Friday, December 29, 2023

De La Nonna (Los Angeles, CA)

De La Nonna Restaurant
710 E 4th Pl, Los Angeles, CA 90013 / 312 S Alameda Street, Los Angeles, CA 90013
Fri 12/29/2023, 04:00p-05:40p

Da La Nonna Exterior

Some friends and I recently attended the Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition held at The Grand LA, and needed somewhere to have an early dinner afterward. We ended up walking over to the Arts District to dine at De La Nonna, a pizza-focused spot centered on Detroit-slash-Sicilian-style pies. The place opened back in November 2021, and comes to us from principals Patrick Costa, Jose L. Cordon, and Lee Zaremba. And if you're curious about the name, it means "from the grandmother" in a mash-up of Spanish and Italian, a nod to Cordon and Costa's heritage.

About the Partners: Executive Chef duties are handled by SoCal native Patrick Costa, who was born in August 1983 to a mother who was a Navy officer. He thus traveled often as a youngster, and even spent a portion of his childhood in Rome with his Italian family. He later moved to Chicagoland to attend Lake Forest College, achieving a bachelor's degree in international relations in 2005. However, the kitchen beckoned, and Costa thus decided to pursue a culinary career, eventually finding himself working at Boka Restaurant Group's Perennial in Chicago, which opened in June 2008 under the watch of Giuseppe Tentori and Ryan Poli. In September 2009, he joined Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, and became a chef de partie at Laurent Gras' L2O.

From there, he moved back to LA and helped Jeff Mahin launch Stella Rossa Pizza Bar, which opened in Santa Monica in April 2011. This was another LEYE project, and spawned Hollywood's Stella Barra Pizzeria two years later. However, Costa left the company in May 2014. Afterward, he became Exec Chef at The Hart and The Hunter, where he stayed for a year. He then joined Reiss Co to oversee culinary operations for the entire group (Sunny Spot, Salt Air, Vito's Pizza). Costa departed Dave Reiss' side in May 2018, then began consulting for Boise's Wylder Hospitality, which lasted until April 2019. He then started working with Tartine, and opened the bakery's SaMo location in March 2020. However, the pandemic struck shortly thereafter, and thus the Chef teamed up with longtime friend Jose Cordon to launch a pizza pop-up called De La Nonna.

Born in November 1984, Jose Luis Cordon hails from the Chicago area, and graduated from St Viator High School in 2002. He began his hospitality career two years later, working his way up from host and barback roles to positions in bartending and management. His last post in Chicago was at Community Tavern in Portage Park, where he was opening beverage director. He left at the end of May 2016, relocated to LA the next week, and soon found work at the Viceroy L'Ermitage in Beverly Hills. In August 2017, Cordon moved over to Ever Bar at the new Kimpton Everly Hotel in Hollywood, and during this period, also worked with cocktail catering company N2 Mixology. In early 2018, he began a role as bar manager at Felix, where he stayed until DLN came into the picture.

De La Nonna first popped up at the end of August 2020 at Dudley Market in Venice. From there, it moved over to Melody in Virgil Village, and then to WeHo Night Market, which was held at Employees Only. In the first half of 2021, DLN also spent time up north at Bodega Los Alamos, as well as at Little Prince in Santa Monica, and it was in April that year when Zaremba joined the crew.

Lee Michael Zaremba was born in December 1981, and originally comes from Iselin, New Jersey, near Edison. However, he spent his teenage years in Cincinnati, where he began his hospitality career by bussing tables. In 2004, he relocated to Illinois to study advertising at Columbia College Chicago. After finishing up in 2007, he worked in marketing and PR, but soon realized that such as career wasn't for him. Zaremba thus decided to travel and focus on his breakdancing, and upon returning to Chicagoland, he found himself bartending at Ripasso in Wicker Park.

Not long after, he transitioned to Simone's Bar in Pilsen, then joined Logan Square cocktail bar Billy Sunday in December 2012. He eventually worked his way up the ranks from bartender to GM, and then to beverage director for parent company Folkart Management. Zaremba left in March 2017 for a position at Boka Restaurant Group, where he oversaw the beverage programs for numerous BRG properties until November 2020. Following, he moved to LA and began work on turning De La Nonna from a pop-up into a proper eatery.

Da La Nonna Interior
Da La Nonna Dining Indoor/Outdoor Dining Areas
De La Nonna takes over the former home of Lupetti Pizzeria, which opened back at the end of July 2018 but shuttered during the pandemic. The restaurant was redone by partner Heather Tierney of Wanderlust Design (who's also behind Apotheke and The Butcher's Daughter), and now sports an aesthetic that's simultaneously grandma-like, tropical, and retro. There's quite a bit of outdoor seating available, as you can see.

De La Nonna Menu De La Nonna Beverage List
And here's the menu, which features a number of appetizer-ish dishes to go along with those rectangular pizzas. Meanwhile, beverage options include Italian-inspired cocktails, a couple beers, and low-priced, natural-leaning, mostly Italian wines. Click for larger versions.

