One of the finest meals you can have in Los Angeles right now is at Drago Santa Monica. That shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s familiar with the LA dining scene of the past decade—all of Celestino Drago’s restaurants (including those in Pasadena and downtown) produce well-regarded modern Italian.
But a special spring menu, which is priced at only $59 for six courses (seven including a substantial amuse) or $88 with wine pairings is really worth seeking out while it’s available.
It’s called Tutto Anatra, which you Italian speakers know means simply All Duck. And that’s what it is, six courses all based around the noble quacker. Yes, even dessert.
You start with an amuse, possibly the same that I had, an arancini fried rice ball with a little crab, crisp and warm outside, tender and creamy inside.
Next comes a simple torchon of creamy, mild duck foie gras on toasted brioche with pickled vegetables and a drizzle of marsala reduction, perfectly balanced in the mouth. Paired with a Scarbolo pinot grigio.
The second course is also the least common, a 63 degree duck egg over potato espuma, with a potato crisp and greens for texture, rich, creamy and earthy. The wine is an Umbrian chardonnay.
For pasta you get pillowy but still toothsome agnolotti filled with duck mousse in brown butter, and accompanied by crispy skin,full of pure flavor. Nicely paired with a Lasseter syrah rose from Sonoma.
Then comes what is perhaps my favorite course, a buttery, sort risotto with crispy and glistening duck confit floating in a deadly good amarone reduction. The wine is Miura pinot noir from Monterey.
Sweet and savory, peppery-gamey seared duck breast is accompanied by a ragout of creamy-crunchy faro and collard greens, with a jus of blood oranges. Hearty Fuedo Maccari nero d’avola from Sicily is poured with it.
All of that is excellently prepared, and artfully presented. But how, you might wonder, could they make a dessert with duck? Well, the answer comes in the form of a sushi roll-like roulade filled with peanut butter and more foie gras, accompanied by tart cherry-strawberry jam and cherry gelato. It’s like a grown up PB&J, and along with a moscato from Veneto, leaves you with a softly sweet ending to a deceptively complex, impressively balanced meal.
Tutto Anatra is available until the end of June 2011, I’m told. The executive chef is Evan Gotanda.
Drago Santa Monica is located at 2628 Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica, CA, (310) 828-1585