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Dec 8, 2008 01:24 AM

Downtown's Beautiful, New Italian Restaurant - Drago Centro [Review] w/ Pics!

(Formatted with All Pictures here:

In the City of Angels, new restaurant openings seem to happen every few weeks. This past year alone has seen quite a few "big name" projects open, ranging from wine bars to brasseries to molecular cuisine amongst many other projects. While I was just about inundated with big, new openings, the one last, new restaurant for 2008 that has caught my eye for a while has finally opened up this past week: Drago Centro in Downtown L.A.

Thanks to the excellent coverage on Eater LA, I've been curious about what Chef-Owner Celestino Drago would create with this new Downtown L.A. location, a $7 million project converting the former Bank of America space. We arrived on a quiet weeknight, and after stepping off the elevator we were treated to a simply gorgeous entrance area and stunning view of the 15-foot tall, glass wine tower (which the GM was happy to show us - it's temperature controlled, and nicely sealed (all the outside music and noise from the restaurant went nearly silent when the door was closed)). Drago Centro is a beautiful restaurant, with vaulted ceilings, and a splendid marble bar area, yet it never feels stuffy or fussy.

The main dining room is classy, with clean lines and good lighting, and thankfully has some noise dampening added, as it's nowhere near as loud as places like Comme Ca or Osteria Mozza.

We ordered their Chef's Tasting Menu, which is not listed on the printed menu, but rather, By Request, with Chef Drago and Chef di Cucina Ian Gresik (formerly of Patina) happily obliging to accommodate however many courses you're interested in. After placing our order, bread service began with a choice of three types of bread (Olive Bread, Focaccia, Baguette) (currently baked off-site, but they're hoping to begin baking their own bread on-site soon), with some nice Extra Virgin Olive Oil from the Italian Riviera. The bread was serviceable, but nothing noteworthy; hopefully they'll start baking their bread on-site to have something to match the Olive Oil.

The Tasting Menu started off with an amuse-bouche of Asparagus Bruschetta.

This was an interesting amuse that surprised me: Chef Gresik takes delicate slices of Asparagus mixed with Olives, Golden Raisins and sets it atop a house-made Balsamic Vinaigrette Jam. The result is a lightly sweet, crisp crunch with notes of olives that are never too overpowering, softened by the Balsamic Jam, Asparagus and Golden Raisins.

Our first course was Il Carpaccio Di Langostino (Langoustine Carpaccio, Pomegranate, Micro Herbs, Citrus Dressing).

Drago Centro uses fresh Scottish Langoustines, flattened on the plate, and on this evening a surprise with a Yuzu Vinaigrette and fresh Yuzu zest. The result is outstanding: The Scottish Langoustines are *so* fresh and naturally sweet, and when combined with the slight tartness from the Pomegranate seeds, the herbally bite from the Micro Greens, and then the wonderfully fragrant Yuzu Citrus, this makes for a beautiful first course.

The second course turned out to be a signature dish from Chef Drago's eponymous restaurant in Santa Monica: Le Pappardelle Al Fagiano (Pappardelle, Roasted Pheasant, Morel Mushrooms).

Everything about this dish is outstanding: Chef Drago takes sous-vide Pheasant Breast and confit Pheasant Leg Meat and then shreds both types of meat together, combines them with Morel Mushrooms and creates the perfect ragout for the fresh, in-house made Pappardelle Pasta.

Nothing beats fresh-made pasta, and the Pappardelle is just a touch beyond al dente (which I prefer), supple, but with a great chew and texture. The Morel's idiosyncratic aroma and extremely tender Pheasant all combine to make pasta perfection. (^_^)

There's only one word to describe the next dish as it was brought out: Stunning. Il Risotto "Vialone Nano" Con Barbabietole Rosse e Gamberi (Risotto, Red Beet Puree, Spot Prawns).

The dish is insanely, but naturally, pink-red in color! It's so visually intense, that it almost looks synthetic or artificial, but the striking color actually comes from the use of the Red Beet Puree and chunks of fresh Beets added into the Risotto. It's probably one of the most visually arresting dishes I've seen in years.

