Sunday, July 31, 2011

RnD Table (Los Angeles, CA)

RnD Table Underground Pop-Up Dinner
3003 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90006
Sun 07/31/2011, 08:30p-11:20p

Persimmon Restaurant

Pop-ups and underground restaurants seem to be a dime a dozen these days, and I'm even getting a bit sick of them. What attracted me to RnD Table was its founder, Michael Kyu-Shik Kim, who you might recognize from the first season of Gordon Ramsay's TV show MasterChef. Kim was a serious contender last year, and I, along with many others I'm sure, was rooting for him to win it all.

The idea behind RnD Table is to provide an outlet for up-and-coming cooks (not chefs, they make that point very clear) to break away from the bondage of their executive chefs and create and serve their own menus. Kim has partnered up with fellow Bazaar alum Conrad Malaya, and the two are laying the groundwork for other young chefs to follow suit. As such, they'll be hosting the first several dinners, but eventually want to allow their peers to take over the reins in the kitchen.

About the Cook(s): Thanks to his mother, who exposed the 15-year industry veteran to a wide variety of foods growing up (including Korean-inflected dishes from Joy of Cooking), Mike "Q" Kim developed an appreciation for good eats at an early age. However, it was only during his college years, while fishing for tuna and yellowtail off the San Diego coast, that Kim truly decided that he wanted to cook. He started out in mostly front-of-the-house roles, working in small restaurants as well as mega-eateries such as Nobu and Megu in New York. Kim eventually made his way back to SoCal, landing at South Coast Plaza's Hamamori, then at Sashi in Manhattan Beach.

Around this time, he decided to audition for MasterChef, and much to his surprise, got on the show, became a finalist, and finished sixth among thousands of contestants. After the competition ended, he cooked for crews trying to repair the damage from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and also launched his own private cheffing service The EpiQurean Way. In late 2010, he secured a coveted gig at The Bazaar. Here, he first developed the idea behind RnD Table after being asked to think up a dish from scratch, and after partnering with Conrad Malaya, the concept came to fruition.

Malaya, for his part, began his culinary career at a small, family-run Italian restaurant. With some fundamentals in place, he enrolled in the Le Cordon Bleu program at the California School of Culinary Arts, and later started cooking at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel. From here, he went to work for Charlie Palmer, then started his own catering company, Market Kitchen & Catering, with Aaron Plascencia. Following, he secured employment on the line at The Bazaar, where he would eventually cross paths with Mike Kim.

RnD Table Menu #4
Tonight, RnD Table's menu was focused on Kim's interpretation of contemporary Korean-inspired cuisine. A $60 donation was suggested, and booze was strictly BYO, with no corkage. Click for a larger version.

Mike 'Q' Kim
A few words from "Q" before the meal.

Croquette & Dumpling 'Mandu'
1: Croquette & Dumpling "Mandu" | potato and beef croquette, cabbage slaw, oxtail dumpling, shimeiji, purslane, sriracha
RnD's host restaurant, Persimmon, is known for its delectable croquettes, so the kitchen decided to feature an updated version of resident chef Tammy Kim's humble dish. The resulting goroke was pretty much spot on, a delicious play on classic flavors with a beautiful crunchy-creamy consistency. I especially appreciated how its savoriness was so deftly offset by the included dollop of cabbage slaw. The mandu, meanwhile, didn't quite reach such stratospheric heights, but was tasty nonetheless, with a superb interplay between the succulent (the dumpling literally squirted when I bit into it) oxtail and the acidity of the purslane. I enjoyed the countervailing notes from the Sriracha and pickled soy fluid gel as well.

