Saturday, December 16, 2017

Cal Mare (Los Angeles, CA)

Cal Mare Restaurant at Beverly Center
8500 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048
Sat 12/16/2017, 8:15p-12:15a

Cal Mare Exterior

Over the past 11 years of running this site, I'd never actually dined at Beverly Center--not once. What drew me to the oft-maligned shopping mall was the newest opening from Mina Group: Cal Mare, a coastal Italian restaurant with a Southern Californian slant. The place debuted on November 21st, and represents a partnership between Michael Mina and Chef Adam Sobel.

About the Chef: Sobel was born in 1980, and grew up in the Long Island hamlet of Hicksville, NY. He first discovered cooking at age 5, when he would help his Sicilian grandmother make meatballs and stuffed peppers. This training lasted for about six years. In his early teens, the Chef was a bit of a miscreant, and his mother pushed him into the culinary program at Barry Tech (a local vocational school) when he was 15. On his very first day he fell in love with food once again and knew that he wanted to cook for a living. He even gave up playing soccer, and ended up finding employment at a couple nearby restaurants: The Weeping Willow in Farmingdale ('96-'97) and Piping Rock Club in Locust Valley ('97-'98). It was at Piping Rock where Sobel first encountered John Johnstone, and after finishing up at Barry Tech in 1998, he moved over with Johnstone to the iconic Tavern on the Green in Central Park and helmed the fish station there. During this time, he also cooked stints at Daniel Boulud's Cafe Boulud and Bill Telepan's Judson Grill, both in Manhattan.

After some prodding from his father, Sobel decided to enroll in culinary school, and started at the CIA Hyde Park when he was 19. He externed at Seeger's in Atlanta, and after graduating with honors in 2001, helped open Bradley Ogden's Parcel 104 in Santa Clara, CA. His next move was to Chicago, to work at the legendary Charlie Trotter's as both a pastry chef and station chef. In 2002, the Chef relocated to Las Vegas to open Bradley Ogden at Caesars Palace, where he became co-CdC along with Gerald Chin (an old friend and another '98 grad of Barry Tech). Under their watch, the place garnered "Best New Restaurant" accolades from James Beard in 2004, but Sobel was out by 2005. He landed at another Caesars eatery, Guy Savoy, where he served as Chef de Cuisine for two years. In late 2007, he took the Executive Chef position at Company American Bistro at Luxor (with none other than Marcel Vigneron as one of his cooks), but left after just five months (as did most of the team). December 2008 saw Sobel come to LA for a pop-up series (a street food concept entitled "Crush") at Breadbar, the very spot that launched LudoBites.

The Chef was soon back in Vegas though, this time heading the kitchen over at Rick Moonen's RM Seafood at Mandalay Bay (with Gerald Chin as his CdC). He decamped in November 2010 to join the team at Michael Mina's Bourbon Steak in Washington DC as Exec Chef. Situated inside the Four Seasons, the steakhouse was well-received under his leadership, and in October 2012, he even cooked dinner for the Obamas on their 20th anniversary. In April 2013, Sobel moved to San Francisco to take the reins at Mina's wine-focused RN74, replacing opening chef Jason Berthold. During this period, he also won the national Cochon 555 title, served as a judge on Food Network's Chopped, and earned a 3½ star review from the San Francisco Chronicle. In addition, he was largely running the show at the experimental Mina Test Kitchen, which bowed in July 2015. One of the concepts that was tested out there was "Postcards from La Costiera," the result of a trip that Mina and Sobel took to coastal Italy. "Postcards" eventually morphed into Cal Mare, and thus here we are today.

