannellini (white beans).
This was a very simple salad that was well executed. All of the ingredients were fresh and flavorful. The dressing had a nice acidic citrus kick to it that worked well with the buttery avocado and cannellinis. Other items on the antipasti menu were caprese, eggplant parmigiana, and beef carpaccio. All are priced between $7-12. They serve 3 types of panini during lunch only- vegetarian, chicken breast, and turkey provolone. They are priced between $7-9.
Pastas are the main star of the Minestraio menu. There are 20 different types to choose from, and they are all priced between $8-16. Most of the pastas are very basic and classic Italian dishes, like pomodoro, arrabiatta, vongole and lasagna. The food culture has become so snobby and pretentious these days that it’s unusual for a big name chef to open a restaurant that serves basic simple dishes. I’ve become used to reading long complicated explanations under each menu item, so it was a pleasant surprise to see this menu that was so easy to read and navigate. Angelini has always been known to be strong in his basic meat ragus, so I opted for the Bolognese, made with homemade tagliatelle, beef ragu and parmigiano.
How beautiful is that? A simple, basic, pure bolognese. Nothing excessive, nothing added onto it for extra flare or fanciness, nothing to spoil the pureness of it. And this, may I remind you, is at a Gino Angelini restaurant.
The first time I had a real bolognese dish was back in college when I was backpacking through Europe. I was 21 years old, and until then I thought that bolognese was the kind of spaghetti with runny meat sauce that you see on Prego jar labels. I didn’t know any better. I had never been to Italy. But boy, I can still remember so clearly that hot summer day in Firenze that I had my first true bolognese. It blew my mind away. It was my first time having homemade tagliatelle pasta. It was dense and chewy, yet tender and light at the same time. I couldn’t believe how good this pasta was, and how it went so well with the ragu. The sauce clinged so well to the wide flat pasta, and it was a perfect combination. I was also amazed at how the true Italian ragu wasn’t runny or liquidy. It didn’t overwhelm the pasta, but it existed in harmony with it. I was so shocked at this bolognese experience, that I was left speechless for the rest of the day. And here I was at Minestraio, many many years later, reliving that experience of having amazing bolognese. I almost cried.
We also got the Melanzane, rigatoni with eggplant ragu and dry ricotta.
The rigatoni was cooked to a perfect al dente, and the eggplant ragu was rich, light, and smoky. Again, another basic dish that was cooked flawlessly.
We also got the Funghi dish, a homemade papperdelle with mixed mushrooms. They used shiitake and oyster mushrooms. A very aromatic earthy sauce that complemented the superb homemade pasta.
This was another dish where the pasta and the sauce was in perfect balance. It was just as much about the pasta as it was about the sauce. Some of the other pasta dishes that I want to go back and try are: homemade tortellini filled with pork beef and parmigiano in chicken broth, gobetti pasta with sausage cream ragu, fusilli pasta with lamb ragu and mint, agnolotti filled with veal ossobuco, and taglioni with lemon zest parsley and cream sauce. Most of the pasta dishes are $10-11.
My friends and I shared the grilled sausage with roasted potatoes as a secondi dish. Other items on the secondi menu are rotisserie chicken, pork chop alla milanese, and beef tagliata dry aged rib eye. The rib eye, for $19.50, is the most expensive item on the entire menu. The grilled fennel sausage was absolutely delicious. I could’ve easily eaten the whole dish by myself. It wasn’t greasy or heavy at all.
I loved the glass of 2005 Ruffino Modus Cabernet Sangiovese that I had with my meal. All of the wines are also reasonably priced here at Minestraio.
Last but not least, dessert. All three of us wanted something different, but we only wanted to order 2 desserts. Uh oh, do we need to start a cat fight? I wanted tiramisu, especially since I couldn’t have it at Riva. Tiramisu is my favorite dessert in the world. If it’s available, I will always order it no matter how full I am. I will be forever grateful to the Italians for inventing tiramisu. Our friendly and wonderful waiter solved our dilemma by offering us complimentary tiramisu tasters. What?! Free tiramisu at an Angelini restaurant? Did I die and go to heaven?
Even though the tiramisu only lasted 3 bites, it was divine. The mascarpone zabaglione was light and airy with just the right sweetness and creaminess. The soaked lady fingers were still fluffy and not overwhelmed by the espresso.
My other favorite dish of the evening was the Torta della Nonna, Italian for ‘grandma’s cake’. This was a pine nut tart with vanilla bean gelato. It was superb.
I wonder which lucky Italian bastard’s grandmother first invented this? I loved everything about this dish. The custard inside the cake made with vanilla beans was smooth and creamy, the cake crust was dense and buttery, the pine nuts were soft with an aromatic earthy flavor, and the vanilla gelato was delicious. Oh, Nonna!
Our third dessert was the Panna Cotta alla Vaniglia, vanilla panna cotta with strawberry sauce.
The panna cotta was good, but it wasn’t great. It wasn’t creamy enough. The best panna cotta I’ve ever had is my foodie friend Shirley’s homemade panna cotta that I had a couple of months ago.
How cute is that? She brought the panna cotta, chocolate wafers, and homemade chocolate sauce in that cute little basket.
This panna cotta was rich, dense, creamy and thick. It was pure heaven. Shirley made a chocolate sauce to go with it, but I opted to enjoy this dish in its pure and naked form. Sorry to go on a tangent, but this was the perfect place to showcase her panna cotta.
Minestraio Trattoria is Italian food in its most pure, true and uncorrupted state. It just doesn’t get any better than this. My friends and I ate all of this fantastic food plus wine for $38 a person. Angelini Osteria used to be one of my favorite Italian restaurants, but I didn’t go too frequently because of the cost. On the other hand, Minestraio is the type of place that I will probably go a few times a month. It’s casual, reasonably priced, the service is great, and the food is fantastic. When we left, the entire wait staff and the chef de cuisine came out to thank us and give us a warm farewell. From beginning to end, my dining experience at Minestraio was wonderful.
(website not up yet, but this is the address that was on their menu)
8384 West 3rd street, Los Angeles, 90048
Pizzeria Mozza is making a take-out counter that is under construction right now. It is sandwiched between the Pizzeria and the Osteria. They are planning to open in April. FYI, after trying all of the pizzas on their menu, my favorite is still the fennel sausage, panna, red onions and scallions pizza. Nothing beats it.
Comme ça (see previous blog entry) closed down the Boule patisserie, but they are planning to open a new bakery this summer just down the street from the old Boule location on La Cienega Blvd. The Comma ça Bakery, spearheaded by Japanese baker Hidefumi Kubota, will still sell some of the macaroons and caramels that were made famous at Boule. David Myers is planning to open a second outpost of Pizzeria Ortica close to the bakery. Are we ready for another pizzeria in LA? Hmmm…I’m not so sure…