Riva


IMG_3605Fraiche in Culver City is one of my favorite restaurants in Los Angeles, and it even won praise as Los Angeles Magazine’s Best New Restaurant Pick for 2007.  Chef Jason Travi and his wife Miho really established themselves at this wonderful restaurant that still brings in the crowds.  I’ve been a huge fan of Travi’s food from the time when he spearheaded La Terza restaurant on 3rd Street (which is now gone.  Gino Angelini, Travi’s mentor at La Terza, just reopened the space this past weekend as Minestraio Trattoria).  I was really excited to try Riva, Travi’s new digs in Santa Monica.  I went in with an open mind, despite mixed reviews on Yelp and Chowhound.

Riva means ‘shoreline’ in Italian; it features more seafood, and is only a few blocks away from the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica.  The interior features high ceilings, large mirrors on the walls, an open kitchen, and a large bar-  simple and elegant like most other nice restaurants in LA or NY.

As soon as we were seated , the first thing we all noticed was the deafening noise level.  Hands down, this was the noisiest restaurant that I’ve ever been too.  I felt like we were at a bar or a lounge.  Halfway through the meal, I got so tired of leaning in, shouting, and saying “What?” all the time, that I just zoned out of the table conversation.

The menu has 4 categories: Crudo, Appetizers, Pizza, and Entrees.  Crudo means ‘raw’ in Italian and Spanish, and it generally refers to raw slices of seafood dressed in olive oil, sea salt, and some type of acid (vinegar or citrus juice).  Depending on how it’s arranged or dressed, it’s fancy sashimi, ceviche, tartare, or carpaccio.  This concept of Italian sashimi became popular when Mario Batali succeeded in doing it well at his NY eatery Esca many years ago.  Riva makes them with fluke, geoduck clam, cuttlefish, sea bass, tuna, and other sea creatures.  We ordered the scallops that came in a citrus oil dressing with bread crumbs and red peppers.  It was good, but a bit bland and lacking in acidity.

Scallop crudo

Scallop crudo

I ordered the house made Testa Rossa from the appetizer menu.  Testa is head cheese, which is a cold cut meat dish made from the head of a pig, calf, cow or sheep.  The head of a freshly slaughtered animal is carefully cleaned and prepped, then it’s simmered in a large stockpot for hours until the meat falls right off the skull.  All of these juicy tender bits of meat along with the stock, are refrigerated to set in pans or molds to make a terrine, or rolled into a large sausage.  The collagen from all of the cartilage and bone marrow of the skull gives head cheese that gelatin-like consistency when cooled.  Head cheese is usually eaten chilled or at room temperature so that all of that wonderful collagen doesn’t melt.

Testa Rossa

Testa Rossa

The testa was garnished with radish, mint, lemon and watercress.  As you can see, theirs is a rolled testa (looks like a slice of pancetta), as opposed to a terrine with chopped up bits.  It was heavy in fat content and low on meat, which went well with the tart acidic garnish, but somehow I was left unsatisfied.

We ordered the Nizza pizza with black olive, anchovy, sweet onion, capers and thyme.  Riva makes thin crust pizzas.

Nizza pizza

Nizza pizza

Our server told us that the pizza is made without cheese, but if we wanted it with cheese, it was an additional 2 dollars.  I wish they would either not offer the cheese option if the cheeseless pizza was their original inspiration, offer the cheese option gratis, or indicate the $2 cheese option charge on the menu.   Was I being too picky or is it the noise level getting to me?  Well, we did order the pizza with cheese.  The pizza was well done, and the crust was done the way I like it- crispy on the outside, doughy on the inside.  The flavor of the toppings came together nicely and it made for a nice shared appetizer.

For main entrees, we ordered the monkfish, lamb, and seafood bouillabaisse.

Monkfish saltimbocca

Monkfish saltimbocca

Monkfish saltimbocca on a bed of potato puree, spinach and pancetta, with a sage and marsala sauce.