Chef Drago also uses Vialone Nano Risotto, a Northern Italian grain rice that when cooked through, will still give off a nice little crunch in the center of the grain, while still having a soft exterior. It's topped off with a fresh Santa Barbara Spot Prawn that's wonderfully sweet. The end result is a luscious Risotto dish, both visually and taste-wise, with a decadence with the Shellfish Reduction mixed in with the Red Beet Risotto and a good creaminess, while still having a great lightness to it all due to Vialone Nano rice and Red Beet Puree. Excellent.

The next course arrives soon after: La Razza (Crispy Skate, Caponata Siciliana, Aged Balsamic).

I don't have Skate very often, so I was interested to see how Drago Centro's version would turn out. Chef Gresnik lightly pan sears the Skate before finishing it off in the oven, and the result is a nicely crisped, yet still tender Skate. It was just a touch overcooked (a little dry around the edges), but otherwise fine. For those new to Skate, its texture is almost akin to a cross between Crab and Scallop at times.

The Caponata Siciliana was an interesting accompaniment, perhaps a bit too disparate at times (my guest felt it was wildly different) with the Eggplant, Bell Peppers and Pine Nuts, fighting with the Golden Raisins and Anchovies atop the Aged Balsamic Vinaigrette.

The next course was something I requested specifically, since I saw it on their regular menu: L'Osso Buco D'Agnello (Lamb Ossobuco, Fontina Gnocchi, Pumpkin, Lamb Jus).

I love Lamb, and I don't see Lamb Osso Buco very often, so I was really excited to try it at Drago Centro. Breaking it apart and taking a bite, the Lamb tasted... old. It had the taste of a dish made yesterday or the day before, and then reheated (or just some old lamb). The Red Wine Reduction was nice, giving it a good foundation, but unfortunately, the Lamb itself was very disappointing. :(

Thankfully the fresh-made Fontina Gnocchi provided some highlights in the otherwise disappointing dish, being absolutely *airy* and so light and delicate, these were some of the best Gnocchi I've had in the past year.

Our final course of the evening was: Il Semifreddo Alle Nocci (Walnut Semifreddo, Roasted Figs, Port Gastrique, Prosecco Sorbet). I've been disappointed with Desserts at many local restaurants recently, but the Il Semifreddo Alle Nocci (a Semi-Frozen Custard) at Drago Centro is amazing! (^_^)

Imagine the most delicate, semi-frozen Walnut-infused Custard, with Roasted Black Mission Figs, Candied Walnuts and a wonderfully thought-provoking Port Gastrique, all combining together with the Prosecco Sorbet to make a Dessert that is never too sweet, fragrant, nutty, and just soul-moving in the amount of happiness it brought with each bite. Absolutely wonderful!

They provided some complementary Petit Fours at the end of the dinner: House-made Spice Chocolate. This was a Dark Chocolate Square infused with Cardamom, Nutmeg, Cloves, Cinammon amongst other spices with a creamy center. This was very aromatic, with each bite giving way to multiple spices. Very nice.

After dinner, Chef Celestino Drago was kind enough to show us around the kitchen and show off his prized antique Slicer that he found recently and happily brought to the restaurant.

I was so impressed with the service and overall experience that I couldn't wait to come back for another visit, and to see more of Drago Centro's creations. :)

For my second visit, I started off with one of their Nuovi Classici (New Classics) Cocktails: Dolce Vita (Altesino Brunello Grappa, Monin Pomegranate, Black Grapes, Fresh Lemon Juice). This had a nice kick to the drink from the Grappa, but it wasn't overwhelming from a pure alcohol perspective, with the Monin Pomegranate and Lemon Juice helping to bring things into focus.

For the second night's Chef's Tasting Menu, Chef Drago started off with an amuse-bouche of: Il Fegato D'Anatra (Foie Gras Creme Caramel, Fig Puree).