Bluefin Tuna Tartare
Bluefin Tuna Tartare [$17.00] | Olive Tapenade, Pepperoncini, Tonnato, Crostini
Up first was a tuna tartar that was a bit too assertive with its use of tapenade and peperoncini. The piquancy of those two ingredients tended to overpower the fish, though fortunately, the creaminess of the tonnato sauce toned things down, and I liked that smoky, toasty bread, too.

Jupiter Jazz
Jupiter Jazz [$16.00] | Mezcal, Passionfruit & Pineapple w/ Hazelnut & Lime
My first cocktail demonstrated those tropical, passion fruit-powered flavors I expected, juxtaposed against hits of citrus and sweet spices.

Kanpachi Crudo
Kanpachi Crudo [$18.00] | Asian Pear, Pomegranate, Lime Leaf & Chili
Our next raw fish preparation was much more successful, and definitely a favorite of mine. The amberjack ate slick and supple, and paired beautifully with the dish's prickly, peppery heat. Also crucial was the apple pear, which imparted a juicy sweetness that worked for contrast.

House-Made Grilled Focaccia
Whipped Eggplant
Whipped Eggplant [$14.00] | w/ Calabrian XO Sauce
I'm usually not a huge eggplant fan, but this version was another highlight for me. The marriage of smoky melanzana and the stinging heat of XO was outstanding, and matched up seamlessly with that grilled house-made focaccia.

Roasted Cali Baby Yams
Roasted Cali Baby Yams [$12.00] | Harissa Butter, Chives, Pickled Red Onion, Crispy Shallot
The sweet potatoes were also an accomplishment. Not surprisingly, the yams came out soft and sweet, but not too sweet, and melded easily with the restrained pungency of that harissa-boosted butter. However, the crux for me here was the use of pickled onions, which offered up both a countering acidity and a well-placed crunch.

Hot Buttered Rum
Hot Buttered Rum [$14.00] | Amaro, Aged Rum, Brown Sugar, Butter and Baking Spices
My next choice of cocktail was a mostly traditional hot buttered rum, which felt appropriate given the weather. The drink was as hot and buttery as its name would imply, and showed off just enough of those sweet spices, along with a hint of bitterness from the amaro.

Burrata & Focaccia
Burrata & Focaccia [$15.00] | Grilled Grapes, Fig Vincotto, Olive Oil & Sea Salt
And now we come to the least effective dish of the evening. The combination of the mozzarella and grapes seemed disjointed, and the flavors just didn't coalesce as well as I was hoping for, though once again, the toasted focaccia was on point.

Pepp [$18.00 + $2.00] | Pepperoni, Tomato, Mozz, Pecorino + Add Spicy Honey
Time for some pizza. Our first showcased those classic pepperoni flavors you want, but set against the sweet heat of spicy honey. In terms of the crust, it was somewhat bread-like, and generally light and tender, but with some nice crispy burnt bits.

White [$17.00] | Japanese Sweet Potato, Fennel, Onion, Pesto & Mozz
This next pizza ended up as my favorite of the three. The key here was really the pie's pesto-fueled freshness and herbaceousness, and how that played with the sweetness of the satsuma-imo.

Old Fashie
Old Fashie [$16.00] | Rye Whiskey, Amaro, Coffee Bean & Citrus Oil
The evening's final cocktail was this old fashioned variation, one that was surprisingly buttery, and also displayed plenty of herby, bitter notes, as well as a touch of astringency from the coffee.

Sicilian [$16.00 + $4.00] | Capers, Pine Nuts, Tomato, Olives, Red Onion, Red Chili Flake + Add 'Chovies
Our final pie was this Sicilian pizza, which was the most unconventional of the trio. The taste of the anchovy, herbs, and olive was pretty aggressive, but somehow, the nuttiness of the pinoli kept things in check.

Salted Butterscotch Budino
Salted Butterscotch Budino [$9.00] | Rosemary, Orange & Nutmeg
Moving into dessert, the butterscotch pudding was as rich and sugary as I'd want, with the rosemary and salt preventing the budino from becoming monotonous.

Cannolis [$3.00/each] | Orange Ricotta Cream
Last up were the cannoli, which featured properly crunchy pastry shells stuffed with an airy, citrusy ricotta cream.

De La Nonna served its purpose admirably, as we all generally enjoyed the food, which was mostly familiar and cozy, but with some unexpected touches that kept things interesting. It's a useful addition to the neighborhood that I could see myself returning to for a casual bite. As for the partners' other projects, they've since launched The Let's Go! Disco & Cocktail Club in an adjacent space that used to house hi-fi bar In Sheep's Clothing. It's a drinking den ostensibly inspired by the Italian discotecas of the 1970s, so I might check it out sometime; there's even an attached pizza slice takeaway window.


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