Monday, March 17, 2014

LAGO's Monthly "Nose to Tail" Dinners: Dig the Pig! - Huffington Post

LAGO's Monthly "Nose to Tail" Dinners: Dig the Pig!

             I know where I'll be dining on Thursday, March 27th, and the last Thursday of every month thereon. It will be at a wonderful, very popular Italian restaurant in Santa Monica, Locanda del LAGO (231 Arizona Ave, at the 3rd Street Promenade, (310) 451-3525), with valet parking. Of course, I also recommend that you have lunch or dinner there any time and I often do so, but that Thursday is a special event each month. It's what Executive Chef Gianfranco Minuz calls "Morso Della Bestia," which translates as "Bite of the Beast." It was a chef in London, Fergus Henderson, at his St. John's restaurant there, who made popular the expression, "From Nose to Tail Cooking," and indeed he wrote a best-selling cookbook with that title. What it simply means is that the chef uses every part of the beast he acquires.
              Taking a whole pig as an example: from a fried pig's tail to roasted whole head, with dishes of grilled heart, fried sweetbreads (thymus glands), to liver, trotters and other offal, along with the prime cuts of ribs and chops. As someone once said, "We use everything but the pig's squeal." LAGO has been having a series of whole-animal dinners on that last monthly Thursday, with five course 'nose-to-tail' prix-fixed dinners. On the 27th, he tells me, he will be using a Durazo Farm milk-fed suckling pig. ("Praise the lard," was his humorous expression, adding, "I love all things pork, kind of swine and wine or 'Dig the Pig.'" Funny, charming guy who is a Michelin-star chef from his former restaurant in Veneto.) He told me that the suckling pig he uses was humanely raised and sourced locally. In addition, his menu, which offers his Northern Italian interpretations of seasonal dishes, features fresh produce from the Santa Monica Farmer's market down the street. He offered me a copy of the March 27 menu and I pass it along to those Huffington readers who are hungry and curious enough to join me. The Antipasto will be a marinated and roasted pork tenderloin, with a baby frisee salad and horseradish sauce. The Primo course is a taste of Spiced Ground Pork, a sprinkling of Himalayan pink salt, all atop a bowl of rigatoni. The Piatto di Mezzo is a soup of pork shoulder, broccolini, roasted shallots atop wild rice. The SECONDO (main) course is Porchetta, slices of the slow-cooked pig, sprinkled with fennel pollen, with baby carrots and pink lady apples. The Dolce (sweet) course is organic vanilla gelato, with organic Pudwill Farm's strawberries.
             In February I attended a dinner on that particular night and we dined on wild boar from Texas. It was a feral wild boar which was trapped in the wild and processed exclusively under the Durham Ranch label. I found the meat to be nutty, sweet and earthy... high in protein and low in fat. Starting at 7 p.m., the room was abuzz with excitement. I sat at the communal table in the center of the room, 14 happy people who obviously had been to one of these dinners before. The five-course menu costs $49 (not including tax and gratuity) and you can do a free-flowing house wine addition for just $18. (There's also a premium wine pairing for $28, but I passed on that.) Chef has just emailed me that his April 30th dinner with feature 'Nose to Tail' Lamb, and in May he will change course with Halibut. Like I said, my last-of-the-month Thursdays are now taken to the foreseeable future. Reservations for the special dinners are required, at 310-451-3525.
Lago owner West Hooker-Poletti and Exec Chef Gianfranco Minuz at a charity event.
I have been frequenting this restaurant since it opened in April, 1991, offering the authentic food of Northern Italy's Lombardy region. It features specialties from Milano and Bellagio on Lake Como. (Have you ever been to the Villa D'Este there? Fabulous. It's where George Clooney has his famous vacation home.) West Hooker-Poletti and his professorial-looking Executive Chef Gianfranco are serving first-class food to a huge audience of locals, celebrities and travelers. (I've seen Spielberg, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, and many other 'names' here.) GM Roger Barakat and Megan Heritage guide the front-of-the-house. I find that its very warm atmosphere and sidewalk café evoke the charm of an Italian 'locanda' (inn or trattoria) 'del lago' (on the lake). West told me that they make every effort to use locally-sourced ingredients and "green practices" when possible. In addition to those special Thursday dinners, they offer nightly a 'Chef's Seasonal Menu' featuring the most flavorful organic seasonal ingredients from the nearby Santa Monica Farmer's Market. For example, I just had a dish called Asparagi E Uova Strapazzate ($15) which was warm asparagus, soft scrambled egg, both topped with domestic Malossol caviar and a brioche bun. The Risotto Al Sedano Rapa ($18) was risotto with celery root, crab, and chives. I continued that dinner with Pan-Roasted Wild Norwegian Cod ($29) with Italian lentils and Brussels sprouts. I finished with a delicious dessert: Salame Di Cioccolato ($10), dark chocolate salame, cookie crumbles, kumquat compote and blood orange sorbetto. See what I mean by seasonal authentic Lombardy cuisine? LAGO is the proud recipient of the Marchio Qualita "Q", a prestigious award given following a rigorous selection process to select a few restaurants for specializing in authentic Italian regional cuisine. A fabulous restaurant which I highly recommend any day of the week.
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Locanda Del Lago gives you the north of Italy on the Westside - LA Biz