I wish I could capture the lighter-than-air texture of the Foie Gras Creme Caramel. I wish I could bottle the feeling that came over me from eating something that exceeded the best flan I've ever had in my life (but strangely, yet very satisfyingly infused with the lushness of excellent Foie Gras). Instead, I'll have to simply say that this was one of the best individual dishes I've ever had. :)

The first course was their: I Carciofi (Grilled Artichoke, Belgian Endive, Bronte Pistachios, EVOO Sabayon).

This was another excellent dish, with a beautiful presentation. The Artichokes were prepared Barigoule-style first, before grilling, which gave each bite a light taste of Garlic, Thyme and Parsley layered amongst the Artichoke. There was just the right interplay between the bitterness and bite of the Radicchio with the Artichoke and the nutty sweetness of the Candied Pistachios. Excellent!

Prior to the start of this Tasting Menu, Chef Drago came out to ask me if I wanted to try a few dishes showcasing some beautiful White Truffles he had just received that morning from Alba. I consented and looked forward to what he might be preparing.

The first of the White Truffle dishes was: Uovo In Camicia (literally "Egg in a Shirt"), made up of Wild Asparagus, Poached Egg, Pan-Seared Foie Gras, Diced Grilled Potatoes, topped with Alban White Truffles.

As General Manager Matteo Ferdinandi was shaving slices of the White Truffle onto the dish, the aroma was incredible (as expected) and mesmerizing. Breaking the Poached Egg and mixing the Egg Yolk with all the ingredients before taking a bite, the result was like a ridiculously aromatic power breakast. The Poached Egg Yolk mixing with the crisped Foie Gras and bits of Grilled Potatoes, along with the slices of White Truffles was absurdly good. :)

The next course arrived soon after: Home-made Fettuccine, White Truffle-Parmesan Fondue, White Truffles.

As before, the fresh-shaving of the White Truffle was wonderful, as was the fresh-made Fettuccine Pasta. With all the variations on Italian Pastas around town, I realized that it had been more than a year since I last had the simple Fettuccine noodle at a restaurant (which was one of my favorites growing up :). The fresh Fettuccine didn't disappoint: The outstanding texture that only comes from fresh-made pasta came shining through with a nice bite and yet was still tender.

And while the Fresh White Truffles were delicious, unfortunately the White Truffle-Parmesan Fondue was just too heavy and too salty. The overly thick sauce dominated the dish at times, and covered up the White Truffle's aroma and flavors. In showcasing the White Truffle, I preferred the previous White Truffle Uovo dish, as well as Craft's Raviolo presentation over this one.

Continuing on, Il Caciucco (Seafood Ragout, Vegetables, Tomato Broth) arrived next. Chef Drago's version included a Scottish Langoustine, Branzino, Carlsbad Mussel, Manila Clams, and Small Bay Scallops.

Each of the seafood items tasted fresh and succulent, with the standouts being the Carlsbad Mussel - so tender, moist and sweet, and just-cooked-through - and the Scottish Langoustine. The Pattypan Squash was a nice complement as were the Micro Chervil dotted throughout, both helping to balance out the spicy, Tomato Seafood flavors.

The final savory course arrived next: Il Piccione Arrosto (Roasted Squab, Forest Mushroom Risotto).

Sadly, the Squab turned out to be overcooked. Many parts of the Squab were dried out, and the overall seasonings tasted rather mundane. The Chanterelle, King Trumpet and Hedgehog Mushrooms in the Risotto were very nice, giving a good, earthy, aromatic flavor with the Risotto.

The dessert course this evening was: La Coppa D'Agrumi (Layered Citrus Segments, Zabaglione, Mascarpone Gelato). This dessert included Sponge Cake in Marsala Wine, which lent some beautiful, complex sweet notes and contrasted the acidic, tart Ruby Red Oranges and Grapefruit slices. Ultimately, this was an interesting dessert, but just a bit too separated for its own good, with each of its elements being tasty, but not combining well at all.