Yellowtail Sashimi 'Hwe Dup Bap'
2: Yellowtail Sashimi "Hwe Dup Bap" | yellowtail, chogochujang, perilla leaf, nori, arugula, asian pear, masago
Kim likened hoedeopbap to a Korean-style donburi, and his deconstructed version made use of some untraditional ingredients, among them chrysanthemum leaves, furikake, guacamole, garlic flower, and a "chlorophyll stripe." Despite the dozen or so components on the plate, he pulled it off. The yellow tail managed to remain the hero of the dish throughout, with the various tastes and textures present expertly playing off the fish. I especially enjoyed the astringency from the arugula, the creaminess of the guac, and the crispness of the Asian pear cuboids. My only suggestion would be to perhaps incorporate some puffed rice (or even nurungji?), in order to recall the dish's traditional base of steamed rice.

Granita 'Dongchimi'
3: Granita "Dongchimi" | lobak radish, asian pear, fresno pepper, green onion, tomato heart
Dongchimi, or "winter kimchi," is a light, refreshing, subtly spicy form of kimchi, and thus served as the perfect inspiration for our palate cleanser. Kim's version reportedly took an entire month to prepare, but the wait was worth it. The course showed off a faultless mix of savory and spicy flavors, with a lovely touch of sweetness thrown in for good measure.

Chicken Risotto 'Samgyetang'
4: Chicken Risotto "Samgyetang" | chicken breast, sweet rice, jujube, ginseng, onion, garlic
A traditional dish of glutinous rice-stuffed chicken and ginseng soup, samgyetang was transformed into risotto form by Kim and company. The final product was, to quote Ramsay, stunning, easily the most amazing version of the dish that I've had. The rice, taken with the young chicken broth, was superb, with a lovely texture and fantastic depth of flavor. At the same time, the disks of poached breast added weight and body to the dish, while the crispy onion, ginseng air, and pine nuts helped to balance the soup. My favorite element, though, was that "chip" of crispy chicken skin!

Braised Shortrib 'Galbi Jjim'
5: Braised Shortrib "Galbi Jjim" | shortrib, ancho chile-soy, pico de gallo, carrot, cilantro-lime crema, coriander tortilla chips
One of the most beloved dishes in Korean cookery, galbijjim is a slow-cooked presentation of beef short rib. Here, perhaps more so than in any other course, Kim deviates from the traditional recipe, and instead gives us a Mexican-influenced version of the original. The result was surprisingly coherent. The beef itself was sweet, dark, and rich, just as it should be, while the meat's accompaniments tempered the power of the short rib wonderfully. The crunch of the escabeche carrots was especially enjoyable, and I loved the tanginess imparted from the lime-cilantro cream as well. My only concern was that the meat could've been even more tender, more succulent.

Conrad Malaya
Here, Conrad "Connie" Malaya shows us how he makes the carbonated watermelon utilized in the next course.

Watermelon 'Soobak'
6: Watermelon "Soobak" | carbonated watermelon, honeydew cake, coconut milk, yuzu vanilla gel, basil
Unlike the rest of the courses, dessert was all about Connie. Here, the watermelon (subak), honeydew microwave "aerated brioche", vanilla, and coconut all melded together nicely, forming a complex front of sweetness that played off the herbaceous tang of the basil and ginger gorgeously. What made the dish for me, though, were the vanilla streusel bits, which added a delightful crunchiness to the fray.

RnD Table Team RnD Table Team
Toward the end of the evening, Kim made sure to bring out his entire staff to thank them.

Batch From Scratch Black & Tans Batch From Scratch Black & Tans
To close out the meal: a special treat from MasterChef Season 2's Esther Kang. Since being cut from the show, the former attorney has focused her energies on her own cookie bake shop, Batch From Scratch, and for this dinner, she provided some of her Black & Tans. The brownie served as a decadent end to the meal, with a great interplay between the fudge-y richness of the chocolate and the comparative levity of the butterscotch, alongside a hint of saltiness and satisfying crunch from the pretzels.

RnD Table Team Photo
The RnD Table team: Minh (dishwasher), Conrad Malaya, Will (from The Bazaar), Mike Kim, Semi (Bazaar intern), and Candice (runs RnD's FOH, also from Hamamori).

