Thursday, November 29, 2012

Eveleigh (West Hollywood, CA)

The Eveleigh Restaurant
8752 W Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90069
Thu 11/29/2012, 07:30p-09:50p

Eveleigh Exterior

Named after a suburb of Sydney, Eveleigh (say it like "everlee") has been one of the hottest WeHo debuts in recent years. The restaurant was opened by the Down Under trio of Nick Hatsatouris, Nick Mathers, and Lincoln Pilcher (Kingswood, Dudley's, Ruby's, Rugby Club in New York), along with fellow Aussie Jordan Toft (I keep wanting to say Tosh), who serves as Executive Chef. As is all the rage these days in Los Angeles, Eveleigh offers up rustic, market-driven, farm-to-table, French-Italian-inflected modern American fare--not exactly groundbreaking food, but I figured, two years in, it was worth trying out.

About the Chef: Chef Toft grew up in the suburb of Guildford in Sydney, and started cooking at the ripe age of 16. In 1997, he moved to Sydney proper, and spent six years under noted Australian chef Peter Doyle, first at the now-shuttered Celcius, and later at Est, where he became Sous Chef. Following, Toft worked at a chalet in the French Alps, then transitioned to a personal chef role for a Saudi businessman in 2006, which allowed him to travel throughout Italy and Spain. He left in 2010 to start work on Eveleigh, which bowed on November 1st that year.

Eveleigh Front Bar
Eveleigh Back Patio
Eveleigh occupies a historic 1923 residence once occupied by a Kenneth Cole store. The structure isn't much to look at from the front, but it's a different story inside. The decor by Nick Mathers is, unsurprisingly, filled with reclaimed, repurposed, raw, and rustic elements, making for an urban-farmhouse-chic sort of aesthetic. In the front, there's a large, shiny bar surrounded by tables, allowing for a peek into the open kitchen and glass-encased wine cellar. However, everybody knows that the best seats are in the back patio, with its retractable ceiling and sweeping views of the City.

Eveleigh Menu Eveleigh Drink Menu
Eveleigh's menu reads well, focusing on approachable dishes rooted in Californian and European traditions, and I do like the presence of housemade charcuterie. In addition, there's even lunch service on Fridays, as well as brunch on the weekends. To imbibe, the cocktail program here is definitely of note, featuring sort of an old-school-meets-farmer's market vibe. Sasha Petraske of the vaunted Milk & Honey in NYC was involved early on, but was superseded by Dave Kupchinsky/Ol' Man Winter (The Tar Pit, Comme Ca) a month in; he was later joined by Kiowa Bryan (Lexington Social House) and Kevin Tidwell (Thirsty Crow, Little Dom's) in mid-2011. On the wine side, the selection here was originally crafted by opening Sommelier Jason Ditto (ex-The Bazaar), and shows off a heavily Aussie/New Zealand-influenced list, with a nod to small, interesting producers from California and France as well. Click for larger versions.

Johnny Hammersticks
Johnny Hammersticks [$12.00] | bourbon, coffee-infused Carpano Antica, Campari, chocolate mole bitters
My first cocktail came highly touted by our server Margaret (who reminded me a bit of Amy Poehler, interestingly enough), and she was right on the money. I loved the subtly saccharine, almost medicinal flavors from the vermouth here, moderated by the complex bitterness of the chocolate-coffee combo, all while the Campari added a bittersweet tinge to the drink. Definitely worth a try.

Crisp Squash Blossom
Crisp Squash Blossom [$14.00] | fresh goat cheese & yogurt, espelette, lemon
We began with fried squash blossoms, which turned out to be some of the tastiest I've had. The crispy, savory smack of the fritters was spot on, and went perfectly against the creamy, lactic tanginess of the cheese and yogurt; the lemon, meanwhile, added a great touch of acidity to things.

Grilled Monterey Squid
Grilled Monterey Squid [$12.00] | aioli, lemon, olive oil, chili flakes
Squid is almost always a must-order for me, and didn't let me down tonight. I thoroughly enjoyed its bite and snap, as well as its saline, savory flair enhanced by a smidge of char astringency. To that, the aioli and lemon added countervailing nuances that took the squid to the next level. Yum.

