Civico 1845 (San Diego, CA)

A child fell at my feet. Staring down in bewilderment, a lanky man leapt out from behind a brown paper covered door singing the child’s name in an Italian accent. Ushering the babe into a late night construction site, my eyes followed them past the reclaimed wood interior to the writing on the windows. My eyes paused when I saw the word: Vegan.

I bookmaked the Civico 1845 and waiting for the opening.

After an initial visit opening week, I returned with the lovely Dining with DevynRobins Vegan Life and Robin’s cousin. Sitting on the patio, our waitress approached, lips parted as through to speak. She caught glimpse of us holding the vegan menu and winked.

“I guess you don’t need to hear about the catch of the day,” she said.

“No thanks,” we smiled back.

“Hold on a sec…” she uttered while sneaking away. Moments later she returned with the tall lean man I had seen nights before.  “This is Pietro Galloo, our vegan chef!”

We introduced ourselves as Pietro went over the menu pointing out his favorites. He also explained how when opening this restaurant with his brother—even though the prime Little Italy corner needs no gimmicks to lure customers in—he insisted on offering a full vegan menu. The team agreed to let him produce the menu for one month. It became an instant success so it is here to stay.

We started off with the Piccolo Calzone. Crescents of dough filled with a seitan ragout, almond ricotta and homemade mozzarella. These taste very “homemade” which to me is just alright.

Next up was the much better Mushroom “Calamari.” Breaded and fried oyster mushrooms served with spicy arrabbiata sauce. Although Robin and her cousin ordered this dish, I instinctively reached across the table and took a forkful before they even touched it.

“Ooop! Sorry!” I exclaimed as I shoveled the mushrooms into my mouth. They taste as good as they look.

Robin order the Eggplant, parmigiana style, with a side of penne pomodoro. I had this dish previously and recommended it to the table–the portion was thankfully more generous than opening week. It is a simple dish of sliced eggplant stewed into silky slabs in tomato sauce. The penne is tender, with a bite some think impossible to create without egg, smothered in more sauce and fresh basil. I find this the most satisfying entree on Civico 1845’s vegan menu.

Also, Civico 1845 is the first restaurant I’ve been to with tableside vegan Parmesan–made with noosh, pinenuts and so on–it is such a joy!

Robin’s cousin ordered the Ravioli, stuffed with spinach and vegan ricotta, in a San Marzano Sauce. While I find the vegan pasta dough does not hold up well in the stuffed or layered dished (like the lasagna), the downy ravioli filling superseded this concern.

Having already tasted my way through the pastas, I ordered the Pizza di Scarola. This wedge of escarole pie is stiffed with buttery greens, black olives, sicilian cappers and chili peppers. The dough is simple, somewhat dense, which holds up to the rich interior whose complexity builds with each bite.

Devyn ordered the Penne alla Vodka, a pink tomato and cream sauce not often seen in vegan form. Again, I find Civico 1845’s vegan treatment of penne pasta to be superb; although the sauce got a bit lost in it all.

For dessert, we shared the vegan Tiramisu. Pietro charged it up that night with a chocolate, instead of vanilla, custard. To me, the thrill of tiramisu is the bite of rum and bitterness of espresso, neither of which I detect in this cake. Still, it is a very good moist white cake stuffed with custard.

Last, we tackled the Strawberry Cake with lemon creme filling. The ultra moist cake offers a homey end to dinner. I recommend it over the tiramisu… at least through strawberry season.

Civico 1845
1845 India Street
San Diego, CA 92101

Dominick’s (Los Angeles, CA)

When people describe a restaurant as “Classic Italian,” I’m often confused. Do they mean dried boxed pasta drowning in red sauce or hand rolled al dente noodles bathing in olive oil. I always hope they mean the lather and I always hope it’s just like Dominick’s.

The thought of eating dried pasta at a restaurant haunts me. If it’s not made in house, I’d rather eat at home. But, since fresh pastas of usually made with egg, it hinders my growing interest in vegan dining…er… which this menu is not an obvious example of. I spoke with the manger about their vegan options, and she informed that their fresh pasts is made with flour and water only! Although we didn’t order any during this meal, you can count on me returning for a vegan feats!

The deep fried, risotto wrapped, molten mozzarella Rice Ball ($4 on the The Five O’Clock Meeting menu!) is my all time favorite. Cracking into the rice ball, a  puddle of cheese oozes fourth, tangling in my fork’s tines as I stab at the crisp shell. Powdery Parmesan and minced parsley cling to the molten cheese it’s scooped into my mouth. This is the very best dish on the menu. Always.

