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Carbonara?!

It's cold and wintery and we're searching for the best traditional Spaghetti Carbonara around town! Creamy, smoky (pancetta or bacon) and if it's made tableside, then even better - but not required! We're in the South Bay, willing to drive to pretty much anywhere (but hopefully not all the way to S.F. or San Gabriel Valleys) in order to satisfy this particular craving. Any thoughts?

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  1. angelini osteria, lunch only

    long drive but worth it if you're looking for carbonara.

    1. La Buca has a great version, as does Enoteca Drago in BH.

      1. Angelini's is pretty amazing but no cream
        Enoteca Drago
        Il Grano's more casual sibling, Bottega on either Larchmont or Santa Monica Blvd. in WLA
        Vito's in Santa Monica
        Dominick's in WeHo near the Beverly Center
        And, believe it or not, if you're in a last minute shopping frenzy, Cafe Grand Luxe at the Beverly Center will due in a pinch

        3 Replies
        1. re: cvc

          I agree wholeheartedly on Angelini, but must strongly disagree on Bottega Marina--the last carbonara I had there was a sloppy mess with glutinous pasta resting in a separated, oily cheesy bath. Yuck!

          1. re: mnosyne

            Sorry to hear that. The WLA branch is near my office so I have it about twice a month and definitely recommend it.

            1. re: cvc

              This WAS at the West LA branch!

        2. Can you be more specific about what you want? Do you want a classic versio, in which case Angelini has a terrific version and Enoteca Drago is quite good as well.

          Carbonara does not traditionally include cream-- the richness comes from egg and cheese. So if *creamy* an important quality you want something Americanized. It is also tradiitonally made with guanciale, not bacon or pancetta, so it is not smoky but but instead porky.

          Are you looking for something more Americanized? Someone else might be able to make suggestions.

          1. Indeed, by "creamy" we meant the texture, not by the addition of cream, which is, of course, not traditional. My understanding was that Pancetta was traditionally used but if I'm wrong, no problem. Smoky or porky, it just has to have some pig in it! We're looking for the more traditional, rather than Americanized Carbonara.

            Being ex New Yorkers, we both remember the tableside made renditions found in a few restaurants in the city and have yet to find that here. Thanks for the suggestions so far!

            1. you don't even have to know how to cook to make carbonara. fry up some bacon or canadian bacon in a pan, chopped up. boil egg fettuccine if available, or bow ties work nicely. when bacon's cooked, mix in a whole egg, pasta, bacon, lots of parmesan and romano cheese, and salt and pepper. sometimes red pepper flakes work too.

              it's like making bacon and eggs.

              1. It's traditionally made with guanciale, but even in Italy some restaurants used pancetta. The guanciale has a little smokey flavor to it, but is not as fatty as pancetta (I think).

                Carbonara is easy to make, but tricky to make it well. The eggs have to set enough to make it creamy, but not so much that it turns into scrambled eggs. Plus with just 4 key ingredients you have to make sure that the pasta, the eggs, the guanciale/pancetta, cheese are top quality or you have a bad carbonara.

                8 Replies
                1. re: notmartha

                  Guanciale is cured in the same manner as pancetta-- the distinction is the cut. Pancetta is pork belly and guanciale is pork jowl. Producers vary but in my experience they about the same fat content. Neither is smoked.

                  1. re: JudiAU

                    Well, you are right that neither are smoked (although I don't think it tasted like plain old dried meat to me when I had it at La Carbonara restuarant in Rome), but at least I got the fatty part right (from babbo nyc website):

                    "While most pork bacon products are taken from the belly of a pig, Guanciale is made by drying the meat from a hog's jowls. Though the resulting meat is _leaner_ than traditional pork pieces, it has a noticeably richer flavor."

                    1. re: notmartha

                      That is true for traditional products but the pancetta sold in the US tends to have a higher meat to fat ratio than that traditional Italian-cured pancetta hence the more similiar fat content. If you cure them both yourself the guanciale is leaner, which is what Batali's restaurants do.