Locanda Del Lago gives you the north of Italy on the Westside

Photo by Scott Bridges
House-made tiramisu is a can't-miss dessert
House-made tiramisu is a can't-miss dessert Related Slideshow Locando del Lago
The Westside does Italian. If ever there were a past shortage, the effect in L.A. would be felt most severely from Beverly Hills to Brentwood and nearby points south and west. Fortunately, such a disaster scenario has yet to occur. So, rejoice Westsiders, and indulge in the ubiquity of decadent Italian cuisine without ever having to cross the dreaded 405.
In Santa Monica, Locanda Del Lago has been synonymous with Northern Italian fare for 20 years. Milan-born co-owner West Hooker-Polettibrings Lake Como to life for diners on a daily basis, while Megan Heritage (who’s been with the eatery since 1996), and Roger Barakat provide a level of service generally reserved for five-star hotels.
“Ourmenus are rooted in theauthentic, quality cuisine of Lombardy and evolve from it to create a balanced selection of dishes that take full advantage ofthe best flavors of the season, the best specialties of Lake Como and the availability … of spices, fruits and vegetables not grown in Italy,” says Hooker-Poletti.
Located along the Third Street Promenade at Arizona – the heart of the renowned farmers market – the restaurant has firmly established a reputation for the highest-quality ingredients from the most respected sources.
Twice a week, Chef Gianfranco steps outside to purchase the best organic offerings from renowned farmers like Windsor Farms, Harry’s Berries, Weiser Farms, Garcia Farms, Coleman Farms, JJ Loned Daughter Ranch, and Lilly's Eggs, and on non-market days, Scarborough Farms delivers fresh organic goods.
Why you should go:
The patio is a people-watcher’s paradise. Al fresco dining along Third Street provides a fantastic opportunity to enjoy the sights and sounds of an eclectic mix of tourists and locals. You never know what type of serenade you’ll be dining to, but you’re guaranteed to be entertained in one way or another.
Indoors or out, the volume is generally low enough to conduct business or get to know your date. The open kitchen allows diners to see the magic as it’s made. Rustic wooden chairs provide a touch of Old World craftsmanship, white linens adorn the tables, each of which is embellished with a vase of flowers. A large chalkboard, meanwhile, provides the farmers market suppliers sourced by the restaurant.
What to order:
All pastas are made from scratch in-house every day, as well as focaccia bread, desserts and gelato. Impress your client or your date (or your client-date?) by correctly pronouncing “Tagliolini di Farro con Missoltino.” Or just point to it, if you prefer.
“When you’re done, you’ll be speaking fluent Italian,” my server told me.
Italian cuisine in L.A. can be found at just about every price point imaginable. At Lago, you’ll probably have enough leftover cash to shop along the promenade. Pizzas begin at a meager $11, and the filet Mignon will only set you back $34. Of course, you could break the bank on a bottle or two of wine if you care to.
Essential dishes include Burrata con Proscuitto e Zucca: creamy Burrata cheese, thinly shaved Parma prosciutto and braised Kabocha squash with pumpkin oil; and Calamari Fritti, assuming you’re a lover of battered squid, and if you’re not, keep it to yourself.
The carpaccio is another popular item. “This is a typical Bellagio dish,” Barakat tells me.
For dessert, don’t miss the tiramisu – it’s by-the-book and with a glass of port, the perfect finish to a great meal.
For drinkers:
Locanda Del Lago features one of the best Happy Hours in all of Santa Monica. The bar is intimate, meaning small, and the deals require drinkers to imbibe in this “cozy” setting. Bartender Joseph Matlock mixes some of the tastiest cocktails in town, and knows his apertifs and digestivos, as well.
The wine list features just short of 400 labels, hailing mostly from Italy and California. The list includes a strong by-the-glass selection, as well as half-bottles and large-format bottles. This list wins Wine Spectator’s “Award of Excellence” every single year dating back to 1995.
If you’re willing to lay down $22 a pop, go fo the Smoky Godfather, smoky, peaty 16-year-old Lagavulin scotch balanced by St. Germaine and infused with and served alongside crispy pancetta. It takes a good 10 or 15 minutes to make, so get your order in ahead of time.
“He has to smoke the pancetta,” GM Megan Heritage says of Matlock, adding that he infuses the Knob Creek whisky with rosemary.
Hooker-Poletti is constantly bringing rare and interesting bottles back from his frequent visits to the Old Country, and you never know what new liqueur might be on hand. I enjoyed my first glass of grappa with this man, and enjoy a taste every time I dine here, just out of tradition.
What people are saying:
TheLos Angeles Times calls Lago’s antipasto bar “one of our favorites,” while The Hollywood Reporter calls the joint a“chic, authentic Italian bistro.”
Metromix says the place has the “warmth of an old Italian inn and the cool factor of a Santa Monica hot spot … Lago has a loyal base of regulars because the customers are treated like kings, and the bustling restaurant is run with astounding ease.”
Frommer’s says that “There’s no better place to people-watch than at the outdoor patio.”
And from Gourmet magazine: “Italy meets the Pacific – authentic cuisine of Milano, Como and Stresa served up in the most California of settings. Don’t miss the Ossobucoalla Milanese.”
What I think:
In terms of quality, value and service, Locanda Del Lago is not only of the best Italian restaurants in all of Santa Monica, it’s one of the best restaurants, period.
Scott Bridges has covered the Los Angeles scene for over ten years as a journalist and food critic.