Lamb Spezzatino

Lamb Spezzatino

Braised lamb in a tomato sauce over a bed of three color cauliflower and creamy semolina with a hint of smoked cheese and parsley gremolata.  I didn’t taste the monkfish dish, but the lamb dish was fantastic.  The lamb cubes were very tender, and each bite had so many layers of flavors- the rich and robust tomato flavored lamb stew, followed by the creaminess of the semolina, with a smokey cheese undertone, finishing off with the tart freshness of the gremolata.  I wanted to order that dish but since somebody else was getting that, I decided to go with something else for variety.  I regretted this decision.

Shellfish Fra Diavolo

Shellfish Fra Diavolo

Fra Diavolo is a tomato based sauce with garlic and hot peppers, frequently used for pastas and seafood.  According to the menu, my dish was supposed to have a half lobster, shrimp, mussels, clams, squid, and fregola sarda.  Fregola sarda is a toasted Sardinian pasta, and it looks like pearl sized cous cous or tapioca, only much denser.  My dish was okay- the tomato sauce lacked richness and flavor, and the lobster meat was spongy.  I was so bored with my seafood dish that I didn’t even realize it was missing the squid until I was almost done with it.  Instead, it had a few chunks of tasteless unidentified white fish.  I informed my server about the missing squid, and she apologized for the kitchen screw-up.  Sigh…

Another turn off with the seafood dish was that the half lobster came with a fully intact large lobster claw, and they gave me a large silver lobster cracker.  I was very surprised that this seemingly upscale restaurant would expect their customers to get their hands and clothes dirty trying to crack a lobster claw doused in tomato sauce.  I was wearing a white silk blouse, and was not about to ruin it with bright red tomato splatter.  Sigh…

There’s an entree item on the menu called Costata di Bue per due, prime rib for 2.  The table close to us ordered it.  They bring a big chunk of prime rib from the kitchen and the maitre d’ slices it on a rolling chopping block in front of you.

Prime rib

Prime rib

I think I was the only one who noticed that the maitre d’s jacket kept brushing up against the meat.  Yuck.

I was hoping that Riva would redeem themselves with dessert, but they loved letting me down that night.  I was so excited to try their Tiramisu, but I was told that they were out.  How can you be out of a dessert option?  That’s crazy.  The others got carrot cake and gelati.

Carrot cake

Carrot cake

Carrot cake with pineapple sorbet.

Gelati & sorbetti

Gelati & sorbetti

Butterscotch gelati and peach sorbetti.

I was so let down by this point that I didn’t even have the motivation to try these desserts.

Despite my excitement about trying this restaurant,  I didn’t have a good dining experience at Riva.  I was thoroughly disappointed with the quality of the food, the poor service, and the low caliber of the staff.  For $90 a person, I think it’s fair to expect a certain level of service and food.

The best thing about my dinner was the wine.  We had a wonderful 2005 Capezzana, Barco Reale di Carmignano.

Riva is supposed to be strong on their crudo dishes and pizza.  My advice for you- go to Japanese sushi restaurants for good raw fish, and Terroni or Pizzeria Mozza for better pizza.  If you’re looking for a good dining experience in Santa Monica, take your loved ones to Anisette.  And if you’re still keen on trying Travi’s food, stick to Fraiche.

http://www.rivarestaurantla.com/

Random trivia: Did you know that Oscar Best Actress winner Halle Berry ate raw fish so she could throw up on cue and look authentic doing it while filming the movie ‘Perfect Stranger’?  Now that’s dedication to your art, girl.

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Will you marrow me?

I just realized that within the past 3 weeks I had the pleasure of indulging in veal, beef and lamb bone marrow.  What a treat and how lucky am I?!  It’s truly one of my favorite things to nibble on with a nice glass of wine.