I approached RnD Table with some doubts, but left utterly satisfied with Kim's refreshing interpretations of modern Korean cuisine. Service, also, was perfectly paced and completely on point throughout the evening. As for what's next for the RnD crew, I've heard that Malaya will be taking the lead in the future to put forth a Filipino-inspired menu, so definitely be on the look out for that!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Blanca (Solana Beach, CA)

Blanca Restaurant
437 S Hwy 101, Solana Beach, CA 92075
Sat 07/30/2011, 07:30p-01:45a

The story of Blanca begins with Debbie Hugonin and her son Seth Baas, nephew of San Diego Padres owner John Moores. Hailing from Houston originally, the two started out owning and operating fast food restaurants (such as Sonic Drive-In) in the Southwest, and Baas later studied culinary arts in San Francisco. They eventually relocated to the San Diego area, and in May 2006, the mother-and-son team debuted Blanca in Solana Beach's Beachwalk Center, occupying a 4,400sqft space formerly held by a bicycle shop.

Michael Mina protégé Wade Hageman served as the first Executive Chef, but would leave in 2009 to open up Blue Ribbon Artisan Pizza in Encinitas with wife Kristi. He was summarily replaced by New York import Jason Neroni, who, interestingly enough, began his career at Disneyland's Club 33, and also worked at the legendary Chez Panisse. Despite positive reviews from critics, Neroni left Blanca in mid-2010, after just seven months, and is currently employed at LA Italian standby Osteria La Buca. That brings us to new toque Gavin Schmidt.

A Seattle native, Schmidt cut his teeth at some of San Francisco's most well-known establishments. He worked at Restaurant Elisabeth Daniel, the failed joint venture between Elisabeth Ramsey and Daniel Patterson, in the early 2000's. Schmidt then moved to Aqua, and later Fifth Floor, serving as a Sous Chef at both eateries. In 2006, the Chef secured a post at the famed Campton Place, where Bradley Ogden first made a name for himself prior to branching out on his own. The following year, he was named Executive Chef there, replacing Peter Rudolph. In 2008, Schmidt rejoined Dan Patterson at his Michelin two-star Coi, taking a slight demotion to Chef de Cuisine. He would stay at Coi until 2009, when he was tapped to head up the kitchens at both the Burlingame (now shuttered) and SF locations of Nectar Wine Lounge. Schmidt subsequently left Nectar in 2010 to take over the kitchens at Blanca.

Blanca Interior
Blanca means "white" in Spanish, and the decor tries to live up to that moniker with its subtle, soothing, monochromatic palette. In addition to the main dining room, there's also a separate bar/lounge area with a standalone menu, as well as a private dining room accommodating 22 diners.

Blanca Tasting Menu
Blanca's menu is more reasonably priced these days, and can be described as French-inflected farm-to-table Californian fare. Chef Schmidt is a big proponent of local, sustainable cooking, baking his own breads and curing his own meat, and even going as far as to forage for his own nasturtium and harvest his own seaweed from nearby beaches. There are a number of enticing à la carte selections here, as well as a lovely seven-course tasting menu at $80, but local San Diego blogger Bobby of Gourmands Review set up a special extended degustation for us: 13 courses at $100, plus $60 for wine pairing. Click for a larger version.

Bacon-Flavored Doughnut
Our meal got off to a sweet start with a miniature bacon-flavored doughnut with maple-whisky sabayon. The rich, sugary smack of the doughnut was front and center here, with the slight saltiness of the bacon coming in late on the palate. I wouldn't have minded a half-dozen more!

Poppyseed and Sourdough Breads
Bread, baked in-house, came in poppy seed and sourdough varieties.