For a restaurant that has only been open for a few days, Drago Centro's service was outstanding! Part of it may be good timing and eagerness-to-please with a new restaurant, but it's nice to visit a new restaurant and not have the service be one of the problems. Dishes were quickly removed when finished, drinks were refilled when low without asking (and covered to prevent any splashing), and only once did a server have to reach across my guest, followed by a quick, "Forgive the reach" apology, otherwise, it was really pleasant, outstanding service. Chef Drago and GM Matteo Ferdinandi were always greeting the guests and coming around to see how things were from time-to-time; a nice gesture.

Dishes range from $9 - $75 (Porterhouse for Two), with most dishes in the ~$15 - $20 range. The Chef's Tasting Menu on the first evening was $85 (before tax and tip), and the White Truffle supplemented Tasting Menu was $140 (before tax and tip).

After dinner, Chef Drago showed off the Vault Dining Room, a section of the restaurant that used to be the Vault for Bank of America. While not yet completed, Chef Drago mentions that he hopes to have Private Cooking Classes and other events, and there are cameras set up that overlook the cooking area, with 2 HDTVs set up to display the close-ups to all the tables in the room.

He finished by showing off the newly-installed Enomatic Wine System.

Drago Centro is an excellent Italian restaurant, that shows signs of the growing pains of a new business: While they have a few disappointing menu items (such as their Lamb Osso Buco), there are many outstanding offerings as well (like their Roasted Pheasant Pappardelle, and Red Beet Risotto with Spot Prawns). Combined with the outstanding service, gorgeous decor and classy, but disarming ambiance, Drago Centro is off to a good start. And while they've only been open for a few days, there's a lot to be excited about already.

*** Rating: 8.1 (out of 10.0) ***

Drago Centro
525 South Flower Street, Suite #120
Los Angeles, CA 90071
Tel: (213) 228-8998

(Note: During Dinner, Free 3-Hour Parking (w/ Validation) in their secured, underground Parking Structure beneath Drago Centro, with private elevator directly to the restaurant.)

Hours: Mon - Fri, 11:00 a.m. - 10:30 p.m.
Saturday, 5:00 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.
Closed Sundays.

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  1. Attaching more pics. For all remaining pictures, please see Link in Original Post above. Thanks.

    1. Adding Chow Place link.

      Drago Centro
      525 S. Flower St., Suite 120, Los Angeles, CA 90071

      1. I really enjoy Wednesday night at Enoteca Drago for wine tasting.But, it seems he is hit and miss with many of his restaurants, on the dishes.But, when he's good it is beautiful.

        Thanks for the report.Looking forward to the risotto.

        7 Replies
        1. re: streetgourmetla

          Hi streetgourmetla,

          Thanks for the info. I've never tried Enoteca Drago yet.

          If you end up trying the Beet Risotto at Drago Centro (or other dishes), let me know how it went. :)

          1. re: exilekiss

            Exilekiss.. Thanks again for another great write up. You get my vote for the 2008 Chowhound Best Roving Reporter ( CBRR ) I am going to stop on by for drinks and the bar menu, the lounge seems to have a nice vibe per the photos..

            1. re: Foodandwine

              Hi Foodandwine,

              Thank you for your kind words, I don't deserve it. (^_^;;

              I hope you enjoy your visit. I look forward to your thoughts.

              1. re: exilekiss

                Yes you do! Great report!
                We tried it Tue night and had a very similar experience and look forward to going back. Excellent service from Villi and Justin.

                1. re: russkar

                  Hi russkar,

                  Thanks. :) Glad to hear your dinner experience was great. What were some of your favorites so far? :)

                  (Definitely give their Tasting Menu a try if you haven't - a great way to sample more of the menu and to let Chef Drago and Chef Gresik surprise you. :)

                  1. re: exilekiss

                    Hi exile,
                    Went back last night and was very happy once again. I believe we've covered almost everything on the menu. All really good. The Official TM should be available starting in Jan. Chef D was pretty busy in the kitchen but came out to talk briefly. What a Kitchen! It's like General Hospital.