It started off 3 weeks ago when I was invited to my friend’s house to have some home cooked braised lamb shanks. Of course I wouldn’t turn down such an offer, so I went over with a bottle of Paso Robles Syrah simply excited for a lamb shank.  Well, holy cow!  Oops, I meant, holy lamb!  Kyle, you sure know how to please a woman (in this case, 3 women at once.  What a stud!)

Master chef Kyle in the kitchen

Master chef Kyle in the kitchen

These red wine braised lamb shanks were so tender, the meat fell right off the bones.  He accompanied them with garlic and rosemary roasted fingerling potatoes, oven roasted garlic bulbs, cipollini onions with a balsamic reduction glaze, sauteed greens, and a tangy parsley gremolata.

Braised lamb shank in the Le Creuset

Braised lamb shank in the Le Creuset

Delicious meal

Delicious meal

After I cleaned my plate and stripped the lamb shank down to the bare bone, Kyle sensed my next move and provided me with long thin crab picks.  Since lamb shank bones are very thin and long, this apparatus was perfect for scooping out all of the bone marrow.  I spread a clove of tender roasted garlic onto a toasted baguette, and placed the lamb bone marrow on top.  Voila, I was in heaven.  Lamb marrow is dark, with a dense and rich flavor.  It was also nicely flavored with the red wine braise and made for a wonderful treat.

Bone marrow and roasted garlic bruschetta

Bone marrow and roasted garlic bruschetta

A week and a half later I was in Cambria doing the same thing with a large piece of veal osso bucco.  This was at a restaurant called Madeline’s, which is a small and quaint restaurant inside of the Cambria Wine Shop.  Veal shank is obviously larger, so the dish came with a small spoon ready to scoop out the marrow.

Veal osso bucco

Veal osso bucco

I had my veal with another glass of local Paso Robles syrah.  What a coincidence…

And of course we savored the rich veal bone marrow on a piece of toast.

Veal marrow on toast

Veal marrow on toast

Sometimes bone marrow can have a bland taste if at all, so it’s best enjoyed from stews such as osso bucco because of the added flavors.  I remember making a lot of scraping noises at the table that night, making sure that I got every little last bit of marrow out with my small spoon.  Gosh, I can be an embarrassing date.

And finally, the king of all bone marrows, the beef marrow.  I went to Father’s Office in Culver City with some great friends a few days ago.

Father's Office

Father's Office

The night started off  with orders of pommes frites and beet salad, both absolutely delicious.  The red beets here were so sweet and juicy. After 2 wonderful bottles of Spanish red wines (I really liked the 2001 Ribera del Duero Fuentespina) and midway into a carafe, I started craving….marrow.  I could feel it in my….bones.

Beef bone marrow

Beef bone marrow

Oh gosh…this was really good.  This was simple straight forward beef bone marrow, roasted to perfection in the nude, so it looked gelatinous, bouncy and barely opaque.  The baguette was toasted just right, the marrow was rich and fatty but not too heavy, and the parsley and caper topping added that perfect amount of freshness, bitterness, acidity, and saltiness to complement it all.  I thought my friends would go ga-ga over this dish, but they weren’t as excited as I was.  Which worked to my advantage, because I got to eat most of it.

Another great place to have roasted beef marrow is Mozza.  They do it well too.

I love the fact that such a simple yet mind blowingly rich and delicious snack can be made from animals parts that would normally be thrown away.  Same goes for other organ meats.  They are so nutritious (okay, fatty too) and rich in flavor.  Most humans are only interested in the lean muscle meats, but the organs and innards are where the money’s at.  All other animals seem to know that.  When lions and tigers eat their prey, they primarily eat the innards, and don’t waste their time picking at the lean cuts.  I think I know what I was in a previous life…

http://www.fathersoffice.com/

http://www.mozza-la.com/

Random trivia:  Did you know that in 1983 the world’s first animal bone marrow transplant was done on Miki, a lilac-point Siamese cat, to correct a rare genetic disease called Mucopolysaccharidosis VI?