Tasting of House Made Charcuterie
1: Tasting of House Made Charcuterie
NV, Louis de Grenelle, brut rose
Chef Schmidt loves making his own charcuterie, and we were treated to a sextet of such. Going from right to left:
  • Duck Liver Mousse with Balsamic: Decadent, yet restrained at the same time, with a superb countervailing piquancy from the balsamic and a long, lingering, liver-y finish.
  • Pâté de Campagne with Fig Mostarda: A gritty, rustic country pâté with a lovely, lip-smacking savor, beautifully balanced by the sweetness from the mostarda.
  • Chicharrón with Honey and Espelette: Here, the honey and espelette played perfectly off of the pork-y goodness of the rinds. I could've eaten an entire bag.
  • Coppa & Soppressata with Pickled Carrot: A classic presentation of Italian salumi, salty and spicy in essence, with a wonderful offsetting tanginess and crunch from the carrot.
  • Lamb Speck with Lamb Powder and Strawberry: The speck deftly showed off its prototypical juniper notes, while the ovine sapor of the meat was heightened by the application of lamb powder. At the same time, the strawberry actually worked surprisingly well in balancing out the bite.
  • Foie Gras Torchon with Artichoke, Licorice, and Cherry: A tasty, textbook preparation of foie, with a lovely kick of sweet spice from the cherry and licorice combination.
Vegetable Composition
2: Vegetable Composition | castelvetrano olives, citrus vinaigrette, yogurt and chamomile spheres
NV, Louis de Grenelle, brut rose
A bevy of veggies--Mexican gherkin cucumber, Japanese eggplant, turnip and breakfast radish from Blanca's own garden, peas, and carrot, among other items--greeted us here. It was an appealing-looking plate, and I appreciated how each of the components were unique and distinct, with their own particular tastes and textures. At the same time though, the yogurt-chamomile provided floral overtones to the dish that just bound everything together.

Still Life of Local Waters
3: Still Life of Local Waters | spot prawn, uni, oyster, seaweed, dashi, smoked avocado
2009, Perolla, vermentino
The so-called "Still Life" is oft considered Schmidt's signature dish, and I can definitely see why. I found it reminiscent of David Kinch's "Autumn Tidal Pool" and Dan Patterson's "Oysters Under Glass." The seafood--Santa Barbara sea urchin, Santa Barbara spot prawn poached in olive oil, Carlsbad Aqua Farms oyster--was just so forcefully and faithfully presented here, conveying the essence of the sea perfectly. The whole amalgam was well integrated, yet distinct, and was perfectly tempered by the dish's base of smoked avocado panna cotta, yet linked together by its dashi veil, while the apple, ice plant, and cucumber added a refreshing textural variation. The course was a table favorite, and to quote one of my dining companions, was "retarded good."

Cherry Tomato Salad
4: Cherry Tomato Salad | bay scallops, tomato sorbet, almond, gazpacho
2009, Hans Wirsching, Silvaner
After the intense brine and umami-laced goodness of the previous course, this next dish was a refreshing change of pace. The essence of a traditional gazpacho was nicely conveyed here. I especially appreciated the addition of the almond, as well as the tangy sweetness of the melon and tomato, while the scallops, perfectly cooked, added a well-placed heft to things.

Grilled Asparagus
5: Grilled Asparagus | burrata, lemon, fried hen egg, chocolate mint
2008, domaine Saint-Francoise, Bourgogne
Asparagus and runny egg--hard to go too wrong with those two ingredients, and indeed, this course did not disappoint. I appreciated the smoky, astringent flavor of grilled asparagus, and well as the lighter, purer taste from the sliced raw asparagus. The lemon provided a counterpoising sourness to things, but the real star of the show was that egg, boiled then deep fried to perfection. It added a certain lusciousness to the dish that tied all the elements together beautifully.

Charred Yellowtail
6: Charred Yellowtail | abalone, young zucchini, ginger, kimchi, basil
2009, Ken Forrester, Chenin Blanc
When our server announced that vadouvan was in this dish, I was a tad concerned that the spice blend would overwhelm the fish. There was nothing to fret about really though, as the yellowtail was still clearly the hero. The belly, seared rare, actually worked flawlessly in concert with the combination of vadouvan and kimchi, and I liked the textural contrast from the tempura'd squash blossom. One of the best vadouvan-centric dishes that I've ever had.