Sobel's second-in-command is CdC Joseph "Joe" Sasto III, who hails from Las Vegas. He started out cooking with his mother when he was young, but decided against culinary school. Rather, he went to UC Davis for his undergrad degree, and cooked on the side to earn a living. After graduating in 2010, he helped open Branches Wood Fired Chop House in Ukiah, CA as a line cook. The restaurant was closed by March 2012, and Sasto's next move was to RN74. There, he cooked under Jason Berthold for six months and became sous chef, a role he continued when Sobel took over in 2013. However, he eventually took a break to travel throughout Europe, and upon returning Stateside, found a gig at Michael Tusk's Cotogna. He quickly moved to Tusk's flagship eatery, the Michelin three-star Quince, and spent three years there. In February 2016, Sasto left to become exec sous at David Barzelay's lauded Lazy Bear, and not long after, competed on Chopped in an all-San Francisco episode (he won). He left the restaurant in May 2017, filmed Top Chef: Colorado, then came to work here at Cal Mare.

Cal Mare Patio
Cal Mare Interior - Dining Room
Cal Mare Patio - Bar Area
Cal Mare is situated in a spot once home to P.F. Chang's and Market City Caffe. It's a large restaurant: a total area on the order of 8,000 square-feet, with seating for approximately 150, plus another 20 in the private dining room. The space was designed by local firm Bishop Pass (Maude, Dia de Campo, Abigaile, Little Sister, The Parish, Gjelina), and features a somewhat rustic aesthetic that fits the spot's coastal Italian theme.

Cal Mare Menu
The menu is wide-ranging, though there is an expected focus on seafood. With so many different sections, there should be something for everybody. You even get tasting menu options, priced at $85 and $175, though we opted to go à la carte given our large party. Click for a larger version.

Cal Mare Cocktail List: Moderno Cal Mare Cocktail List: Classico, Limoncello Cal Mare Amari List Cal Mare Birra List Cal Mare Wines by the Glass List Cal Mare Wines by the Glass List Cal Mare Wine List: Champagne
Cal Mare Wine List: Coastal Whites Cal Mare Wine List: Off the Coast Whites, Orange, Rosato Cal Mare Wine List: California White Cal Mare Wine List: Coastal Reds Cal Mare Wine List: Coastal Reds, Off the Coast Red Cal Mare Wine List: Off the Coast Red Cal Mare Wine List: California Red
Drink-wise, you can expect a dozen or so cocktails, housemade limoncello, a selection of amari, some beer, and a mostly-Italian wine list created by Rajat Parr. Click for larger versions.

Umbrella by the Road
Umbrella by the Road [$14.00] | Nolet's Gin, Cocchi Rosa, Orgeat, Lime, Grapefruit Soda
As is usually the case, we made our way through most of the cocktail list, starting with this easy-drinking number. Think sweet 'n' fruity, with intense citrus and a touch of nuttiness, as well as a restrained bitterness underscoring it all.

Semolina Bread
A deceptively large serving of semolina bread was a joy to eat, coming out warm, soft, and crusted with sesame seeds.

Focaccia di Patate
Focaccia di Patate [$6.00] | Basil Pesto, Parmigiano Fonduta
Speaking of complimentary breads, the focaccia came out looking like a large cinnamon roll, but its taste was anything but thanks to a generous helping of rich, cheesy Parmesan fondue. I didn't taste much from the basil pesto, though.

Full of Bologna
Full of Bologna [$14.00] | Drouin Selection Calvados, Apricot, Amaro Montenegro, Orgeat, Prosecco
I was drawn to this next cocktail due to its use of calvados. It had a nose that was sugary, almost candied, with a sort of amaretto-like character (from the orgeat I assume). The taste also showed off sweet-spicy and nutty notes, but with a citrus element and slight bitterness that served as a counterbalance.

Pesce Palla Fritto
Pesce Palla Fritto [$15.00] | Crispy Blowfish Tails, Fennel, Salsa Verde
Crispy fried blowfish tails conveyed a straightforward sort of savoriness tarted up by the application of salsa verde and squirts of lemon.