                    1. re: russkar

                      Hi russkar,

                      Very nice! :) Glad to hear your return visit was just as good. (And yes, I loved the tour of the kitchen as well - it's a great space and hectic. :)

        2. I can't write a better review than exilekiss so here is a short recap of my two visits last week. I went to lunch on a weekday. The restaurant was packed but the service was just excellent which is really amazing for a 2-week old place. Food was the best I've ever had ofany Drago. Went back again for a tasting dinner with a group of 8 in the beautiful Flower Room. The room has a huge round table that can seat up to 12, which can be turned into a rectangle table to seat 16 snuggly. Again the service was just over the top. So far I've tried the following dishes. Everything was delicious and beautifully plated, except for the roasted black cod, and basil spaghetti which I thought were just ok.

          -amuse bouche: prosciutto wrapped around a half fig
          -amuse bouche: white truffle pecorino cheese with beet...very tasty cheese!
          -La Zuppa (chestnut soup)
          -Il Carpaccio Di Langostino (Langoustine Carpaccio, Pomegranate, Micro Herbs, Citrus Dressing)....amazing!
          - Le Pappardelle Al Fagiano (Pappardelle, Roasted Pheasant, Morel Mushrooms)...a bit salty yet delicious!
          -Il Risotto "Vialone Nano" Con Barbabietole Rosse e Gamberi (Risotto, Red Beet Puree, Spot Prawns)....stunning!
          -Il Fegato D'Anatra (Foie Gras Creme Caramel, Fig Puree)!
          -gli spaghetti alla chitarra con pesto alla trapanese( basil spaghetti, tomato-almond pesto)
          -il merluzzo in armonia di vegetali (roasted balck cod, seasonal vegetables)
          -la bistecca "piemontese" per due, con zabaione di bagna cauda (grilled piedmontese porterhouse for two, panelle fries,king oyster mushrooms)....very tasty!
          -la panna cotta al caffé (candied hazelnuts, amaretto granita, vanilla milk foam)...loved it!
          -budino al cioccolato (chocolate custard, brandied cherries, pistachio gelato)...excellent!

          I am definitely going back to try more dishes, and hope to do a function in the unique vault room.

          9 Replies
          1. re: fdb

            Trying to attach pictures of flower room and vault room...not working!

            1. re: fdb

              I hate to say it but I found Drago Centro to be a huge disappointment. This foie gras creme caramel was a great idea but was grainy and overcooked. The squab and lamb occo buso were overcooked and dry. The carpaccio di langostino was a waste of beautiful seafood, as the Yuzu just completely degraded the shrimp. Probably would have sparkled with just a little salt and a drizzle of olive oil All the flavor profiles were completely off... Everything was a little too salty or a little too bland. With that said, I don't want to say the food was terrible, because it wasn't (just mediocre and boring)... It just didn't taste Italian...

              1. re: lambrusche

                Hi lambrusche,

                Sorry to hear about your visit. :( The Foie Gras Creme Caramel we had was simply stunning (and perfectly cooked). I have a feeling their kitchen is still getting into the flow of consistency (unfortunate for your visit); hopefully after a month or two after opening, this new restaurant will settle down.

                Although, like you, I thought the Lamb Osso Buco was old and disappointing, but really enjoyed most of my other dishes.

                1. re: exilekiss

                  Hi Exilekiss,
                  You may be very right, however that does not excuse the poor seasoning of the food... My other concern is the menu is extremely safe and coservative...Unfortunately if you look at Celestino's record their are very few dishes he has come up with in this century... Drago is empty, Enoteca is empty. I fear Centro has the same future.

                  1. re: lambrusche

                    Hi lambrusche,

                    Concur with you 100%.

                    Plus ... my party got smelly langostinos, dry "piemontese" beef, poor to bad deserts. Sorry to say, but definitely not up to par with a $100+ pp bill.

                    I used to frequent the SM Drago, still go every now & then to the Enoteca ( as long as the real cook, Evelio, is there ), had hopes the Centro would be a big hit but hélas, it isn't.