Patatas Bravas
Patatas Bravas [$8.00] | fried russet potatoes, thyme, rosemary, sea salt, chili pepper allioli
I'm a sucker for potatoes, and Toft's version of the classic tapas dish was one of the highlights of the evening. Fried to a wonderful crispness, they were salty, savory, and oh-so satisfying, with a deft herbaceous temper from the rosemary-thyme, while the alioli served to both punctuate and integrate the course.

Crudo [$14.00] | californian olive oil, pickled organic apple, finger lime, smoked salt, apple balsamico
The crudo tonight featured salmon, and the fish itself was on point: clean, slightly fatty, with a good brine. The apple and lime added some much-needed acidity to the dish, but the olive oil was a bit much. I would've liked a lighter hand with the stuff, to let the other ingredients shine more.

Poor Carlito
Poor Carlito [$12.00] | Milagro tequila, fresh lime, honey, smoked sea salt
Margaret also pointed me to the Poor Carlito, which turned out to be another smart recommendation. The tequila was clearly the star of the show here, but the contrasting flavors of citrus and honey really made the cocktail work, all while the sea salt provided a thin veil of smokiness to the drink. Utterly balanced.

Oysters on the Half Shell
Oysters on the Half Shell [$3.00/each] | champagne mignonette granita
Oysters were of the Kumamoto variety if I recall correctly, and were prototypical examples of the style: plump and crisp, with a sharp minerality. The accompanying mignonette granité, meanwhile, added a bracing chill and tartness to the bivalves.

Bone Marrow Persillade
Bone Marrow Persillade [$16.00] | garlic, parsley, smoked salt, bread crumb
Bone marrow's another item that I have a hard time passing up. Toft did a commendable job with this preparation: fatty, trembling, and really classic in essence. The use of persillade was a smart move too, providing a garlicky, herb-y counterpoint to the marrow, and I appreciated the slight crunch imparted by the bread crumbs to boot.

Rossotti Goat Stew
Rossotti Goat Stew [$21.00]
One of the specials tonight was this stew, featuring grass-fed goat from Petaluma's Rossotti Ranch. Indeed, this was very "goat-y," with boatloads of rich, dark, sticky character and an undeniably tender, falling-apart consistency, offset by the avocado and a nice crunchiness from the yam chips. Some pretty intense flavors here--this one's not for everybody!

Eveleigh Burger
Eveleigh Burger [$19.00] | selection of dry aged cuts, fontina, tomato-chorizo relish, pickles, mustard aioli, french fries
Naturally, we had to try the restaurant's signature hamburger. The most striking thing about it was how "beefy" the patty (a varying blend of several cuts, including kidney) was. It definitely gave off that intense dry-aged character, which actually melded seamlessly with the Fontina here. Given the heft of the meat-cheese combo, I really appreciated the levity provided by the pickles and onions, making for a delicious, very well-integrated burger overall. The fries were a fitting accoutrement as well: nicely crisp, with a lovely herb-y zing. I found them tasty alone, and even better with a dab of ketchup or the optional truffle aioli [$2].

Penicillin Cocktail
Penicillin Cocktail [$12.00]
My final cocktail was the off-menu Penicillin, which was first devised by Milk & Honey's Sam Ross. I was rather enamored with it. I loved the smokiness on the nose courtesy of the Islay, which continued on to the palate, where it was joined by more boozy notes and a superb temper in the form of zesty ginger and citrus, as well as smooth, sugary honey.

Raw Bloomsdale Spinach
Raw Bloomsdale Spinach [$14.00] | golden raisins, pine nuts, ricotta salata, olive dust, sherry-lemon dressing
Moving on to something lighter now, this salad was nice, with the bitterness of the crunchy spinach playing off of the sweet raisins in admirable fashion, while the grated ricotta added a salty, cheesy weight to things. Perhaps my favorite element here, though, was the olive dust, which added an intriguing, overarching piquancy to the dish.

Pappardelle [$19.00] | twelve-hour braised ragu, parmigiano reggiano
Next was a delightful dish of pappardelle. The ragù itself really spoke to me, offering up an immensely satisfying, undeniably hearty savoriness with an almost Asian-y tint to it that went flawlessly with the slick, snappy pasta.

Eveleigh Dessert Menu Eveleigh After Dinner Drink Menu
Of course, we made sure to save room for dessert. Click for larger versions.