Grilled Octopus
7: Grilled Octopus | brown rice, artichoke, plum, cinnamon
2007, Robert Weil, Reisling Kabinett
Octopus was prepared sous vide, then grilled, resulting in a pleasant consistency and a satisfying sapor tinged with a touch of spicy sweetness from the use of cassis and cinnamon. The plum and watercress, meanwhile, served to balance out the heady flavors of the cephalopod. My concern here was that the rice (which is milled in-house) was rather soft; it got a bit lost, and I would've liked something with more chew.

Olive Oil Poached Baja Halibut
8: Olive Oil Poached Baja Halibut | corn, shiitake mushrooms, toasted wheat, tomato uni sauce
2009, Chateau Musar, Musar Jeaune
Halibut was poached in olive oil, making for a soft, supple, delicate-tasting fish. It may have been too mild for some, however, as one of my dining companions felt that more salt was needed. Nevertheless, the corn added a restrained sweetness into the fray, while the shiitakes contributed a touch of earthiness. The tomato-uni sauce, though, was the key here, serving as a deft complement to the halibut that adroitly accented the fish's flavor.

A Day on the Farm
9: A Day on the Farm | soil, seed, sprout, root, flower
2008, Carr Vineyards, Cabernet Franc
This high-concept course brought together cauliflower-sunchoke purée, kale, puffed farro, watercress, nasturtium, argan oil, carrot, cauliflower, spring onion, Brussels sprout, and cherry tomato, among other ingredients. The result of all this, I must say, was quite appealing. I enjoyed the individual contributions of the various veggies, and loved how their distinct characteristics melded together in a panoply of flavors, all linked together by the earthy astringency of the "soil."

Grilled Grass Fed Beef Brisket
10: Grilled Grass Fed Beef Brisket | corn puree, grilled apricot, roasted padron peppers
2007, Terra Valentine, Cabernet Sauvignon
Beef brisket arrived smoked with mesquite, cooked sous vide for 72 hours, then charred on the grill. As such, the meat showed off a fantastic smokiness, along with a lovely fattiness and a thoroughly satisfying bovine relish. I liked the countering heat from the peppers, but I was a bit thrown off by the corn purée, which bordered on overly saccharine for me.

Lamb Roasted in Hay
11: Lamb Roasted in Hay | roasted eggplant, potatoes, and wheatgrass emulsion
2008, Ispiri, Cabernet Sauvignon (graciously provided by James of Gastro Bits)
Our final savory course of the evening brought us lamb, roasted rare in hay. The meat showed off a profound depth of flavor that I just deemed irresistible, and I certainly found myself gnawing on the bone near the end there. There was a touch of counteracting zestiness from the wheatgrass-olive oil emulsion, but the potatoes really did a great job in subduing the dish.

Goat Cheese Semifreddo
12: Goat Cheese Semifreddo | melon granite, pink peppercorn meringue, fizzy melons
NV, Valdo, Prosecco
Functioning as a sort of pre-dessert palate cleanser was a disc of goat cheese semifreddo, served with a melon granita. This was a cool, refreshing intermezzo that paired the richness of the semifreddo with the lightness of the melon ice, while the avocado spheres and melons served to moderate the dish.

Blueberries and Corn
13: Blueberries and Corn | polenta chiffon, corn panna cotta, blueberry sorbet, caramel corn
NV, Dog Fishhead, Midas Touch, Ancient Ale
Dessert came courtesy of Blanca's new Pastry Chef, Laguna Beach native Jasana Singer. I appreciated the subtly savory base of the corn panna cotta, as well as the polenta chiffon cake, while the blueberry-tequila sorbet and blueberry fluid gel added touches of neutralizing saccharine goodness. The caramel corn, meanwhile, provided lovely accents of sugary sweetness to the tumult while also mixing things up texturally.

Petit Fours
To close out the meal: Maldon white chocolates with kaffir lime and lemongrass, plus dark chocolates with peach liqueur and sea salt.

Andrea Ruhl Stephanie Savchuk, Andrea Ruhl
As a special treat, Stephanie of Gourmands Review brought along some of her homemade macarons for us to enjoy. Done up in lemon and strawberry flavors, they were some of the best I've had, with suitably sugary, jammy centers between melt-in-your-mouth layers of cookie.

