Monday, July 25, 2011

Drago Centro - 07/20/2011

525 South Flower Street, Suite #120
Los Angeles, CA 90071
(213) 228-8998

Drago Centro has been on my list of places to try for quite some time, but other commitments and the generally lackluster comments, particularly in regards to the service, kept me away until now. The restaurant is one of several restaurants owned by Chef Celestino Drago and his family. Day-to-day the kitchen is run by CdC Ian Gresik, a Patina alum who spent time studying in Italy, France, Greece and Spain before returning stateside and taking the reins at Centro.

orange blossom special - karlsson’s vodka, harry’s strawberries, orange blossom, rose water, fresh orange, black peppercorn
Drago Centro offers a fairly contemporary selection of cocktails in addition to a couple of Italian classics. We opted for two of their newer offerings. Despite the name, the strongest flavor actually came from the berries. The drink was enjoyable though I would have liked to see more from the black peppercorn.

so fresh & so clean - nolet’s gin, crème yvette, lillet blanc, white balsamic, fresh cucumbers
I was going to try one of the bourbon based cocktails until the waiter recommended this cocktail. Vividly pink color aside, the drink was well balanced, with fresh acidity balanced by a bitter herbaceousness.

Amuse: mozzarella - pine nuts, zucchini cream
The purpose of an amuse is to excite the diner's palate for the meal to come and in that regard this was an abject failure. The individual ingredients were fairly boring and the combination felt equally boring not to mention clumsy.

01: l'insalata - prosciutto, bocconcini mozzarella, compressed melon
venica & venica, sauvignon, friuli, 2009
The first course built off the classic Italian combination of melon and prosciutto; the succulent salty sweet duo really coming into focus against the nutty vegetal arugula. The mozzarella and bread like croutons added weight but I would have preferred the salad without them.

02: il branzino - white sea bass, mussels, clams, baby vegetables
la monacesca, verdicchio, marche, 2009
Branzino or Mediterranean Sea Bass is immensely popular in Italian restaurants so it was no surprise to see it on the tasting menu at Drago. The fish was perfectly cooked flaky dense and nicely browned on the surface. The fish was lightly seasoned but most of the flavor came from the broth. Infused with the umami richness of the shellfish, the stock built nicely on the subdued natural brine of the fish.

03: i conchiglioni - conchiglioni, snails, herbs, garlic, brown butter
castello di ama, sangiovese rosato, toscana, 2009
I quite enjoyed this dish, though cooking snails with butter, garlic, and herbs is more in keeping with French technique than Italian. The large conch shaped shells felt a touch undercooked but still served as a suitable wrapper for the heady sauce and earthy molluscan bounty.

Supplement: il risotto al tarfuto - summer truffle and mushroom risotto
This was a fairly textbook straightforward of risotto, a mixed mushroom risotto with black truffle shaved table side. Our waiter sagely recommend that we mix the truffles into the dish and let the heat extract the fungi's prized essence. This proved to be one of the better truffle risottos I've had in a while; the flavors were spot on with the truffles.

04: gli gnocchi - pork belly, gnocchi, fennel, tomato cream
jermann, pinot nero, venezia giulia, 2007
The meal so far has been solid but not remarkable, this course finally reached that next level. It goes without saying the pasta itself was spot on. Dense and pliant, the gnocchi was perfect with the piquant spice of the tomato cream. The pork belly was absolutely superb as well, rich decadent and tender it provided the gravity and richness that made the dish immensely satisfying.

05: l’agnello - lamb chop, romesco sauce, panelle, cipollini onions
produttori del barbaresco, barbaresco, piemonte, 2006

The final savory was a double lamb chop; though the meat was served fairly rare but remained a touch sinewy. The lamb chop was nicely seasoned with an abiding gaminess that intertwined nicely with the romesco. The cipollini onions were a bit undercooked, giving them a spicy bite, though a sweeter flavor would have been more fitting with the rest of the course.

06: il tiramisu - tiramisu coupe, espresso biscotti
elio perrone, sourgal, moscato d’asti, piemonte, 2010
The dessert was fairly simple, classic tiramisu with the biscotti adding some much needed texture.

Though the meal didn't astound me, Drago Centro turned out better than I expected. The food was generally enjoyable, nothing truly progressive but well-executed throughout. Service was actually quite smooth, some small mistakes but nothing that detracted from the meal and certainly nothing like the horror stories that I've heard. If you ever find yourself in Downtown with a craving for Italian I'd recommend giving Drago Centro a try.


Darin said...

Reminds me that I still have an outstanding BBE code too. Glad to see you were finally able to try this place out, and that the service wasn't a mess.

Charlie Fu said...

big fan of the place, I go pretty frequently as there aren't too many fine dining options in walking distance to the office.

They have hit and miss dishes, but the ones that hit , hit really well. I'm a big fan of their steak for 2

Epicuryan said...

You know it was your comments on the service that scared me in the first place.

I could definitely see Drago being a big draw for people who work in the buildings nearby.

I saw them carving that steak at another table and it looked pretty good. What other dishes would you recommend?

Jai said...

Great lunch there too.

Epicuryan said...

So I've heard. I doubt I'd ever drive up there for lunch, but it must do well given how little competition is in the immediate area.

Charlie Fu said...

Just went last night, figure I'd do their standard tasting menu.

My friends had the same thought as you in regards to the pasta shell with the snails. My thinking is that they pre-cook it and don't reheat it when it's served. The thickness of the shell gives it a chewy texture that is almost like it was undercooked. It was definitely a bit chewy but i think that tends to happen with pasta that thick ... either it's too chewy or it's too frail.

Also that pork belly, your notes were spot on .. quite tasty.

Epicuryan said...

You are probably right about the shells. I wouldn't have minded smaller shells if it meant better texture though.

Glad you liked the pork belly it was definitely my favorite of the night.

Darin said...

Regarding lunch, it does seem to do very well. The place always seems to be filled with men in suits during lunch.

Epicuryan said...

I think Drago definitely picked a great spot for the restaurant. The right combination of quality and convenience with little competition to speak of.

Darin said...

Couldn't agree more. When people at work ask me for recommendations for a 'nice' (aka company paid) lunch, this is one of the few I can name.

Epicuryan said...

Sigh... I want "nice" lunches. Guess I'm in the wrong industry for that.

Darin said...

What about all the nice meals in Denver??

Epicuryan said...

Hmm... you've got a point, but that requires travel. Engineers never have business lunch meetings.