Warm Doughnuts
Warm Doughnuts [$12.00] | spiced sugar, plum jam, whipped cream
Our first dessert comprised some wonderfully soft, fluffy donut holes, dusted with a sweet spice that made them hard not to like. They stood well on their own, but the paired plum jam and whipped cream did add some further points of interest to the dish. Nice!

Chocolate Chip Cookie Sandwich
Chocolate Chip Cookie Sandwich [$8.00] | mint chocolate chip ice cream
Last up was Eveleigh's ice cream sandwich, which ended up looking more like an ice cream burger! It was as good as you'd expect, with the minty ice cream working swimmingly with the chocolate cookies--I just wish there was more of it.

In the end, I was pleasantly surprised by my experience here. Toft is serving up the type of rustic-yet-modern, comfort food-ish cooking that seems pervasive in LA's current culinary Zeitgeist, but he's doing a good job at it. It's the type of cuisine that most anybody can enjoy, and I do appreciate the honest, ingredient-driven nature of the plates. Cocktails, meanwhile, were impeccable, and service was commendable as well, making Eveleigh a smart choice for the Sunset Strip.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Gorge (West Hollywood, CA)

Gorge Restaurant
8917 W Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90069
Wed 11/21/2012, 07:35p-10:05p

Gorge Exterior Astute readers will know that have a bit of a soft spot for charcuterie, being quite the fan of various cured meats, terrines, pâtés, sausages, and the like. As such, WeHo newcomer Gorge piqued my interest, since it's the only restaurant in the Los Angeles area I can think of that touts an almost exclusively charcuterie-focused menu. Situated in the spot once occupied by Shiro Kuro (as well as Sunset Sushi, Sushiteria, Ezo, and Koya), the restaurant-cum-wine bar is the brainchild of Chef Elia Aboumrad and Pastry Chef-slash-GM Uyen Nguyen, and debuted just recently on September 10th.

About the Chefs: Aboumrad was born in Mexico City to a Lebanese family. Growing up, she took on an interest in competitive swimming at an early age, and was planning to compete at the Olympics until an injury sidelined her. Following, she began considering a career in medicine, but before starting college, took a year off and decided that her future was in the kitchen. Thus, Aboumrad moved to France and enrolled at the Ecole Lenotre, earning a whopping 34 specialty certifications and meeting her future business partner Uyen Nguyen. After graduating, she went to L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Paris, eventually becoming the restaurant's first female sous chef, then moved to Las Vegas in 2005 to help open both L'Atelier and the eponymous Joël Robuchon at the MGM Grand. Aboumrad worked a stint at CraftSteak during this period as well, and was later appointed Executive Chef of Mandalay Bay's THEcafé at THEhotel.

In the latter half of 2006, Aboumrad appeared as a contestant on Season 2 of Top Chef, earning a very respectable 4th place finish behind Sam Talbot, Marcel Vigneron, and winner Ilan Hall (who was originally slated to be a partner at Gorge). She was invited to participate in Top Chef: All-Stars in late 2010--while she was in the planning stages of her first solo project, a fine dining French joint in WeHo named Avec Moi--but was the first chef eliminated. Due to the early loss, Aboumrad felt humiliated, and blasted head judge Tom Colicchio, accusing him of selling out and causing a mini-shitstorm. With that behind her, the Chef worked various consulting and private catering gigs, all the while setting the stage for Gorge.

Chef Nguyen, for her part, was born in Bien Hoa, a city in Southern Vietnam's Dong Nai province. The youngest of six daughters, she moved to the US when she was less than two years old, settling with her family in Costa Mesa. Fascinated by her mother's cooking, Nguyen quickly took on an interest in cooking as a child, but eventually attended UC Irvine to study International Relations. During her tenure there, she participated in an exchange program in Lyon, and her four months in France reinvigorated her passion for food. Following graduation, she took a job at a local bank in Mission Viejo, but quickly realized that that wasn't the life for her, and left to study pastry at the Ecole Lenotre.

