Location: 9575 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90035 310.277.0210
Date: April 26, 2011
Rating: Bold flavors, off to a great start!
We needed a restaurant to celebrate the end of passover that was very bready. Our first choice was Pizzeria Mozza, but even a week in advance they were booked until 10:30, so that was a no go. Instead we went back to Sotto which has a host of extremely robust homemade pastas and pizzas.
This unusual Italian white from my cellars was wonderfully flavorful. Almost bright yellow in the glass it had the kind of interesting floral taste that is completely absent from so many generic whites.
“Maharrones de pungiu (sugo semplice, fiore sardo).” A wonderful homemade take on a simple tomato and cheese pasta. The choice of fiore sardo (a Sardinian cheese) gave it a slightly different tang.
“Casarecce (braised lamb ragu, egg, pecorino).” This was one damn fine pasta. The pasta itself had exactly the right texture and firmness of good homemade egg pasta. The ragu was nicely flavorful and meaty. Yum! I love great ragu, and this was my favorite pasta of the night. Some other great takes on ragu can be found here at Drago or at Capo.
“Squid ink fusilli lunghi (pistachios, bottarga, mint).” These long firm ropes had a really interesting texture. There was no overt taste of squid, just a slight sweetness and a rich nutty quality to the pesto-like sauce. Tasty, but also fairly mild despite the “frightening” sounding ingredients.
“Toasted grain capunti (ragu bianco, black trumpets, rapini greens).” Another great pasta. The noodles themselves had an almost whole wheat quality to them, but they still had the nice al-denta pasta fresca thing going on which is a hallmark of all the Sotto pasta. The sauce was cheesy, earthy and delicious.
“Ciceri e tria (tagliatelle, chickpeas, baccalá).” The last of these ingredients is salt cod, and this is essentially a fish pasta. But without any fishiness. Instead it has a creamy salty taste, one of the better fish pastas I’ve had. The noodles were nice and firm, with a toothy feel and the little grissini added some nice texture contrast.
As we move up to the heartier pizzas, I pulled out this Amarone (from my cellars). “The 2000 Amarone has developed relatively quickly. The fruit remains fairly opulent, but suggestions of earthiness and worn-in leather suggest early signs of oxidation are creeping in. Ultimately the 2000 comes across a touch rustic and four-square. Anticipated maturity: 2010-2012.”
“Pizza Marherita (tomato, mozzerella, basil, EVOO).” Your basic Marherita, but well done. These pizzas have a VERY wood fired taste going on, much like those from Gjelina, they are a little over-fired to my taste. The dough is good, but they taste very strongly of the grill (char, smoky flavors). When I do them on the stones in my hot gas grill (see my Ultimate Pizza) they showcase the dough and toppings a bit more.
“Campagnola (sunchokes, fennel, mozzarella, marjoram, house-cured lardo).” A more mushroomy pizza. It was actually fairly mellow, possibly because we had them leave off the lard (which would have added a definite porky richness). Still it was very good.
“Guanciale (house-cured pork cheek, ricotta, scallions, fennel pollen).” This was my favorite pizza of the night. They have REALLy good ricotta here at Sotto, as good as I’ve had outside of Sicily (although certainly not close to that, which is incredible). The mellow softness of the cheese blended perfectly with the rich fattiness of the bacon. This also was not a hit you over the head pizza, but it was very good.
Classic Sicilian cannolis. Because of the quality of the ricotta, these were good, on par with the other high end cannolis in town (like from Drago). Still, not in the same league as those in Sicily, but they never are. A slice of candied orange shoved through them would have pushed it up a notch.
“Bittersweet chocolate crostata, hazelnuts, salted rosemary caramel.” This looked amazing, and the texture was fantastic and very chocolaty. There was a slightly odd flavor tone in here, which might have been the rosemary. I’m not sure it added, although certainly I enjoyed it.
Overall there is a bit of split opinion among our party about Sotto. Some of us love it for exactly the same reason the other don’t. The flavors are bold, the preparations original, traditional (in their own way), and unabashedly not fully censored in an American way. The ingredients are great too. They could probably use to tame down the burn factor on the pizzas, but I love the rest of it, and the pastas are amazing. However, if you prefer the straight up and simpler tones of boxed pasta and sauces with only a single flavor note, look elsewhere.
Also, since this is a Sicilian/Sardinian place, I would like to issue my Cassata Challenge. Above is a photo of a Cassata di Siciliana that I took in Palermo. This is perhaps my all time favorite dessert and I have NEVER found anyone who makes it for real in America. Surprise me! Do it!