Daily Dish

The inside scoop on food in Los Angeles

Category: Italian Food

Breaking the pasta code


There are more shapes of pasta than any one living person could possibly remember. And especially these days, it seems like every restaurant that serves the stuff tries to outdo its competitors by finding ever newer and stranger shapes (remember when strangolapreti -- "priest chokers" -- were cutting edge?). If you've ever puzzled over what, exactly, are the differences among gemelli, fusilli and spirali, a website called "Charming Italy" has put together a neat graphic. Granted, there are some quibbles. Why, for example, are ravioli -- of all things -- not included in the stuffed pasta category? And you'll search in vain for strangolapreti (or even strozzapreti). Still, it's pretty cool and if they only had one that would fit in your wallet, it would be even more useful.

-- Russ Parsons

Latini brings back Taganrog selection pasta

Latini After a gap of two years when the wheat didn't grow well, Pasta Latini is once again able to offer its Taganrog selection pasta. More delicate than regular durum wheat pasta, when cooked it smells a little like fresh-baked bread.

Here's a bit of history: The Italians began importing the wheat from Russia in the 19th century, and the variety is named for the port of Taganrog on the Azov Sea in Russia. What's the connection? In the 13th century, Taganrog was a colony of the Maritime Republic of Pisa (who knew?).

Latini, a family-owned pasta company started way back in 1888, reintroduced pasta made from Taganrog wheat in 2000. Like all its pastas, Taganrog pasta is extruded through brass dies -- the better to grab a sauce.

I'm curious and am putting in my order for this heirloom variety pasta as soon as I finish this post. 

Latini pasta Taganrog spaghetti and penne available from Gustiamo.com in 500 gram (1.1 pound) packages, $9.50; www.gustiamo.com; 718-860-2949.


Six days, six Bay Area restaurants 

Top reviewed restaurants of the L.A. Times 

113 wine picks

-- S. Irene Virbila

Photo credit: Gustiamo

Restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila on researching where to eat in Rome

A reader recently wrote in saying that she was off to Rome and that since I seemed like such an Italophile, could I suggest where to eat there? Truth is, and it's a terrible lapse, I haven't been to Rome in a while and I know much has changed. The city seems to be waking up, culinarily speaking. I'd love to go -- and soon.

I could suggest a few of the classic restaurants, but better she check out what's happening now. So I referred her to a blog I've been following lately, mostly via Twitter. That's Katie Parla -- Rome-based art historian, food and travel writer and sommelier, at Parla Food. (She has some good tips about Istanbul and Turkey on her site too.)

Also, check  "Food Wine Rome" (Terroir Guides: $24.95) from David D. Downie, an expat journalist and novelist who lives in France and Italy. If you go, you might want to pick up his new guidebook to "Quiet Corners of Rome" (Little Bookroom: $16.95) too.

I also suggested she check out the travel pages at Faith Willinger's site, www.faithwillinger.com. Hit "travel" and then beneath the little map of Italy, you'll find a search box. Willinger is a food writer and cookbook author who has lived in Florence for more than 25 years and now contributes stories on Italian food and wine to the Atlantic Monthly's online Atlantic Life Channel.

Also, the well-traveled chef Mario Batali's Rome restaurant suggestions can be found at babbonyc.com. I don't know how up to date they are, but restaurants in Italy don't change as much as they do here from year to year.

Lastly, I checked the "not to miss" list of Italian restaurants that an editor of Italy's "Guida dei Ristoranti L'Espresso" had given a friend (who gave it to me) last year when I was on my way to Sicily. One Rome restaurant is included: Il Pagliaccio from chef Anthony Genovese. The restaurant has just 28 seats, so this one requires reserving well ahead. 

And if you can read Italian with the help of a dictionary, check out L'Espresso, where you can search by region and town for reviews published in the magazine. It took me forever, but I finally found the link to the book "L'Espresso Guida Ristoranti d'Italia 2011." You can pick it up at bookstores in Italy for 25 euros. Another worthy and reliable guide is Slow Food's "Osterie d'Italia 2011" (available only in Italian), which collects casual and/or rustic restaurants that subscribe to the Slow Food philosophy.

Anybody out there have other Rome favorites?


Six days, six Bay Area restaurants

Top reviewed restaurants of the L.A. Times

113 wine picks

-- S. Irene Virbila

Follow me on twitter.com/sirenevirbila

Photo: Julia Roberts in "Eat, Pray, Love," eating gelato in Rome. Credit: Francois Duhamel/Columbia Pictures. 

Restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila: A delicious quiz

Browse through "The Slow Food Dictionary to Italian Regional Cooking" and it will take you only a page or two to realize how very limited the repertoire of dishes cooked in L.A.’s Italian restaurants really is.  I thought I knew a lot about Italian regional cuisine, but on every page I find dishes I’ve never encountered, one after the other. 