After receiving her diploma, Nguyen worked briefly at Pâtisserie Gaulupeau in Versailles before coming back Stateside in 2002. She landed in Las Vegas, specifically in the kitchens of Le Cirque at the Bellagio. From there, Fleur de Lys at Mandalay Bay was next, then an Executive Pastry Chef role at MGM's CraftSteak. Eventually, Nguyen was poached by the folks over at Caesars Palace to become opening Pastry Chef at Guy Savoy, and, in 2008, was named Rising Star Chef by StarChefs for her desserts there. She stayed at Savoy until early 2009, dropping off the radar for a couple years before emerging to work on Gorge.

Gorge Menu
Gorge's menu, as advertised, focuses heavily on Aboumrad's various preparations of charcuterie, and pretty much every item on there is touched in one way or another by preserved meat. To drink, there's a smart selection of not-terribly-expensive wines and a smattering of beers, with course-specific pairings (a nice touch) designed by Master Sommelier Darius Allyn, who just so happens to be the Chef's husband. Click for a larger version.

House dried saucisson sec, Fromage de tete, House pickles, Country Bread
House dried saucisson sec, Fromage de tete, House pickles, Country Bread [$18.00]
Naturally, we had to begin with the Chef's charcuterie plate. It featured three types of dry cured sausage, each with different balances of herb-y, spicy, and pork-y flavors. I was particularly fond of the garlic variety, with its intense garlicky notes building toward the finish. The head cheese was commendable, classic in essence really, with a rustic, gelatinous body and hearty savor, deftly set off by a dab of the included mustard. The crunchy, pickled Romanesco broccoli, meanwhile, was a great accoutrement as well.

Pig Ear Tartine
Pig Ear Tartine [$16.00] | Pig ear confit, Black truffles, Mushroom duxelle, Parmesano reggiano, Rustic baguette
A tartine of pig ear was a favorite of the evening. The confit showed off loads of porcine goodness, duly enhanced by the earthiness of the accompanying mushrooms, while the greenery on the plate imparted a well-placed lightness to things. Texturally, I would've liked a bit more crispness on the baguette here, and perhaps some fried pig ear thrown in for good measure.

Rabbit Rillette
Rabbit Rillette [$15.00] | 48hr. confit, House pickled Trumpet Royale mushrooms, Country bread
Rillettes of rabbit was on point: creamy and lush, with a certain depth and earthiness that made it a fitting spread for the accompanying toasted bread. At the same time, the pickled mushrooms acted as a tangy, textural counterpoint to the dish.

Frisée Salad
Frisée Salad [$15.00] | Bacon flan, Crisp shallots, Chive, Warm mustard vinaigrette, Poached egg
Next up was one of the Chef's favorite dishes, a riff on the classic salade Lyonnaise. The lushness of the runny egg was proudly conveyed here, a creamy, enveloping element over the bitterness of the greens and the salty bacon flan, which took the place of lardons (though I wouldn't have minded some of those mixed in as well). The mustard vinaigrette, meanwhile, added a tangy contrast to the course that wrapped things up succinctly.

Smoked Oyster Mousse
Smoked Oyster Mousse [$15.00] | Beef jus en gelée, French baguette
The oyster mousse captured the essence of the bivalve: smoky and unabashedly saline, with a smart counterweight in the form of the umami-rich beef gelée. Lovely over the sliced baguette, and with a surprising crunch courtesy of pine nuts.

Duck Sausage
Duck Sausage [$14.00] | Sauteed seasonal mushrooms, Potato purée, Duck jus
A sausage of canard really showed off the intense flavor of the duck, tempered by an herb-y zing, though I wanted a firmer, less "gritty" texture on it. Nevertheless, the earthiness of the paired mushrooms was spot on, and the pommes purée made sense too.

Rouget & Noix de St. Jacques Terrine
Rouget & Noix de St. Jacques Terrine [$23.00] | Red Snapper, Jumbo scallop, Mushrooms, Grapefruit reduction, Fines herbes salad
I don't think I've ever had a seafood-based terrine, so this was a bit of a new experience for me. It really displayed the character of the rouget: fishy and ocean-y in character, with a subtle sweetness from the use of scallop. I appreciated the levity imparted by the citrus dressing here, but the crux of the dish for me was the fines herbes, which imparted an amazing astringency and lightness to the dish that complemented the terrine perfectly.