Among local food cognoscenti, Blanca is often regarded as the best restaurant in the San Diego area. After this meal, I can understand why. The Chef's devotion to top notch, sustainable, local produce is key here to be sure. However, Schmidt goes one step above your typical farm-to-table fare and is not afraid to imbue his food with an avant garde touch here and there. The end result is cuisine that's a bit more adventurous compared to the modern American cooking that's typically available in the vicinity, but which doesn't offend the sensibilities of the restaurant's clientele base either. It's a happy medium that seems to be serving the Blanca well.

Blanca Interior

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Piccolo (Los Angeles, CA)

Piccolo Restaurant
5 Dudley Ave, Venice, CA 90291
Thu 07/28/2011, 07:30p-10:45p

Piccolo Exterior

The history of Piccolo is inextricably tied to that of another notable Los Angeles Italian eatery, La Botte, as well as its owner, Stefano De Lorenzo. Many years ago, De Lorenzo worked at Il Moro in West LA, and here, he would meet chef Antonio Muré. De Lorenzo and Muré hit it off, and in April 2004, they opened Piccolo (fun fact: it was originally called Piccolo Cipriani before the Cipriani family of Harry's Bar fame complained) at the former 5 Dudley space in Venice. Piccolo was a near-instant hit, giving De Lorenzo and Muré the resources to open La Botte in November 2005.

Muré, however, grew tired of splitting his time, and left the partnership in 2006, selling his stake to Piccolo's manager, the Rome-born, Melbourne-educated Vittorio Viotti. Viotti brought in a new chef in the form of Alberto Lazzarino, who also spent time at Il Moro and who was most recently at Osteria La Buca. Lazzarino, though, wouldn't last long, and was summarily replaced by Roberto Ivan (affectionately known as "Bobo"), who was subsequently made a partner in the business as well.

Born in Conegliano, Veneto, Bobo grew up in the small town of Sacile in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of north-east Italy. He went to culinary school in Longarone, Veneto, and started out as a commis at the Michelin-starred Al Capriolo in Vodo Cadore. From there, Bobo worked at hotels in Venezia and his hometown of Conegliano, and then traveled the world, landing in England, Germany, Monte Carlo, New York, and of course, California.

Piccolo Interior
Piccolo translates to "small" in Italian, and at 1200 sqft, the original space certainly lived up to that moniker. However, in May 2010, the restaurant added another 1000 sqft by expanding into the gallery next door, in the process doubling the size of the main dining room, adding an eight-seater bar, and building a wine cellar-cum-private dining room.

Piccolo Menu
Given that Chef Bobo hails from Veneto, it's not surprising that Piccolo's menu is heavily slanted toward Northern Italian fare. Despite the presence of a tasting menu, we actually ordered à la carte. However, the kitchen ended up splitting every dish into two, effectively creating a custom degustation--a very thoughtful touch! Click for a larger version.

2005 Poggio Argentiera Morellino di Scansano Capatosta
Piccolo's former sommelier Pietro Biondi has been replaced by Fabio Lai, a busboy turned waiter turned sommelier who began his restaurant career at age 13. To pair with our entire menu, he chose a bottle of the 2005 Poggio Argentiera Morellino di Scansano Capatosta [$75], a 100% Sangiovese from the Maremma region of Tuscany. Lai did well, as the wine was delicious, showing off notes of tart cherry intermixed with a subtle woodiness and moderate tannins--very nicely balanced.