Italian food dict OK, here’s a short quiz to test your Italian food knowledge (with answers below). What are:

1. castagne d’o prevete (“priest’s chestnuts”)

2. farecchiata

3. kizoa

4. 'ntuppateddi

5. paniscia

Answers: (I would print them upside down if I knew how.)

1. These are oven-roasted chestnuts splashed with grappa and white wine and tightly wrapped in a cloth to let them rest before being skinned and eaten. Campania.

2. A thick porridge made by mixing the flour of wild peas with water. Flavored with garlic and anchovies. Umbria.

3. Small leavened focaccia typical of Castelnuovo Magra, in the province of La Spezia. The surface of the dough is pressed with the fingers to create dimples, which are anointed with oil and filled with pieces of sausage. Liguria.

4. Dialect name for operculate snails ... in Syracuse, cooked a 'mbriaca (drunk), stewed with onion, oil, black pepper, red chili salt and red wine. Sicily.

5. A risotto made by “toasting” rice in butter with onion, lardo and crumbled salame. The mixture is bathed with red wine and, when this has evaporated, progressively supplemented with a soup made with strips of pork rind, beans, coarsely chopped celery, carrot, tomato and Savoy cabbage. Piedmont.

Poking around in this book is dangerous: I got so hungry, I had to raid the refrigerator for a hunk of Parmigiano. Some of the definitions, as in No. 4, are so detailed, you could cook from them. And I just may.


-- Six days, six Bay area restaurants

-- Top reviewed restaurants of the L.A. Times

-- 113 wine picks

-- S. Irene Virbila

Follow me on twitter.com/sirenevirbila

Image: "The Slow Food Dictionary to Italian Regional Cooking" (575 pages, $34.95). Credit: Slow Food Editore

Jason Neroni is chef at Osteria La Buca; Perch lounge coming to downtown L.A.


La Buca, again: After focusing his efforts to revamp and expand Osteria La Buca, owner Graham Snyder has taken the restaurant's makeover a step further, hiring globetrotting chef Jason Neroni, whose résumé includes Spago in Los Angeles and Porchetta in New York. Both share a passion for simple Italian food, signaling that the new menu will sway diners with a return to basics -- such as house-made pasta, pizza and salumi and dishes such as porchetta. The latest design upgrade includes more expansion, a zinc-top bar and walnut tables and custom booths in the dining room. 

5210 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 462-1900, OsteriaLaBuca.com.

Going up: Rachel Thomas and Coly Den Haan, the duo behind the erstwhile Must, are planning to open the three-story, bistro-inspired Perch lounge at the top of the Pershing Square Building in downtown Los Angeles. Multiple entertainment venues will host DJs, live music and burlesque and cabaret acts. The news release emphasizes no dress code (diners only have to hold themselves to their own warped standards of what to wear). The executive chef will be Benjamin Udave, former chef at the Jonathan Club. Thomas and Den Haan expect a May opening. Meanwhile, the two will reopen the Must on the ground floor of the same building later this year.

448 S. Hill St., Los Angeles, PerchLA.com

-- Max Diamond

Photo: Osteria La Buca

TiroVino, an Italian restaurant and wine bar, to open in Weho in January

Maurizio-La-Rosa A new Italian restaurant and wine bar called TiroVino is slated to open in West Hollywood in January. The owner is former Chianti & Dolce general manager Maurizio La Rosa, who was born in Sicily and raised on the homestyle food of his grandmother's countryside table.

Now La Rosa wants to recreate the authentic simplicity of the culinary traditions of his youth by serving small plates with no garnishes or side dishes. This pared-down ideal is in accordance with the restaurant's decor, which features a raised vintage gate,rough-hewn wood floors, wrought-iron chandeliers, a long wine bar, close-set tables and a long central table for communal dining.

Menu specialties include: fish soup with potatoes; braised veal; homemade pastas such as butternut squash ravioli and penne puttanesca; thin crust pizzas; salads and a variety of country-style appetizers. And, of course, there will be a lengthy selection of Italian wines to pair with various dishes.

The menu, which will be written daily on a chalkboard in the dining room, will change seasonally.

TiroVino, 7166 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood.

--Jessica Gelt

Photo: Maurizio La Rosa. Credit: TiroVino

Seriously pig

Pigfest menu blog At 7:30 sharp this past Saturday,  I strolled in the door of Mozza2Go and into the adjoining Scuola di Pizza with some friends in tow, ready to do some serious eating.  I mean really serious. 

While guests next door at Osteria Mozza are dining on ricotta and egg raviolo and duck al mattone, those lucky enough to score a reservation for the weekly Cena di Maiale are feasting on all and sundry parts of the pig.

Chef Chad Colby gets in a whole animal every two weeks from farmers who raise each animal with care. This week, it happened to be a Gloucester Old Spot pig, a traditional British breed that’s white with black spots. It’s a beautiful animal, Colby enthused, as early arrivals crowded around the open kitchen supplied with wood-burning oven and wood-burning grill. 