Beer Sausage
Beer Sausage [$11.00] | Sauteed fingerling potatoes, Choucroute, German mustard
The beer sausage was just what I was expecting: rich and hearty, with a nice snap to it. The fingerlings on the side were absolutely delightful, and I enjoyed the tart, sour character of the chouroute as well.

Gorge Dessert Menu
Gorge's dessert menu is interesting in that it features, exclusively, seasonal variations of only one dish: the Saint-Honoré. Named after the French patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs, the mini-cake is generally composed of a base of puff pastry and choux pastry, topped with choux à la crème (cream puffs) and chantilly. Click for a larger version.

Classic Vanilla
Classic Vanilla [$10.00] | Vanilla bean pastry cream, Crunchy caramel, Vanilla chantilly
We began with the most classic of the St. Honoré cakes, and it was pretty marvelous. I loved the sheer flakiness of the puff pastry here, and how it formed a great, moderating base to the dish. The cool, creamy essence of vanilla was adroitly conveyed in both the chantilly and the profiteroles, while the sugary weight of the caramelized sugar formed a focused, crunchy counterpoint that made the dessert utterly balanced.

Pistachio [$10.00] | Pistachio pastry cream, Vanilla chantilly, Pistachio macaron
The pistachio version of the St. Honoré made a strong showing too. Here, the star of the show was of course the pistachio cream, which provided a great balance of sweet and nutty flavors that paired beautifully with the pastry. I thoroughly enjoyed the incorporation of a pistachio macaron here as well, which easily stood on its own merits.

Pumpkin [$10.00] | Pumpkin custard, Vanilla choux, Vanilla chantilly
We closed with Nguyen's seasonal St. Honoré featuring pumpkin, and it didn't disappoint either. I found it somewhat reminiscent of a pumpkin pie actually, with a great interplay between the custard and the flaky crust, and liked the use of savory pepitas here as well.

This Sunset Strip newcomer made a solid showing tonight. Aboumrad's charcuterie-centric menu was quite a breath of fresh air, something that I'd never really seen before and that actually brings something novel to the game. The Saint-Honorés, meanwhile, were a bite to behold as well, with Nguyen undoubtedly doing justice to the Parisian classic. Though the restaurant's format may not be for everyone due to the almost religious adherence here to prepared meat products, Gorge does seem like a lovely addition to the neighborhood, and I do hope that it can outlast its predecessors.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Valentino (Santa Monica, CA) [2]

Valentino Restaurant "40th Anniversary"
3115 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90405
Wed 11/14/2012, 06:50p-11:00p

Valentino Exterior

If we're talking about old-line Italian restaurants here in LA, there's no doubt that Valentino would be at the top of that list. Founded by the affable Piero Selvaggio way back in 1972, the restaurant really helped establish the Italian scene here in the Southland, and has brought the City some of its best Italian chefs, many of which have gone on to do great things of their own in Los Angeles. As such, we can't be surprised that Valentino is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. To mark the occasion, Selvaggio recently hosted a celebration featuring 40 courses of food from the islands of Sicily (Piero's birthplace) and Sardinia (where Chef Nico Chessa comes from), ostensibly inspired by the cooking of revered Sicilian chef Ciccio Sultano of the Michelin two-star Ristorante Duomo.

Chessa was assisted by Pastry Chef Alessandro Stroppa, as well as guests chefs Celestino Drago, Steve Samson, and guest pastry chef Davide Giova (of Urth Caffe, and also Valentino, previously). In addition, Darrell Corti of the famed Corti Brothers grocery in Sacramento was on hand MC'ing the event (though I didn't manage to catch him even once during the night), and the whole meal was dedicated to the late Mauro Vincente, of the seminal Rex il Ristorante.

If that wasn't enough, on December 4th, Selvaggio is following things up with another dinner, this time a 10-courser featuring Urbani white truffles. The guest chef that evening will be Il Cascinale Nuovo's Walter Ferretto from the Asti province of Piedmont, along with Valentino Las Vegas' Luciano Pellegrini and Farina's Angelo Auriana (also a Valentino alum).

Valentino 40-Course Menu: Sicilia Valentino 40-Course Menu: Sardegna
The night's 40 courses (or 43, if you actually count the number on the menu) were priced at an astoundingly reasonable $125 per head, which comes out to a mere $3.13 per course; that must be some sort of record. Click for larger versions.