The petite bowl of Spiced Marcona Almonds & Parmesan Cheese Chunks ($8) is loaded with flavor. The generous chunks of Parmesan and oil slicked almond are heavy—slowing me down, savoring each bite. Though small, it’s far too much for one person. It’s a great dinner accent and something to nibble on between a meal’s courses.

The Grilled Artichoke ($12) is a simple dish. The nearly unadulterated vegetable arrives with charred edges and a burnt lemon. It’s absolutely delicious but a overpriced to anyone who knows have to prepare an artichokes.

The light Bibb Lettuce with Lemon, Creme Fraiche & Crispy Leeks ($10) is the subtle sleeper of the of the menu. A translucent film of cream clings to the buttery bibb lettuce. Shoestring leeks are crisped in a delicate tempura-like batter and carry a faint saltiness. The flavor of this dish is fleeting, drawing you back to the pale leaves for more and more and more…

As long as late summer figs are still dangling from the trees, I hope the special Fig Salad clings to the menu. Stuffed with a cube of mozzarella, the sauteed fruit is served on a vinegar wilted bed of mixed greens.

Though we didn’t order a vegan pasta, we did order was the Housemade Ricotta Gnocchi with Tomato Sauce, Basil, Pecorino ($16). Smooth cylinders of tender gnocchi drenched in a light tomato sauce that tastes of nothing else. It’s exactly what you would expect from this dish. No more, no less.

I forgot to mention our waitress! My friend instantly spotted her as a favorite instructor at Pop Physique. It was with her permission that we indulged in the Warm Skillet Cookie ($8). The cast iron pan of chocolate chunk cookie is littered with salted almonds and topped with Rocky Road Gelato. It’s a rich with a satisfying warmth that leaves you craving a cardio workout.

As rich and indulgent as chocolate is, the Oven Roasted Peach Shortcake ($8) was my favorite dessert. A polenta shortcake encased in a crystal sugar shell atop housemade peach jam and whipped mascarpone. Served with a side of lightly oven roasted peaches and scattering of rosemary, it the perfect ending to any dinner.

8715 Beverly Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90048

Falai: A study in two visits (New York, NY)

Chapter 1 – Victory
As I (very slowly) packed up my Brooklyn apartment, my mom came into town for one last NYC hurrah. As a dedicated Food Network viewer, she arrived with many “Have you heard of X Y or Z?!” suggestions—many of which I, of course, had heard of…except for Falai.

Delicately rich

We headed over right after work and so it was no surprise to walk into an empty restaurant. Once seated, the waiter came by with a tray of various breads. Now, our reason for choosing Falai in the first place was Chef Iacopo Falai’s notable stint as Executive Pastry Chef at Le Cirque 2000, so our expectations were high. Two petit brioche nuggets were plucked from the tray and served with a shallow dish of olive oil and balsamic. The brioche was—dare I say—perfect! Like a buttery bonbon, we savored the sweet morsels and prepared for the next course: more bread!

Follow the sweet onion down the rabbit hole

After placing our order, the bread monger reappeared and offered us fresh Pane Dolce wrapped around sweet onions. Like a savory rugelach, we nibbled through the rich, flaky spiral toward ribbons of sweet white onion. Continue reading

La Bottega (New York, NY)

On a perfectly sunny summer evening the (cool) ladies of my offices hopped a cab to the airy patio of the Maritime Hotel. We quickly sank into a scene where the clientele sashay around the nautical piazza as though they are gracing an uber cool red carpet. They mingle with the hot dads, beautiful children, and monotonous models in scant breezy skirts that flashed bare ass with every butterfly flap.

Our waitress was beautiful but looked barely 17, and so I refused to take wine recommendations from her. I jealously admired her tight short shorts that looked like they hugged her perfectly, but then I saw her picking wedgies multiple times and felt better as I lounged in my summer dress.

On my side of the table, we order the cheapest bottle of white and it was one of the worst wines I’ve ever consumed. Thinking our lesson had been learned, the next round we ordered a pricier bottle, but it was only a hairline better. So we enviously watched our friends sipping on their lovely (although non alcoholic) cocktail across the table. The virgin cocktail menu assembles distinctive drinks that sounded more and more alluring as I drank my 2 bottles of crappy wine.

I found the palm sized rounds of warm pizza doughy bread and the salads to be the highlight of the dinner. Although we didn’t order pizza (until dessert ) the “bread” quietly establishes their pizza oven pride… which I’m sure is perfectly good for the tourist…

Continue reading