Sunday, April 29, 2007

News and Notes from NYC and LA!

With an hour to kill and a dirty martini, André is back in business....

First, an apology for the hiatus… your food-sleuth has been traveling the world, working on new projects… which means new scoop for you!

Note: in the next six weeks, your beloved blogger will personally visit restaurants in London, Johannesberg, Hamburg, Tokyo, Shanghai and Rio, so get ready to read about some crazy eats!...

What’s the latest in NYC and LA?

In Case You Missed It……. Chumley’s, the famous speakeasy in the West Village nearly imploded. The much-loved fireplace caved in, as did a few walls, and now the place is closed for repairs. Insiders tell me this could take 6 months….. Morandi may have weathered Bruni, and garnered a star… but honestly, the food is just so-so. It’s a loud, hey-look-at-me type of room, and those who want to nosh on really good stuff usually leave disappointed…. Speaking of Bruni, the feud between he and Chodorow may have died down, but the Kobe Club will still be the victim in all of this. The overpriced, slightly scary Disney-esqe steakhouse seems to be floundering a bit as their weeknight business continues to slip (you’ll find me across the street at Quality Meats)… and word has it that Chodorow has already begun concepting replacements for the spot, which has a locale that could really work, if they can get the concept right…. As you may have read, this blogger was pleased with the food at Café Gray recently (but not the service), and is very excited that Landmarc has opened in the Time Warner Center…. Finally, a place to eat that won’t set you back 2 Gucci wallets and a Coach purse….. Super-Mario has opened B & B at the Venetian in Las Vegas, and my dinner there last week was superb. What is it? Think 20% Lupa, 60% Babbo and 20% Del Posto, and then take Babbo prices and double them. This is Vegas, remember? By the way, longtime Vegas favorite Delmonico hasn’t slipped an inch, and continues to serves the best steak in sin city…. (I suggest you check out the newer restaurants at the Venetian next time you are there)…. Speaking of Vegas, the Aladdin Hotel is no more, and has now been officially replaced by the Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino. Sure they spent millions on the refurb, and put a Pinks Hot Dog Cart next to the slots, but with high end dining consisting of a PF Chang’s, this will be the last you’ll hear of them on this page (but thanks to the casino, as I left with $250 of their money)…. NYC’s spot for best wine dinner “Cité” has officially closed… as has “Aegean” on the UWS…. (do I smell another Bank of America branch?)… this just in, New Yorkers have found Garrett’s Popcorn, the legendary Chicago mainstay (outside Penn Station)…. Trader Joe’s continues to gain customers in NYC, and the wine prices are driving local wine shops mad…. Tribeca Tavern will be serving up BBQ on the weekends for a while…. Funky LES hotel THOR is having severe kitchen problems with the exit of their chef(s)… let’s hope they can remedy that, and add something new down their, as the neighborhood couldn’t he hotter….

The LA scene is a buzz with the rumor that Jonathan Morr may bring Bond Street to the Thompson Hotel… Culver City’s “Fraiche” is off and running, and my visit on a weekday night was met with the pleasant surprise that the locals have been waiting for another hip spot (other than Ford’s) to open and serve edible food…. Does anyone else wish that Barefoot on 3rd Street had better food?.... my best meal of the month award goes to “Katsuya” in Brentwood…. Being a longtime fan of the Ventura Blvd outlet, I was skeptical on my visit… and have come to realize the following. Are the prices nearly double? Yes. It the menu better? Yes. Do they nail the crispy tuna roll? Yes. It the décor better? Yes. Will I go back and drink swanky cocktails? Yes. Nuff said... I have a full review coming next week. In the valley, McCormick and Schmicks seems to be doing gangbuster business in their newer Burbank digs… but I found their service profoundly lacking compared to their other stores, and the food was average on my visit as well… and note to management: during crab season, try and serve some crabs, you ding-a-lings.....another Le Pain Quotidien has opened in LA, this one across the street from my pad on Robertson and Burton Way…. a welcome neighborhood addition, the place was buzzing the moment it opened…. Does anyone from LA actually eat at The Ivy?.... Did you know JetBlue serves Dunkin Donuts coffee? Now only if they could get my plane to land on time… and finally, when the hell will Osteria Mozza open? I am a loyal guy, but month-in-advance reservations for the pizza place next door is ridiculous... you are printing money in NYC, call the bank already....

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Focus on LA: Locanda Veneta

The Old Beverly Hills Standby Just Gets Better

If only every neighborhood had a Locanda Veneta.

On assignment in Los Angeles, I find myself a leisurely 4-minute walk from this Beverly Hills gem… and believe me, I couldn’t be happier.

It was only 4 years ago when I lived in Los Angeles, and was use to making the trek over Coldwater from the Valley to have a meal here on occasion… but living in the Valley then I didn’t have a chance to visit with any regularity. In the coming months, I have a feeling I’ll be in once a week.

Locanda is the quintessential neighborhood spot. A small, well appointed room… friendly, almost family-like staff… and terrific food.

The room itself is shockingly small, but quaint. The front door literally drops you into the dining and kitchen… as the talented kitchen can peek across a ledge into the bustling busy dining space. I’ve always been amazed at how a kitchen this compact can dish out a menu this robust… and they still amaze. It takes some serious skill to be able to pull this off this well night after night.

The details at Locanda Veneta are a given. Upon being seated, you’ll find a creamy bowl of pesto spread and a basket of fresh crusty bread… but it’s the wine and daily menu that have brought the crowds back for years.

On this night, I started with a bottle of Row 11 Pino, priced slightly higher than I anticipated… but happily consumed. Row 11 is a real find for those of you who search for Pino Noir values at retail… and I highly recommend this wine. Go find a bottle of the 2004… it should run you about $34.

For an appetizer I ordered a dish of mild, crisp polenta cakes topped with caramelized onions and sautéed shrimp. The dish was well prepared and nearly perfect. The balance of the corn powered polenta with the sweet onions and buttery shrimp make a great marriage on the same plate.

My main course fell from the evenings off the menu selections… parpadelle pasta with lamb ragu. This dish was simple and flavorful and just what I expected. Solid, filling and just right.

We also dined on delightful beef carpaccio as well as their nearly famous gnocchi, both of which were well received.

In the day and age of “let’s get to the newest joint in town”, it’s easy to overlook those who have been punching the clock seemingly forever. If you haven’t been to Locanda lately, make a trip over. It’s wearing well and still delivering great bang for your buck… wonderfully prepared Italian fare with the feeling you’re dining with friends.

Locanda Veneta

8638 W 3rd St, Los Angeles 90048
At S Willaman Dr

Reservations at