                    1. re: RicRios

                      Hi RicRios,

                      Thanks for the report back and warning on the Piemontese Beef. Very unfortunate about the Langostinos you had (ours were really fresh). If their dishes continue to miss as with your experience, it definitely wouldn't be worth the money. I hope they can correct themselves and improve (I've been lucky so far).

              2. re: fdb

                Hi fdb,

                Thanks for the report back. I love Panna Cotta; I'll have to try that on my next visit. :) (and the Flower Room was definitely gorgeous! :).

                1. re: exilekiss

                  Made it to Drago Centro 12/10. As fdb so aptly stated “I can't write a better review than exilekiss so here is a short recap of my visit last week” …

                  Let me start by stating I am a huge fan of Enoteca Drago, BH, and quite particular.

                  With that said …
                  Walking into Drago was like walking into a typical NYC restaurant, lots of ‘dark suits’ and black napkins, classy yet relaxed. As we are originally from NY/NJ, my guest and I immediately felt right at home …I felt a little homesick feeling that bit of that NY sensibility.

                  As Drago Centro has just opened, I feel they are still trying to get their act together. My partner had one menu, and I, a slightly varied menu. On his menu, Roasted Chestnut Soup was present, not on mine. Unfortunately, I had the current version of the menu. Soup was not in the cards for us. Additionally, there were a few ‘collisions’ and ‘spills’ in the dining area; excusable for now.

                  I was disappointed that two of my favorite dishes from Enoteca didn’t make even a disguised appearance at Centro – Burrato and Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe. My arm was twisted to try something new.

                  We started out with an amuse-bouche se containing some meat (prosiutto). I don’t eat meat; we sent it back and were gifted with a mouthful of flavors from ricotta and tomato.

                  The wine was kept at a distance, not allowing for self service; the staff was overly attentive, always trying to keep my Shott Zwiessel wine glass filled. I don’t drink much and prefer to fill my glass on my schedule.

                  The salad was a nice – le verdure e lattughe novella; fresh tasting baby greens, baby vegetables, butternut squash, cannelloni bean and white balsamic vinaigrette. It was light and ‘safe.’

                  We moved on to the Crispy Risotto with Octopus and Young Garlic Sauce (I am forever in search of the perfect Octopus). My ‘Italian’ guest was thrilled to speak with the wait staff about the regional influences of the dish. Next time I'd like to try the creamy risotto.

                  Next, a side of Caponata Sicilian. It was chunky, perfectly blended, enough pine nuts to be tasted and a hint of red pepper. Near perfection (I could have done without the golden raisins).

                  We moved on to the I Cannelloni di Zucca – Pumpkin Cannelloni, hazelnut butter, parmesan and sage. The meal was very blintz-like, the creative intent was there but the meal itself was overpowered by the parmesan.

                  We ended the meal with a scoop (or three) of pistachio ice cream.

                  The night was busy. We did see Chef Drago stop at a few tables, unfortunately, not ours. Thus, I guess we will need to visit Drago Centro again. I am looking forward to returning, trying more meals as Drago Centro matures.

                  1. re: lorisueb

                    Hi lorisueb,

                    Thanks for the report back on your visit and helpful info on all the dishes I didn't get to try yet. :) Like you, I want to go back in the hopes that Drago Centro continues to grow and improve and expand their menu.

              3. How are the portion sizes for the entrees outside of the tasting menu? The menu sounds fabulous! I'm looking for a restaurant in downtown on Friday to take the parents before going to the Disney Concert Hall. My father likes heartier portions (e.g. Jar, Grace, etc.) - that's why I'm asking. Thanks!

                2 Replies
                1. re: chris1621

                  Hi chris1621,

                  From the dishes from our neighboring tables, the portion sizes seem just fine. They're not Claim Jumper XL sized, but definitely not "dainty." I hope you enjoy your visit if you end up going. :)

                  1. re: exilekiss

                    Great, thanks exilekiss! I think we will give it a try :)