Seppia 'Tagliatelle'
Seppia "Tagliatelle" [$17.00] | Lightly Marinated Cuttlefish, Passionfruit, Mustard Seed, Fennel
Ribbons of cuttlefish were delightfully textured, and had a subdued flavor profile that really called for the tanginess provided by the passion fruit. My favorite part, though, were those "chips," which worked as a nutty, crunchy, salty contrast to the sepia.

Livorno Sunrise
Livorno Sunrise [$14.00] | Ketel One Vodka, Blood Orange, Strega, Curaçao, Peychaud's Bitters
This next cocktail was definitely on the quaffable and refreshing side with its rich blood orange flavors and touch of bittersweet, herbal spice.

Ricciola e Peperoncino
Ricciola e Peperoncino [$18.00] | Amberjack, Stuffed Cherry Peppers, Capers, Lemon
Soft, briny cuts of amberjack were layered with lots of olive oil and the sweet heat of those stuffed peppers.

Calamari alla Diavola
Calamari alla Diavola [$14.00] | Local Squid, Tomato Broth, Fregola, Basil
Tender cuts of squid came bathed in a fragrant, spicy broth with additional textural interest from the spheres of fregula.

Amalfi Flip
Amalfi Flip [$13.00] | Alessio Bianco Vermouth, Lime, Yellow Chartreuse, Agave, Egg White
I'm a fan of vermouth-based cocktails, so we had to give this one a try. Its nose was dominated by the egg white, with just a smidge of citrus as well. Taste-wise, think bittersweet, with the herbal character of the Chartreuse coming through, joined by more lime tartness.

Capesante e Mela
Capesante e Mela [$19.00] | Bay Scallop, 'Nduja, Kohlrabi, Apple
Scallops conveyed a fresh brine, and served as a base for the spice of the 'nduja while the apples and kohlrabi contributed brightness and crunch.

Tonno e Arance Rosse
Tonno e Arance Rosse [$23.00] | Yellow Fin Tuna, Blood Orange, Radish, Chilies
Shards of yellowfin were fattier than anticipated, which wasn't necessarily a bad thing. Citrus and chili provided a moderating element, while the fried onions gave the dish a nice savoriness.

Falanghina Quintodecimo 'Via Del Campo' Campania 2015
We also had some wine with our meal, starting with the Falanghina Quintodecimo 'Via Del Campo' Campania 2015 [$115] (note: this was incorrectly called out as the 2016 vintage on the wine list). Nose was almost Chablis-like, with green apple and lemon at the fore. The palate went in a similar direction, with round, smooth flavors of minerality and sea shell joined by more soft apple.

Farinata di Gambero Rosso
Farinata di Gambero Rosso [$18.00] | Chickpea & Spicy Shrimp Pancake, Saffron Aïoli, Escarole
The farinata hit the mark thanks to its interaction between the pancake and well-seasoned, well-textured shrimp. Great bitterness from the escarole to boot. One of my favorites.

Macellaio [$20.00] | Soppressata, Lardo, Pork Sausage, Mozzarella, Grana Padano
The "butcher's" pizza delivered the hearty, meaty, salty, gratifying flavors that I was expecting, tempered just enough by the zesty slivers of red onion. Tasty.

Negroni [$13.00] | Beefeater Gin, Alessio Vermouth, Campari
The classic Negroni showed off the cocktail's signature bittersweet aroma, while its flavors highlighted the back-and-forth between the Campari and vermouth.

Cavolfiore Arcobaleno
Cavolfiore Arcobaleno [$19.00] | Sea Urchin, Cauliflower, Guanciale, Finger Lime
Cauliflower was unexpectedly smoky and worked beautifully as a complement to the sweetness of sea urchin, all while the cured pork added a hit of saltiness and spice. An odd combination, but one that definitely worked. A standout for me.

