Friday, September 26, 2008

A Low-Key, Relaxing Evening with All' Angelo's New Executive Chef from Rimini

Update: All' Angelo is now closed.

I'm always on the lookout for a nice, neighborhood Italian eatery. A place where you can slip in after a long day, and relax with some good Italian food and wine. After hearing many positive thoughts about All' Angelo on Melrose, I finally had a chance to try it out last week.

Upon entering, it was nice to see a restaurant that was small and cozy, but not crowded (plenty of space between tables), with low lighting, and a relatively quiet dining room. After being seated, we ordered their Chef's Tasting Menu (we found out later that it was prepared by long-time Executive Chef Mirko Paderno, along with assistant Chef Ezio Puccioni (more on this later)).

The Chef's Tasting Menu began with an Amuse Bouche comprised of two items: Hama Hama Oyster and Cured Salmon, Creme Fraiche, Cucumber.

The Hama Hama Oyster was delicious: Very fresh, lightly briny and vibrant. :) The Cured Salmon, however, was slightly disappointing: It was really salty, overpowering the Cucumber and Creme Fraiche to the point that I was reaching for my water after the first bite.

The first course arrived soon after: Tortino di Cavolfiore con Salsa al Parmigiano Reggiano (Timbale of Cauliflower with Parmesan Cheese Sauce). This was a puree of Cauliflower, lightly folding in Mascarpone Cheese, and topped with the Parmigiano Reggiano sauce. Taking a bite, and it was hard to believe that this was made with something healthy like Cauliflower: Decadent, gorgeous cheesy, creamy goodness! Simply wonderful and delicious! (^_^)

The next course was Cozze Ripiene con Salsiccia al Sugo di Pomodoro (Mussels and House-Made Sausage in Tomato Sauce). This was from their Tapas, Venetian Tradition Style Seasonal Menu, featuring Santa Barbara Mussels. I love good Mussels so I was looking forward to this dish. However, it turned out to be disappointing: The dish was overcooked, with the Sauage topping becoming really dried out, and the Mussels were really pungent and fishy. The Pomodoro sauce was nice, though, and with better execution this dish could probably be a nice appetizer.

Continuing on, the next course was Pappardelle Rustiche al Ragu' d'Agnello (House-Made Flat Ribbon Pasta with Lamb Ragout). All the pastas served at All' Angelo are house-made, and the freshness really stood out here: Perfect al dente pasta, with a great chew, but still just tender enough to provide a nice base for the Colorado Lamb Ragout to shine. This was simply great pasta that wasn't oversauced, and the Colorado Lamb Ragout was so fragrant and beautiful! Excellent.

The next dish in the Tasting Menu was their Risotto al Gorgonzola e Asparagi (Risotto with Green Asparagus and Gorgonzola Cheese). I'm not a big fan of Gorgonzola Cheese, and you could smell its distinct aroma before the plate arrived at the table (^_~), but it looked beautiful, and I gave it a try. This Risotto is distinct in that Chef Mirko adds in the Gorgonzola early on in the cooking process, to really concentrate and infuse the flavor of Gorgonzola into the Risotto. Surprisingly, looking beyond the aroma, the Gorgonzola Cheese is really mellow, but still present with each bite. The Risotto itself was a little undercooked for my tastes (just a touch), but overall a good dish, and if you like Gorgonzola this would probably rate even higher. :)

The final savory course this evening was their Pancia di Maialino in Porchetta (Roasted Suckling Pig Belly Porchetta Style). They use Niman Ranch Pork, slow-roasting it, and serving it with Fingerling Potatoes and Asparagus.

It seems Pork Belly is all the rage these days at L.A.'s better restaurants (but I can't complain; good Pork Belly makes everything better (^_~)), so I was curious to see how Chef Mirko and Ezio would prepare this dish. After the first bite, it was clear that this was a piece of meat with plenty of love put into it! Supple, fork-tender, deep pork-infused goodness! (^_^) It was lightly seasoned with fresh herbs and the key was the slow-roasting. This had to be one of the better Pork Belly dishes I've had in the last year or so. The Fingerling Potatoes and Aspargus were cooked just right, and provided a great foil for the rich Pork Belly. Very nice!

The dessert course came out soon afterwards (nicely-paced): Budino di Polenta al Limone con Spuma di Limone (Caramelized Meyer Lemon and Polenta Pudding with Lemon Sabayon). This was like a super-light bread pudding, but far more airy, and what was most impressive was that it was made with Polenta(!), but you couldn't tell. I enjoy a good Lemon dessert, but this was just too much Lemon (in the base pudding, as well as the Lemon Sabayon topping).

For a 7-course Chef's Tasting Menu, there were quite a few hits, but a few misses as well. The only other aspect that was slightly disappointing was that every item served in the Chef's Tasting Menu (besides the Amuse Bouche) was from their regular Menu or Seasonal Menu. I was hoping there would be some dishes where the chef could just have fun and create something outside of the normal menu. Regardless, it was enjoyable enough that I wanted to return and try some other dishes soon after. :)

We arrived this week, only to find out that All' Angelo had a new Executive Chef, Ezio Puccioni, as Chef Mirko had just left. They didn't disclose any reasons as to why Chef Mirko left, but we were still looking forward to the dishes created by their new Executive Chef this evening. Chef Ezio Puccioni was born in Rimini, Italy, and trained there and in Bologna, Italy before coming to the United States. They just added a new Monkfish entree, Coda di Rospo in Padella con Pomodori al Forno, Zucchine e Peperonata (Sauteed Mediterranean Monkfish, with Oven-Roasted Tomato, Zucchini and Peperonata), and we were informed that they would be adding daily Specials by Chef Ezio and slowly adding them to the permanent menu depending on customer reaction.