                      1. re: JudiAU

                        Dunno. I got a batch from Claro's and it's 65/35 lean to fat. A batch from Bristol Farms is more like 50/50. I liked the Bristol Farm's better for carbonara.

                        1. re: notmartha

                          I'm not thrilled with the pancetta at Claro's, which is a very mild, sweet cure, almost like ham. I think Bristol Farms uses Boar's Head which is fine, if not quite as thrilling as the real Italian product, which is no longer imported. (For years, I used to schlep Boars Head back from Faicco in NYC, thinking it was an artisanal product, until I found out the provenance.)

                          On a side note, my favorite spaghetti carbonara in Rome, at Al Moro, is actually made with smoked pancetta, although it is different enough from the norm that they call it spaghetti Al Moro instead.

                          1. re: condiment

                            I am glad I am not the only one taking food products all across the country (but my take along from NYC is a whole pizza pie).

                            They all seem to have their own variations in Italy as well. I think one trip I had it 4 times and they were all different. The version I liked most was very yellow, and hardly had any meat in it. Mostly cheese and egg yolks. That's the one I tried to duplicate at home with about 85% success rate, using a recipe modified from the Williams-Sonoma Rome cookbook (needed better parm/romano, I am guessing).

                            1. re: notmartha

                              The orthodox recipe is the one in Hazan's book - stirring the pecorino, eggs, salt and pepper into a custard, tossing the hot pasta to coat, pouring the sauteed pancetta and oil over at the end and tossing once more. And a great cheese does make all the difference - a Sicilian sheep cheese or a pecorino di Sardo is much better than the insipid Romano, imo. I have no idea why so many restaurants gild the lily with cream, ham, cheese, etc.

                              1. re: condiment

                                I'll have to try the different order as you described. The W-S cookbook calls for tossing the pasta with the cooked pancetta first, then tossing the mess with the egg/cheese in a warmed bowl (prewarmed with the pasta water). The first time I made it I skipped the prewarmed bowl step - so the eggs didn't set and when in desperation I reheated it - got scrambled eggs pasta instead.

                                Don't know why but the cheese in Italy seemed to be stinkier too (but tasted better). Will have to hunt for the pecorino di Sardo then. I got the more expensive parm from TJ's but haven't tried it with carbonara yet (have to do a good spaghetti and pancetta run at Bristol Farms first).

                2. My S.O. really likes the Maria's Kitchen offering.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Wes

                    Maria's Kitchen serves nothing remotely italian. i agree make it yourself and definately with pancetta, guanciale if you can find it, but bristol farms carries a good quality pancetta. all you need is a good grade pasta (imported) top quality eggs and pecorino. NO CREAM. check the food netowork site for a mario battali's version and you can't go wrong. angellini is about the only restaurant in town that is cooking "Italian" food. and of course mozza.

                      1. re: Wes

                        then you may want to check out the roman-like experience at Buco di Bepo

                  2. I had a good carbonara at Girasole on Larchmont a few months back. It was a special, though, not on the menu.

                    1. Il Forno on Ocean Park

                      1. Raffaello Ristorante
                        400 S Pacific Ave, San Pedro 90731
                        At W 4th St

                        http://losangeles.menupages.com/resta...

                        1. I agree that making it is super easy! the zuni cookbook has a great version

                          1. Of above mentioned, the only place I've tried is Enoteca Drago in BH. In my mind they do a very good version of classic carbonara. Good enough that I try not to eat there too often, especially for lunch, since I know I won't be able to resist. (Does this topic deserve its own Chowhound posting?)

                            Also agree with the above posters that Carbonara is extremely simple to make. It's probably one of the first things I learned to make as a kid.

                            1. Annas in Santa Monica / Westwood Area (Pico Blvd @ Westwood Blvd...) use to make it great, tableside as well. Not sure if theyre still in business. It has been a while.