Ragù di Funghi
Ragù di Funghi [$17.00] | Wild Mushrooms, Pine Nut, Farm Egg, Speck
Mushrooms were woodsy and earthy, unsurprisingly, but were also joined by a pervasive sweetness that sort of surprised me. That egg, meanwhile, came out as runny and luscious as I wanted, and I liked the pine nuts too.

Wandering Albatross
Wandering Albatross [$13.00] | Barsol Pisco, Aperol, Grapefruit, Jasmine Tea, Prosecco
Also on the more gluggable side of the spectrum was our next cocktail, which some of us likened to a wine cooler with its abundance of fruity, tea-like flavors.

Spreading Egg Patate alla Carbonara
Patate alla Carbonara [$20.00] | Potato, Guanciale, Black Pepper, Pecorino, Egg
Our second pizza was certainly heavy on the cheese and egg. I wanted more black pepper and potato for balance, though the bitterness of the crust did help.

Agnolotti di Granchio
Agnolotti di Granchio [$28.00] | Dungeness Crab, Truffle, Butternut Squash, Sea Urchin
Our first pasta course did a pretty admirable job meshing the sweetness of butternut squash with the sweetness of crab. I would've liked to have tasted more from the urchin and truffle, however.

Acqua Giuseppe
Acqua Giuseppe [$13.00] | Hine Cognac, Nonino Chardonnay di Grappa, Amontillado Sherry, Banana, Amaro Sfumato
This was the most polarizing cocktail of the night, and one which I quite enjoyed. Its bouquet was pleasantly sweet, with a definite astringent, herbal bent. The taste went bittersweet, nutty, medicinal, with a hint of chocolate and toffee for balance.

Rigatoni 'all'Amatriciana di Mare'
Rigatoni "all'Amatriciana di Mare" [$20.00] | Smoked Tuna Belly, Pecorino Romano, Guanciale
A tuna-enriched version of sugo all'amatriciana delivered, combining the smoke of the fish with the saltiness of the pork in effective fashion, the tomato serving as a soothing force.

Tagliatelle al Nero
Tagliatelle al Nero [$24.00] | Squid Ink Pasta, Octopus, Mussels, Calabrian Chile
Squid ink tagliatelle was well-textured, as were the various items of seafood, and I enjoyed the additional crunch of the breadcrumbs as well. The Calabrian peppers provided a welcomed piquancy, though I wanted more brine, more salinity in the dish.

Sleeping Giant
Sleeping Giant [$13.00] | Rittenhouse Rye, Pomme du Normandie, Meletti Amaro, Mole Bitters
Next was a cocktail that was one of my favorites of the bunch. Nose of bittersweet citrus and rye. The palate showed an almost tropical sort of fruitiness, along with some herb and a smidge of chocolate and warming, sweet spice.

Cavatelli alla Romana
Cavatelli alla Romana [$22.00] | Ricotta Cavatelli, Spicy Tripe, Pancetta, Mint
In our final pasta course, cavatelli arrived loaded with the rich, savory spice of tripe and pancetta, a decidedly tasty combination that was brightened up by the application of mint.

Cavoletti di Bruxelles
Cavoletti di Bruxelles [$9.00] | Black Garlic - "Bagna Caùda"
Brussels had a proper bite to 'em, while the sprouts' bitterness married well with the punch of black garlic and the richness of that bagna càuda on the bottom.

Aglianico Contrade di Taurasi Cantine di Lonardo Taurasi, Campania 2012
Our second bottle of wine was a red, the Aglianico Contrade di Taurasi Cantine di Lonardo Taurasi, Campania 2012 [$102]. Its bouquet was rife with perfume-y violet and berry fruit. The taste, however, was more austere, showing off a dry, tannic quality along with notes of tar, soil, and dark fruit.

Coda di Rospo
Coda di Rospo [$38.00] | Bone-in Monkfish tail
Monkfish tail came out perfectly grilled, its healthy dosing of char and smoke melding seamlessly with the refined brine of that soft, spongy flesh. The course also came with a trio of sauces--salsa verde, Livornese, smoked butter--but these were largely unnecessary given how good the fish was. Another favorite for me.