Meanwhile, to drink, forty 2oz shots of wine were available for an extra $75pp. That means 80 ounces of vino, or over three bottles worth, per person. Clearly, they were trying to get us ubriaco. Unfortunately though, the 40 wines didn't really form a wine pairing of any sort; rather, they just came out willy-nilly at our server's whim, sometimes announced, other times not. As such, it was an exercise in futility to actually try to determine which wine was which exactly, so here's just a list of the producers (not at all helpful I know):
  • Sicilian Wines: Graci, Planeta, Regaleali, Donnafugata, Frank Cornelissen, Girolamo Russo, Rapitatà, Faro Palari of Salvatore Geraci, Tami by Arianna Occhipinti, Benanti, Pellegrino, Di Giovanna, Antica Terra del Nanfro, Feudo Maccari, Cantine Gulfi, De Bartoli, Azienda Agricola Spadafora, Aziendor A. Vivera, Virgona, Valle dell'Acate.
  • Sardinian Wines: Pedres, Cantine Santadi, Sella e Mosca, Barrua, Dettori, Argiolas, Cantina Dorgali.
Valentino Breads
Upon being seated, a small plate of bread was quickly dropped off at our table. The first varietal wasn't much to talk about, but the second was much more interesting. I believe it was a pane guttiau, a version of a thin, crisp traditional Sardinian flatbread called pane carasau, but with the addition of olive oil and salt.

INVOLTINI DI MELANZANE | eggplant rolls with smoked provola and onions
Our first few courses arrived simultaneously, and my first bite comprised this involtino, a sort of rolled eggplant dish. I'm generally not a fan of the vegetable, but I actually quite enjoyed this, finding the smoky, lingering taste of the eggplant nicely offset by the marked sweetness present.

CROSTINO | with ricotta and sea urchin
Things quickly started to go downhill. A crostino of sea urchin and ricotta arrived without the former ingredient, and thus was just cheese on bread, hardly something to write home about. I suppose that's better than what some of my other dining companions got, which was nothing (the bite was omitted altogether).

SPIEDINO DI POLPO | octopus skewer
This tiny tentacle was tasty enough, with a delightfully soft, supple consistency and a creeping brine and sweetness, all with an undercurrent of bitter char. I just wish that the piece were larger, so I could've better appreciated the texture of the octopus.

PANELLE | chickpea fritters
FOCACCE | Assortite
Triangular portions of panella were delicious: salty, crunchy, and full of hearty, savory goodness. The focaccia was delectable as well, with a delightful onion-y tanginess to pair with the substantial bite of the dough.

STUFFED CALAMARI | with couscous, bronte pistachio and castelvetrano olives
Squid was quite good: snappy and with a tasty ocean-y relish, yet moderated by the crunchy, nutty combo of the pistachio and couscous.

CRUDO DI PESCE | with trapani salt, olive and condiments
Nobody (including our server) knew exactly what this was when it arrived at the table. The red fish was obviously tuna, and it was decent, albeit a bit dry, with a creeping brine, slight olive oil character, and nice pricks of saltiness from what I assume is the Trapani. The other spoon left us scratching our heads, though. The specimen was somewhat chewy, with a "stickiness" that reminded us of raw shrimp, but lacked sufficient acidity.

CROSTINO | with ricotta and sea urchin
At last, we were properly provided our crostini course. This one was much better, obviously. The addition of the urchin really worked here, adding a cool, creamy, ocean-y counterpoint against the tangy ricotta.

SEPPIE | grilled cuttlefish with squid ink, orange zest and fennel pollen
The seppie was definitely a highlight of the evening. I loved the springy texture of the cuttlefish, and how its salinity was countered by the beans in the dish. Topping things off was a hint of citrus, which gave the course a lovely brightness.

MACCU | fava beans puree soup
The traditional Sicilian soup maccu was a welcomed sight. The potage was hot and hearty, with a great earthy weight from the favas accented by just a touch of funk.

CERVELLINI FRITTI | calf brain fritters with roasted mushrooms
A small sphere of calf brain was surprisingly delish, mild at first, with a balance of creamy and crispy textures, leading to a growing gaminess on the close that lingered on and on.

