Saturday, October 9, 2010

La Vecchia Cucina: A review

My food club ventured out to Santa Monica for DineLA for our weekly meeting on Fridays. It was decided by vote that we would go to La Vecchia Cucina. The menu looked great on the DineLA website! Seafood, lobster, filet mignon, and tiramisu ... what's not to like about this restaurant.

The restaurant contains an open kitchen, where you can see Chef Mollica working away at his dishes and managing his staff. With a dark lit environment, large bar space, and many tables, La Vecchia is a great place for a social gathering. Everyone in the restaurant was happily chatting loudly, sipping on wine and cocktails.

The wine list is quite extensive, ranging from California wines from Nappa Valley to Italy. Because most of the dishes were seafood, the waiter recommended a bottle of 2008 Salviano Orvieto Classico (a white wine).

As for the food, our group ordered everything from the DineLA menu so that we can sample each dish.

The appetizers were perhaps one of the best dishes of the evening. The chef utilized one of the freshest mozzarella and tomatoes for a salad that I've ever tasted. In addition, balsamic vinegar that accompanied the salad was especially fragrant and tasteful. As for the seafood salad, consisting of calamari, lobster, shrimp, and green beans with a lemon dressing, it amazed my taste buds with a perfect amount of acidity and oil. The last appetizer on the menu was a spinach ravioli with pomodoro sauce. The ravioli was pretty decent and well seasoned, while the pomodoro sauce's texture and sweetness provided uniqueness to the dish.

Unfortunately, the entrees were not as exciting and tasteful as the appetizers. The three choices were lobster and asparagus pasta tossed in light white wine pomodoro sauce, sea bass with lemon oil herb sauce, and lastly, filet mignon with a port wine reduction sauce.

I'll start with the lobster pasta. This is perhaps on par with the pasta I ate at Covel Dining Hall... too salty and some of the pasta was undercooked. In addition, the pomodoro sauce was definitely not like the pomodoro sauce I tasted from the appetizers. Furthermore, parts of the asparagus were unpeeled, thus leaving a horrible texture in my mouth. The only thing I can find right about the dish was the lobster tail and other lobster bits. Unfortunately, I do not return dishes to the kitchen because that would be wasteful, but if I was Gordon Ramsey, I would have spat it out and lobbed the dish into the open kitchen's trash.

On the other hand, the sea bass was mediocre. One of my friends had to send it back to the kitchen after an initial bite and trade it for filet mignon. The reason? The sea bass was overcooked and the sauce had enough acidity to put in a hole in your tongue. Aside from that mishap, the sauce had a nice herby flavor and the mashed potatoes and spinach were quite delicious, but those are only side dishes and not the main attraction.

Lastly, the filet mignon. Is there anything that can go wrong with this dish? The other two were already two strikes. The third one means its out. Unfortunately, the filet mignon was a home run. Perhaps one of the best steaks I've ever tasted. The outside was nicely seared, leaving the inside medium rare. The port wine reduction sauce was an additional key to making this dish successful. The flavors were sweet, savory, and brilliant. I later asked the chef for the recipe. The key is in the homemade veal stock.

Now onto the desserts. Who doesn't like desserts? I guess no one dislikes desserts. The restaurant offered tiramisu, an espresso shot with vanilla gelato, and molten cake. I will skip the vanilla gelato and espresso shot because, well, it tasted like how it would sound ... pretty normal. The tiramisu was not too sweet and the coco powder did not overpower the overall cake. The lady fingers and mascarpone cream tasted like I was eating clouds. The chocolate molten cake was also brilliant. The hot cake had a perfect level of sweetness and provided a texture to die for.

Overall, I would give this restaurant a 6.5 / 10, where 10 is a 3 Michelin star restaurant, 5 as some place like the Cheesecake Factory, and 1 as a sushi place with fish that has gone rancid.

Unfortunately, no one brought a camera :(. No pictures : (

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