Broccoli di Cicco alla Fra Diavola
Broccoli di Cicco alla Fra Diavola [$8.00] | Calabrian Chile, Preserved Orange
Broccoli arrived smoky and bitter, with a pleasant heat from the chili and a garlicky sort of savor.

Cal Mare Dessert Menu
The desserts, not surprisingly, fit in with the rest of the menu. Click for a larger version.

3-Piece Suit
3-Piece Suit [$13.00] | Ford's Gin, Italicus Bergamot, Dolin Genepy, St. George Absinthe
This was perhaps the most spirit-forward of our cocktails, giving up a nose filled with citrus and botanicals. In terms of taste, think a base of gin, layered with citrus, flowers, and herbs, with the aromatics of the bergamot coming in toward the close.

Pistacchio Siciliano
Pistacchio Siciliano [$10.00] | Pistachio Gelato, Preserved Lemon, Amarena Cherry
Pistachio ice cream was rich and creamy, with an almost oily quality to it that really did recall its namesake nut. Enjoyable alone, but even better when paired with the sweet-n-sour cherries.

Stracciatella [$10.00] | Chocolate Chip Gelato, Malt Candy
The classic combo of milky gelato and chocolate certainly worked, especially with the addition of caramel and those crunchy shards of candy.

Lucky 13
Lucky 13 [$14.00] | Evan Williams Bourbon, Alessio Chinato, Espolón Reposado Tequila, Ancho Reyes, Angostura Bitters
I liked the combination of whiskey and tequila in this next cocktail. Bittersweet nose from the Angostura and vermouth, with accents of citrus. On the palate I got a booze base filled with brown sugar and caramel notes, commingled with chili heat and warm spice.

Fior di Latte
Fior di Latte [$10.00] | Ricotta Gelato, New Press Olive Oil, Sea Salt
A ricotta ice cream was wonderfully sweet and lactic, and paired perfectly with the heft of the olive oil. A great balance of sugary and savory.

Caffé Shakerato
Caffé Shakerato [$11.00] | Italian Iced Coffee, Mini Cannoli Trio
Crunchy, miniature cannoli were pretty much just what you'd want, and worked either alone or with a dip into that roasty-sweet coffee.

East India Negroni
East India Negroni [$13.00] | Banks 5 Island Rum, Campari, Lustau East India Sherry
Our final cocktail was this Negroni variation. Compared with the traditional drink, this was certainly sweeter, with a floral, tea-like quality and almost candied sensation on the finish.

Pera [$9.00] | Winter Pear Sorbet, Pine Nut Crumble
A pear sorbet was super fruity, with vibrant, true-to-life pear all up in your face. Pomegranate seeds provided a contrast in texture and tartness, while the pine nuts worked to moderate everything.

Arance Rosse
Arance Rosse [$9.00] | Blood Orange Sorbet, Vanilla Cream
Last up was the blood orange sorbet, which had its robust, refreshing citrus flavors softened by the presence of vanilla cream.

Closing out the meal was a bowl of soft, sticky, nougat-y torrone filled with sunflower seeds, poppy seeds, and dried fruit.

Our marathon of a meal at Cal Mare was sort of a surprising success. Sobel mostly manages to steer clear of the usual Italian tropes, putting together some interesting, and tasty combinations that pay homage to both coastal Italy and the restaurant's home in the Southland. It's probably one of the more promising Italian debuts as of late, and can likely carve out a niche for itself. With Cal Mare's opening, the previously dire dining situation at Beverly Center is looking better already. However, it's likely to get even better in the coming year or so. Michael Mina is apparently putting together an upstairs food hall called The Street that should be worthwhile. More intriguing, though, is Hugo Ortega's Mi Almita, a modern Mexican joint that also started out as a pop-up at Mina Test Kitchen.


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