ZUPPA DI REGULA E ARSELLE | couscous with saffron broth and baby clams
Accompanying the cervellini was a rich, heady soup featuring saffron. I really appreciated its depth and intense savoriness, bolstered by the incorporation of clam, while the couscous provided a fitting textural counterpoint.

MAURO VINCENTE BUSIATE ALLA TRAPANESE | corkscrew pasta with almond pesto
BOMBA DI RISO AL RICCI DI MARE | rice pie with sea urchin and orange blossom
PENNETTE ALLA NORMA | with eggplant, cherry tomatoes and ricotta salata
Next up was a trio of Sicilian pastas. The first was dedicated to the late Mauro Vicente and was ostensibly handmade by the 86-year-old Elvira Cavallo, formerly of Selvaggio's shuttered Primi. I quite liked it, finding the bright, verdant relish of the pesto excellent against the slightly astringent character of olive oil; I would've liked the pasta a touch firmer though. The rice bomba was even better, a blend of crispy and creamy parts, with the lushness of the sea urchin conveyed admirably. Last up was the pennette, probably the most conventional of the pastas, named after Vincenzo Bellini's opera Norma. It showed off a classic tomato tanginess, balanced by the salty ricotta, but then augmented by the use of eggplant.

ANZONE | bresaola-like cured lamb
SARTIZZA PICCANTE | cured spicy pork sausage
GUANCIALE | cured pork cheek
Three salumi from the Sardinian side of the menu made an appearance. Up first was the pig jowl-based guanciale, which was pretty wonderful, with a very satisfying bite and great blend of pork-y and herb-y flavors. The sartizza piccante was also delicious, and delectably spicy, while the anzone was tasty as well, showing off a delightful meatiness and fascinating complexity.

BOTTARGA | silver mullet roe with baby artichoke salad
A spoonful of artichoke and bottarga I found quite endearing, with the vegetable providing a perfect temper to the substantial salinity of the mullet roe.

SEPPIE | grilled cuttlefish with squid ink, orange zest and fennel pollen
SPIEDINO DI POLPO | octopus skewer
At this point in the meal, our servers were thoroughly confused as to our progress in the menu, and thus brought out another serving of the cuttlefish and octopus that we'd already had. I guess I wasn't complaining too much, though, as these were some tasty little bites.

TIMBALLO DI RAGUSANO | grilled vegetables and Ragusano cheese tortino
Nevertheless, we pointed out to the staff which items we were still missing, including the Fagottini di Caponata and this Timballo di Ragusano. The timballo, though, did arrive eventually, and was quite enjoyable, with a tasty interplay between the grilled veggies and Ragusano. Great "crust" from the cheese, too.

FRITTATINA DI CICORIE | cast-iron baked flat omelet with bitter greens and potatoes
CROSTINO | with ricotta and sea urchin
MUGGINE AFFUMICATO | smoked silver mullet with sheep ricotta and organic honey
PANE GUTTIAU | thin flat bread sprinkled with olive oil and sea salt
A plate containing four courses followed. The pane guttiau we already had with the bread, so I'm not sure why it's listed as a separate course on the menu, and of course, this was our third serving of the sea urchin crostini. With that out of the way, we were free to enjoy the frittatina, basically a mini egg fritatta. I liked it well enough, but really wanted to taste more of that potato. We also had some thin slices of what I believe was the Muggine Affumicato--intense, salty, and hammy--but where was the ricotta and honey?

RICCI DI MARE | sea urchin on a spoon
Sea urchin on a spoon was exactly that: sea urchin on a spoon. It was some solid urchin, but I would've really liked more to have been done here.

PUNZU AL SUGO DI GRANCHIO | thumb-sized pasta with Dungeness crab meat
BUSA AL POMODORO E FIORE SARDO | homemade bucatini with tomato sauce and pecorino
MALLOREDDOS CON "PURPUZZA" | with homemade sausage and saffron
Here was our threesome of Sardinian pastas now. I started with the maccarrones de punzu, and it was excellent, with a very satisfying bite and a superb sweetness and brine from the crab to go against the brightness of the sauce. The busa was also quite nice, with a classic interplay between the tart tomato and salty shavings of Pecorino. My favorite here, though, was the malloreddus, which was paired with an incredible purpuzza sausage that showed off just a marvelous depth of flavor. I definitely could've used a larger portion here.

