Chef Celestino Drago's Enoteca Experience
Published December, 2005
In the Scene Magazine
The restaurants in downtown Beverly Hills stand shoulder to shoulder, like designer clothes wearing people at a movie premiere party. Enoteca Drago, flanked by equally sophisticated restaurants, including sister restaurant Il Pastaio, eases right into its surroundings. An equal mix of elegance and simplicity, it is a relaxing and fashionable locale to enjoy a terrific meal. Los Angeles chef Celestino Drago, the owner of the aforementioned restaurants, as well as Santa Monica’s celebrated Drago, has created a stylish wine bar that showcases his inspired rustic Italian cuisine.
High cathedral ceilings and dark cherry wood tables give the Enoteca a simple, clean feel. The sweeping wood bar, wine collection on display, and artistically colored glass chandeliers add a refined and relaxed glow.
The traditional Italian fare at Enoteca is a haven for wine buffs, a place to celebrate, study and consume grape-based libations. The concept of food and wine as being wedded in gastronomical partnership is fundamental in Italy. So too at Enoteca Drago where a glass of Chianti or Brunello is never far from at least a dish of olives or a hearty slice of bread.
Enoteca Drago offers over 250 bottles and more than 50 wines by the glass. Furthermore, they offer 2 ½ oz. tastings, 6 oz. glasses, quartinos, and flights. The array of wines from different regions of Italy partners well with the extensive menu that offers not only tapas inspired plates but several other sub-menus from which to choose. The Enoteca menu is like a glorified appetizer menu, from which you can enjoy small plates and thin crust pizza either at the bar or at your table. A salumi menu suggests an array of imported meats and artisan cheeses. You can also order from a more traditional menu that includes a myriad of pastas and meat and fish dishes.
We began our culinary journey in the logical place, with a few bottles of wine and the Enoteca menu. Most of my friends seemed anxious to jump straight into the pastas, but I would not allow them to get ahead of the game. We delved into Mr. Drago’s signature dish, arancini di riso. I marveled at the accuracy of my memory as they tasted exactly like the arancini I first tasted in Sicily. The crispy fried rice balls with a pea and fontina filling are crunchy on the outside and hot and soft on the inside. The traditional prosciutto and melon was a fresh and light contrast to the deep friend arancini. The cantaloupe was ripe and flavorful and generously portioned. The sweet and tender prosciutto was tossed with a handful of arugula.
The specials of the night were delightful. The tomato and zucchini soup was creamy and sweet with a subtle tang that hit my tongue like a feather. The zucchini added a new dimension to this traditional favorite, rendering it an exciting and three dimensional taste sensation.
Next we focused on the pasta dishes. All the pastas shined with simple but bold and adventurous flavors. Little mushroom raviolini in a creamy fois gras and truffle sauce was outrageous. Extremely rich, I could only eat a few bites. I was expecting to actually see shavings of truffle and pieces of fois gras. I could not. Perhaps they were melted down to make the sauce. Despite my questions, it still tasted dreamy.
We also ordered the risotto special in a crab and lobster sauce. Once again no pieces of crab or lobster, which we expected considering the price of the dish. However, the simplicity of the al-dente rice reminded me exactly of a straightforward risotto one might find in Italy. The homemade Sardinian gnocchi with lamb ragu is also an excellent dish. Somehow, Drago miraculously makes gnocchi that are so weightless you can eat an entire bowl. I rarely find gnocchi that doesn’t sit like a brick in my stomach.
Drago certainly likes his mushrooms. The penne with porcini mushroom sauce is dressed lightly in a tangy gorgonzola cheese while the risotto with porcini mushrooms and blueberries is a twist on an old favorite.
For dessert, we partook in an ordinary chocolate soufflé. The apple sorbet was a refreshingly smooth and tangy palate cleanser. The standout pastry of the evening, however, was a cherry “soup”. Tangy cooked cherries served in their syrupy juices spilled over the edges of heavenly Bavarian chocolate custard. An army of spoons fought over every bite as the custard was so creamy it felt like silk on the tongue.
I returned to Enoteca Drago to have a more intimate dining experience and to try more of the smaller plates. I had heard good things about the veal stuffed olives, which met my expectations. A hot crispy breading surrounded the veal and herb ragu stuffed green olives. Each olive packed a punch of juicy flavor. I had a hard time sharing this dish!
This time we focused on the salumi menu. It offers a “selection of three”, which allows a choice of Italian, Swiss, German, Spanish and American meats such as prosciutto di Parma, speck, bresaola, and mortadella, to name a few. The plate comes with wonderfully fluffy “gnocco fritto” which are like tiny savory pillows of fried dough. We also treated our taste buds to a cheese sampler- three different cheeses accompanied by a spoonful of honey and lightly toasted walnut bread.
Enoteca Drago provides a myriad of menu options that allows diners to create their own unique experience. Although prices range from moderate to somewhat high, Celestino Drago has found a recipe for success that brings the Italian pleasures of dining to Beverly Hills.
410 North Cañon Drive