Three billowy foccacie sat on the marble counter top ready for tasting. This was real foccacia, dimpled and slicked with olive oil. I loved the one covered with pickled red peppers. Glasses of prosecco in hand, the guests milled around and chatted with the chef, ogling the packets of fresh sausage wrapped in caul fat sizzling on the wood grill, and the wooden boards loaded with house-made cured meats.  

When the chef tapped his glass, we obediently sat down at the broad communal table. He welcomed the 20 guests, introduced the pig and the handmade salumi and let us have at it. Platters whizzed up and down the table, family-style, along with a picture-perfect giardiniera of pickled vegetables. “It’s like eating at Nancy’s house,” the chef told me earlier. Nancy being, of course, Nancy Silverton.

Continue reading »

Reading Papero Giallo to keep up on Italian food news

One of the RSS feeds I read regularly is Papero Giallo from Gambero Rosso founder and longtime former director Stefano Bonilli. (Gambero Rosso is a respected Italian restaurant guide.) Bonilli’s 6-year-old blog is in Italian, but with the help of an Italian dictionary, it’s not that difficult to get the gist of his entries.

For me, that’s much of the point. I want to stretch my vocabulary and at the same time keep up with Stefano_bonilli what’s happening in Italy’s restaurant world. I met Bonilli in London earlier this year and after decades of following the food world, he’s still full of the curiosity and passion evident in his blog. He also gets around -- to New York, to Australia, Spain and elsewhere. Check out the links on his site. 

This week he reports that the Roberto Anselmi winery in the Soave region has been flooded. All the boxes ready for shipment, ruined. The server with all the winery’s accounts and data, ruined. The bottling line, too. Fortunately, the casks on the upper floor are OK.

What a shame. Anselmi is one of the most innovative producers in the Veneto, known for his fresh white wines and passito-style dessert wines.  In fact, I think I still have a bottle of his luscious sweet wine "I Capitelli" in my cellar. I'm going to open it tonight.

-- S. Irene Virbila

Photo: Stefano Bonilli. Credit: Papero Giallo

So you wanna be a Test Kitchen intern.... Meet Maria Sulprizio

Test Kitchen Blog

This week has been a whirlwind of recipe testing in the Kitchen, and today is no different. We've finished testing 6 different kinds of popsicles and are now knee-deep in gelato, testing and shooting five different flavors. We're also testing frittatas, a curried cauliflower salad, chocolate chip cookies, butterscotch pie and crab cakes. An eclectic assortment of recipes, maybe, but it's just another day in the Test Kitchen.

We test and re-test until we're certain the recipes we want to run are consistent and solid. (And we may opt to do a little extra testing on particularly tasty recipes, like the massive chocolate chip cookies pictured above.)

In addition to our full-time staff, we host interns from culinary schools all over the United States, including international students. These students receive hands-on training as they learn the finer points of recipe testing and development (recipe reading, wording, problem solving, adapting for the home kitchen and testing for consistent results). The students also learn tips for food styling and interact with chefs, writers and food professionals of all kinds.

And as much as they may learn from us, we also learn a lot from them. Hailing from various regions and with diverse ethnic backgrounds, our interns bring unique perspectives and passions to our kitchen, whether it's discussing the secret intricacies of a Texas-style "bowl o' red" or sharing a mother's technique for making Chinese bao. What we all share is a deep love of food.

Over the last few months, I've introduced some of our recent Test Kitchen interns, including, most recently, Kat Nitsou and Joe Moon. Joe has gone to continue his studies at the Culinary Institute of America in New York. Kat's last day is tomorrow, and then she's off to Toronto.

Here, I introduce Maria Sulprizio, on loan from the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Los Angeles (Hollywood Campus). -- Noelle Carter

Today in the Test Kitchen, we're making gelato. An amazing array including fragola (strawberry), limone (lemon), Parmigiano (Parmesan), fior di fragola (a creamy strawberry gelato) and cioccolato (chocolate). And I’m trying my hand at a butterscotch gelato pie, with graham cracker crust and rich chocolate topping.

This is my first attempt at gelato, and the Test Kitchen has this compact Arete Viva gelato maker – it’s an older Italian machine, and the butterscotch base is creamy and velvety as it churns.  As the gelato thickens, I’m taken back to my Italian heritage – into the mountains of Abruzzo, from which my grandfather immigrated at the turn of the century, from the small village of Tocco Da Casauria.

Continue reading »

Updated hours at Eatalian Cafe

When Eatalian Cafe debuted in this week's Find, dinner was not yet a reality at the Gardena eatery. But owner Antonio Pellini and wife Eugenia write to tell us that the restaurant is now open evenings. Its new hours are Monday through Saturday 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Eatalian Cafe, 15500 S. Broadway St., Gardena, (310) 532-8880.

Photo: Garran Smith, 4, of San Pedro, chooses a gelato flavor at the newly opened Eatalian Cafe in Gardena. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times


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Daily Dish is written by Times staff writers.