Piccolo Bread Basket
Bread comprised focaccia, white, and squid ink varieties.

crudo di cervo
crudo di cervo [$16.00] | venison carpaccio, marinated shimeshi, grappa-blueberry emulsion
I often find carpaccios rather boring, but this version was a refreshing departure from the norm. I really appreciated the interaction between the slight astringency of the EVOO and the boozy sweetness of the blueberry, and how that all played over a savory base of venison. At the same time, the snappy shimeji mushrooms did a great job in mixing things up texturally.

capesante scottate
capesante scottate [$18.00] | seared sea scallops, parmesan-truffle fondue, seasonal truffle shavings
This rather large scallop was cooked spot on, and was one of the tastiest that I'd eaten in a while. It had a lovely sear, along with a creamy, rare interior and a wonderfully saline relish that played perfectly with the heady aromatics of the truffle. The Parmigiano, meanwhile, added additional heft and savoriness to the dish, but wasn't strictly necessary in my eyes.

hamburger di animelle
hamburger di animelle [$18.00] | crispy veal's sweetbread burger, quail egg, seasonal truffle shavings
Sweetbreads were superb, easily one of the best preparations that I've ever experienced. I liked the tanginess of the herbs on the attack, and how that all got intertwined with the savory depth of the animelle, while the essence of truffle made itself known on the long, lingering finish. The polenta, meanwhile, served to temper the dish, and I loved the overarching lusciousness of that quail egg. Just a very well-integrated bite overall.

carbonara di quaglia
carbonara di quaglia [$27.00] | truffle-tagliolini, roasted quail carbonara, with quail eggs, parmesan
Here, Bobo substitutes quail for bacon in his version of carbonara. I appreciated the satisfyingly supple consistency of the tagliolini, as well as the dish's restrained, refined savoriness, all moderated by an overarching egginess. Once I was done with the pasta, I eagerly sopped up the remaining liquid with some of that whimsical pane nero di seppia.

risotto al cinghiale
risotto al cinghiale [$28.00] | world's unique, aged, organic acquerello rice, homemade wild board sausage ragú, blueberries
I believe this was my first time having a risotto made with Acquerello rice, a type of carnaroli that's actually aged for one to three years. My palate probably isn't refined enough to discern the effects of that aging, but I do know that the rice was cooked to a very al dente consistency. Flavor-wise, I thoroughly enjoyed the rustic smack of the boar, and adored how it contrasted with the sweetness of those blueberries.

coniglio in agrodolce
coniglio in agrodolce [$35.00] | roasted natural rabbit: boneless, agrodolce bell peppers, capers, castevetrano olives
Our final savory course brought us roulades of rabbit. Here, I appreciated the immensely flavorful, leporine relish of the dish, and how that was balanced by the piquancy of the agrodolce vegetables. My concern was that the coniglio could've been juicier, more succulent.

Piccolo Dessert Menu
Dessert at Piccolo is the charge of Giacomo Dalmonte, who just happens to be the half-brother of Chef Bobo. Click for a larger version.

Piccolo Dessert Trio Sampler
carpaccio | fresh hawaiian pineapple, thinly sliced and marinated
bignole | pastry puffs filled with belgian gianduja chocolate cream
tortino | fresh ricotta and mascarpone torte: saffron coulis
We were first brought a complementary sampler of desserts. I began with the pineapple carpaccio, which I found light and refreshing, with a markedly sugary contrast in the form of a dollop of prickly pear gelée. Next up was a classically delectable cream puff stuffed with hazelnut-chocolate filling; I wanted about a dozen more! Last was a ricotta-mascarpone tart, which showed off a great citrus backbone tinged with the pungency of saffron--quite nice.

semifreddo [$12.00] | imported amaretto cookies soft-frozen cream
We also ordered the semifreddo, which was actually bordering on too sweet for me. It certainly wasn't bad though, and I adored the amaretto-laced finish of the dessert.

Cappucino, fittingly, to close.

All in all, a very solid, satisfying meal from Piccolo. I appreciated how Bobo's food deviates a bit from the Italian norm--no red sauce here--and how he incorporates his own creative flourishes into the dishes. Given the quality of this dinner, I'm a bit tempted to check out the new Hostaria del Piccolo in Santa Monica, which opened last December. Helmed and owned by GM Christian Bertoini and Chef Germano Minin (in partnership with Viotti and Ivan), the restaurant is the lower-priced, pizza-focused fratellino of Piccolo. I might have to give it a shot some time.