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Monday, March 10, 2014

Easter Menu!

Buona Pasqua!  Happy Easter!

Available Easter Week 
starting Friday, April 18th 2014

Mille Foglie alle Erbe
Puff Pastry Napoleon Filled with Wild Spinach, Lamb Sweet Breads,
Creamy White Wine Sauce
(à la carte…16)
Wine: Frascati, Fonseca Candida, ‘11 
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Risotto con Asparagi Bianchi
Creamy Risotto, White Asparagus, Market Snap Peas
(à la carte…22)
Wine: Rosé, Adorno, ‘10 
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Halibut con Carciofi Brasati
Pan-Roasted Wild Pacific Halibut, White Wine Braised Baby Artichokes
with Smoked Bacon
(à la carte…29)
Wine: Pinot Noir, Chalone Vineyards, ‘10
  ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 
Spalla d’Agnello
Slow-Cooked Niman Ranch, All-Natural Milk-Fed Lamb Shoulder,
Roasted Spring Root Vegetables
(à la carte…29)
Wine: Merlot, La Prendina, ‘10

Three-course (choice of Halibut or Lamb)…49
Wine tasting…14

In addition to our tasting menu,
we recommend you finish the meal with our Easter dessert...
Traditional Easter Ricotta-Wheat Pie, Vanilla Sauce, Housemade Blood Orange Sorbetto…10
Suggested Wine: Bracchetto d’Asti, Dell Torr, ‘11

Locally Sourced Produce from the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market: wild spinach from Weiser, white asparagus and white artichokes, from Life’s a Choke, snap peas from Tutti Frutti, root vegetables from Carpentar, and blood orange from JJ Lone Daughter Ranch.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Morso della Bestia - SUCKLING PIG! March 27th

Thursday, 27 March 2014

The last Thursday of every month, LAGO will host a “Bite of the Beast” 5-course communal dinner featuring whole animal roasts and traditional, rustic dishes.

All-Natural, Durazo Farm Suckling Pig - Porchetta

Marinated & Roasted Pork Tenderloin, Baby Frisée Salad, Horseradish Sauce
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“Tastasale” Spiced Ground Pork, Himalayan Pink Salt, Rigatoni
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Piatto di Mezzo
Pork Shoulder Soup, Broccolini, Roasted Shallots, Wild Rice
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“Porchetta” Slow Cooked Suckling Pig, Fennel Pollen,
Baby Carrots, Pink Lady Apples
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Organic Vanilla Gelato, Fresh Strawberries

five course menu…49 (not including tax or gratuity)

Locally Sourced Produce from the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market: broccolini from Tutti Frutti, Pink Lady apples from Fair Hill, shallot from Weiser, baby carrots from Carpenter and strawberries from Pudwill Farm.

Seating is limited, reservations required. Dinner will begin at 7:00pm. For reservation: (310) 451-3525

Upcoming Morso della Bestia Dinners:
April ~ Lamb (Agnello)
May ~ Halibut (Ippoglosso)