L'AGNELLO | lamb belly with Modica's spicy chocolate sauce and autumn caponata
INVOLTINI DI VITELLO | veal rolls with bread crumbs, raisins, peanuts and cheese
Moving on to the main courses now, we started with a Sicilian preparation of lamb belly that I found rather delicious. I loved its dark, deep intensity, tarted up by the sour bits of pomegranate and the juicy side of sweet-smoky stuffed "ripieni" tomato. The veal roll didn't disappoint either, with a certain sweetness initially that led to the savoriness of meat on the midpalate.

AGNELLO AL FINOCCHIETTO | braised lamb with mirto-berry essence
The Sardinian braised lamb was quite a bite to behold as well: tender, with a good crust and boatloads of ovine flavor deftly moderated by the slices of fennel and cardoon present.

MAIALINO AL FORNO | oven roasted suckling pig sprinkled with sea salt
The suckling pig was a fitting conclusion to the savory portion of our meal. There was porky goodness here in spades, accented by pinpoints of salt, and I appreciated the balance between crispy and tender textures, too.

Too Much Wine!
At this point, thanks to the disorganization of the wine service tonight, we had no less than nine glasses on our table, all unidentifiable. And I'm the only one who ordered wine in our party of four; imagine if we all did.

Our cheese course comprised four varieties. Representing Sicily was the La Tuma Persa, the dry, crumbly, somewhat nutty "lost cheese," as well as the slightly grassy cow's milk Fiore Sicano. From Sardinia was the Pecorino Grand Cru, a tangy, salty cheese that one could liken to Parmiggiano-Reggiano, and the famed Fiore Sardo. Accompanying the cheeses was duet of orange and mandarin confetture (jams) by the longstanding Caffe Sicilia in Noto, Italy, along with eucalyptus and strawberry tree honeys from Sardinian producer Liccu Manias.

TORRONE ALLE MANDORLE | nougat with Noto's almond by Corrado Assenza
FRUTTA MARTORANA | marzipan sweet fruits
Corrado Assenza of the aforementioned Caffé Sicilia crafted some lovely almond nougats, showing off a perfect mix of sweet and nutty flavors. We also had marzipan from Palermo, fun little fruits with boatloads of sugary flair.

GELO DI MELONE | melon jelly
CANNOLICCHI | mini cannoli filled with ricotta cream
SORBETTO AI FICHI D'INDIA | prickly pear sorbet
AMARETTI DI ORISTANO | little bitter macaroons-like cookies
TURTA DE ICOS | fresh figs pie
PABASSINOS | raisins and almonds biscuits
The final plate tonight contained our last six desserts, three each from the two islands. Sicily provided a nice cantaloupe jelly; an absolutely flawless miniature cannoli (quite possibly the best I've had); as well as a surprisingly restrained, but bracingly cold prickly pear sorbet. Sardinia brought us a delightfully soft, nutty almond cookie (which reminded me of the Chinese type); a sugary fig tart with an almost coffee-like astringency; and finally a licorice-tinged raisin cookie.

In the end, this was a fun, but also very trying meal. The food, for the most part, was on point, and it was fantastic to be able to taste some of these hyper-regional specialties that you'd have a hard time finding otherwise. It really was a different take on Italian cuisine, one that I appreciated. However, the overall experience was severely marred by the utter disarray of the service staff and perhaps the kitchen as well. At one point, the front-of-the-house seemed to completely lose track of which courses had been served, and I ended up having to circle items on a menu that was subsequently handed to our server. Courses were missed; courses were repeated; courses were brought out with little or no explanation (or the wrong explanation); and courses were served totally out of order (why are pastas coming out before the stuzzichini?). Things got a bit heated with our servers at times, as both parties were at their wit's end.

The wine service, though, was arguably even more lamentable. The size of the pours ranged from barely enough for a sip to a healthy half-glass, while some were paired with eight courses, some only one. Some wines were brought out with no announcement, and servers had to constantly ask us which wines we had already, which of course we didn't really know, since the entire process was pretty much a free-for-all. The whole ordeal was a bit of a mess really, probably the most harried dining experience that I've ever had, and we still never saw that fagottini.