Like the first visit, this evening was nice and mellow: On this weeknight, All' Angelo was about ~40-50% capacity, and the ambiance was relaxing.

After ordering a few items to sample, the waitress recommended a good half bottle of wine to pair with our seafood: 2006 Greco di Tufo, Dedicato a Marianna (Campania, Italy). It was really crisp, citrusy, with a clean finish.

Our first appetizer arrived, off of their seasonal Venetian menu: Guancia di Vitello Brasata Salsa al Pomodoro (Braised Veal Cheek in Wine and Vegetable Sauce).

Visually, it just looked like a mound of fresh Tomato Sauce. But underneath that was probably *the* most succulent, spoon-tender Veal I've ever had (no hyperbole)! It was ridiculously tender, and melt-in-your-mouth goodness! (^_^) And the Pomodoro Sauce didn't overpower the Veal at all (which was surprising, given the amount of Pomodoro in this appetizer). It was better than most Braised Beef / Veal dishes that we've had recently, moist, tender, and not dripping with fat (which is always nice (^_~)). Delicious!

Our Primi arrived next, and I was excited about trying this since it sounded delicious: Agnolotti di Pesce, Crema di Pomodoro, Basilico e Pesto di Rucola (White Fish stuffed Agnolotti Ravioli, Tomato, Basil and Rucola Pesto).

Sadly, this turned out to be probably the worst dish I had during both visits: The White Fish used in the Agnolotti was extremely fishy and briny (in a bad way), really dominating everything else in the dish. In addition, the pasta was undercooked and really thick and tough.

After experiencing that fish preparation, I was beginning to worry that the fish Secondi that we ordered would be the same. Thankfully we had the complete opposite experience! Chef Ezio's execution of their Merluzzo dell' Alaska con Emulsione di Ricci di Mare e Asparagi (Alaskan Black Cod with Sea Urchin Emulsion and Green Asparagus) was nothing short of superb!

Whenever I order a Black Cod dish, I find myself comparing it to my favorite interpretation of that fish: Gindara Saikyo Yaki (Black Cod Roasted with Saikyo Miso). Imagine my surprise when the Black Cod was probably *the* best preparation of Black Cod I've had this year: Perfectly cooked, so that the fish was flaky and super moist and tender - as if it was cooked sous-vide (but it wasn't) - with a wonderful crispy skin on top (it was finished under the broiler). I could've eaten the Black Cod by itself, with no sauce, and it would've still been delicious; that's how good the execution of the fish was that night (I don't mean to sound overly excited, but this was definitely the highlight of the evening)! :)

The Sea Urchin Emulsion was worrisome since Sea Urchin can be challenging at times, but the Sea Urchin sauce was subtle, aromatic, and a great pairing with the Black Cod without overpowering this light fish. Highly recommended.

The other Secondi we tried was their Costolette di Agnello del Colorado al Vino Rosso, Pure di Patate e Verdure di Stagione (Seared Colorado Lamb Chops, Red Wine Sauce, Mashed Potato and Autumn Vegetables).

It was our fault for not specifying it, but they ended up cooking the Lamb Medium to Medium-Well, which was overcooked for my tastes. Besides that, it was ~OK. Nothing standout, a good sear on the Lamb Chops with a Red Wine reduction that matched well with the Lamb.

We ended with their Panna Cotta con Bacche di Bosco e Aceto Balsamico Invecchiato (Panna Cotta with Blueberries and Aged Balsamic Vinegar). All' Angelo's Panna Cotta is made with Buttermilk, and the Aged Balsamic Vinegar worked really nicely with the Blueberries, making this dish not very sweet at all, yet still delicious and creamy! :)

All' Angelo is a lot smaller than most of the more famous Italian restaurants around town. But this actually helps with the service, as our waitress was always attentive to our needs, and our dishes were always consistently removed after we were done with a course, and new utensils were replaced soon after, in preparation of the next dish. The Chef's Tasting Menu ended up being about $115 per person (including tax and tip) and the second visit (with ordering items off their regular menu) turned out to be about ~$95 per person (including tax and tip).

While All' Angelo has some missteps (Salmon, Agnolotti di Pesce) and some outstanding dishes (Black Cod with Sea Urchin Emulsion, Braised Veal Cheeks), the thing I enjoy most is the relaxing ambiance. All' Angelo isn't a Michelin-starred restaurant, and it may not be the best Italian food in L.A., but it's a good neighborhood Italian eatery that's clean and classy without being too fussy or hip. It's a nice place to unwind after a long day, to get some simple, but nicely-executed Italian food and wine. Recommended.

Rating: 7.9 (out of 10.0)

All' Angelo (CLOSED)
7166 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90046
Tel: (323) 933-9540

Hours: [Lunch] Friday, 12:00 Noon - 2:30 p.m.
[Dinner] Mon - Sat, 6:00 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.
Closed Sundays.


H. C. said...

Ahh, another place I've been meaning to try -- thanks for the review so I know what I am in for when I get around to it.

Even neglecting my enormous sweet tooth, I was surprised there was only one sweet dish in the tasting menu. Usually for more than 5 courses, there's at least one sweet-ish intermezzo to help cut & cleanse the palate before working in more savory dishes.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi H.C.,

Thank you. :) I, too, was surprised that they only had 1 dessert item during their Chef's Tasting Menu. Like you, this was one place I'd been meaning to try but never got around to it until recently.

I'm glad I did; it's a solid Italian eatery. Not a destination restaurant, but it's nice to have a solid, low-key go-to when you don't feel like fighting the crowds, noise and reservations. (^_~)

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