Sunday, February 15, 2009

Zucca Ristorante - restaurant review

Zucca Ristorante in downtown Los Angeles, part of The Patina Group, had a special prix fixe menu for Valentine's Day that looked really good, so we decided to go there.

There is a public parking lot almost next to Zucca, so it's very convenient to park there. The lot is advertised as parking for those attending Staples Center and Nokia Center events, but since it's a little further away from those venues than other lots, they charge $7 for parking whereas other lots charge $10, so that was nice.

The husband checked in at the hostess station, and we were taken to our table.

Here's the special menu available for the evening.

The husband and I ended up choosing the same things for our first three courses - salmon carpaccio, black tagliolini with grilled baby cuttlefish and asparagus, and lamb chop. For dessert, the husband chose the roasted fig and I chose the panna cotta.

When I was looking at the menu, I had kind of wished I could have picked a salad from the first course choices as my second course because all the second course choices were pasta, and a salad sounded good in addition to the salmon. From the second course list, I'm not a fan of risotto nor gnocchi generally, so I chose the tagliolini mostly because of the cuttlefish. For the entree, I had a really hard time choosing between the lamb and the seafood dish, which sounded amazing too, but I decided on the lamb since there are fewer places where I can get lamb than a cioppino-style dish.

After we had ordered, bread and the sparkling water we had asked for (they have Sole) were brought to the table.

The first course arrived fairly soon. The salmon was nicely cut very thin, and the accompaniments were a nice addition but not overpowering or masking of the salmon taste. It was a very good, refreshing dish.

The second course looked very interesting, with the black pasta and the stark white cuttlefish making a nice contrast. Given my earlier hesitation, I ended up being quite happy that I had ordered this dish. The flavoring of the pasta was delicious, and the pasta itself was very smooth. I also liked the cuttlefish, which was more tender than something like squid or octopus, both of which I also enjoy. It was a really wonderful dish all around and would be great in an entree portion.

The main course arrived, and that was really the highlight of the meal. Two lamb chops were placed over celery root puree. The server had suggested that the lamb be cooked medium rare, which is what we normally get anyway, so we agreed. That's really the perfect degree of cooking as it's enough to bring out the flavor of the cooked meat while still leaving it moist and tender. It's really impossible to describe how absolutely delicious it was. And we had forgotten that it was celery root underneath, so I commented on how the mashed potatoes (which is what I thought it was) tasted different somehow. It was the husband who remembered what it actually was. The celery root puree seemed smoother to me than mashed potatoes and was a tiny bit on the sweet side, which was really nice. And then, of course, there were nice big spears of asparagus, cooked just right. The combination of lamb, celery root puree, asparagus and sauce was just incredible.

For dessert, the panna cotta was simple but very refreshing with blueberries and blackberries. Coffee went nicely with that as well.

The husband's dessert was fig-based, but that's all I really got out of the description. Using my handy-dandy Food Lover's Companion book, here's the breakdown of what he had:

roasted fig mille-feuille: mille feuille is a classic dessert "made with two large oblong pieces of crisp puff pastry spread with whipped cream, custard, jam or fruit puree" and then the "pastries are stacked and topped with another pastry layer, which is generally dusted with confectioner's sugar".

amareno ice cream: amareno is apparently a kind of cherry.

He really enjoyed the dessert, as well as the Graham's 40 year old tawny port that he had with it.

The service was terrific throughout the night. Our dishes were cleared promptly when we were done, and our water glasses were constantly being refilled. The server came by often to check on us, and the staff was attentive without being intrusive. We had a couple of questions for the server about various things, and he was pleasant and helpful. He did make a comment at one point that the chef would be the best person to ask about a particular question we had, but now wasn't a good time since it was a little crazy in the kitchen. We quickly agreed that there was no need to bother the chef on a night like that, but whatever craziness was going on in the back of the house certainly wasn't evident in the front of the house.

We had a 7pm reservation, and it wasn't terribly crowded for the duration of our meal, with a couple of open tables scattered about, but when we left at about 9:00, there were quite a few people waiting for tables. It seems more people had later reservations than we did.

Overall, it was a terrific dinner. We've been to Zucca on several prior occasions, and this particular visit was definitely on par with the good experiences we've had previously.

Zucca Ristorante
801 South Figueroa Street
Los Angeles, CA 90017

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