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) ***
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.
Four of us went there Thursday night, at opening 5:30. Nice and quiet but the restaurant did start filling up.
I have to agree with everyone that pretty much EVERYTHING on the menu was superb, and service as well. We are family so we all nibbled off each others plates.
OMG the basil pasta OMG
morel crusted chicken - great but a bit dried out
baby vegetable salad (also had the beet salad, OK but not as good)
four cute pine nut chocolate squares mmmm
I have to agree with you all on the lamb osso buco (except my husband, who ate every morsel with relish). I took one bite from my husbands plate and nearly spit it out. And I love all foods, I'm not picky at all. 'Old' as described.
Went tonite and had a fabulous meal...terrific sweet mussels, pheasant pasta spectacular, very tasty donut/zeppole like desert...wifie had beet salad and cod, both of which she loved.
very classy room, nice view of downtown, service was extremely efficient, attentive and warm.
the amazing thing was that the prices were the same, or less than Il Pastaio in BH, but the overall experience was that of a much "fancier" restaurant - amuse bouche, much better stemware, as well as flatware and plates, more artistic plating, more spacious...just a much more luxurious feel. It frankly made a place like Il Pastaio or Angelini O seem like a ripoff! And I like those two places...
I had a pre-concert dinner there tonight. Nice assortment of tasty breads, and they will bring you breadsticks from the bar if you ask, served with good olive oil. Nice list of wines by the glass/carafe at relatively decent prices. Good amuse of a scoop of lemon-flavored rissotto, then the terrific Fettuccine "carbonara" with lobster and the osso bucco for my main course--the osso buco was disappointing, a nice portion but lacking depth (though I did enjoy the fontina gnocchi that accompanied it). I should have re-read this post before going and would then have recalled that others had been disappointed in this dish as well. Dessert was a very nice walnut semi-freddo and a little chocolate accompanied the bill. Service was excellent and, while not rushed, I got out in plenty of time for my concert.
re: New Trial
Hi New Trial,
Thanks for the report back. Glad to hear some portions of the menu are still good (loved the Walnut Semifreddo that we got a while back), but sad to hear that the Osso Bucco has still not improved (it was my least favorite dish when we went).
You might consider their Pheasant Pappardelle and Foie Gras Creme Caramel amongst a few other dishes I mentioned above. Those were some of my favorites.
Great review exilekiss. Love your honesty and decency in food reporting. If you say something isn't right, I trust your judgement.
Skate - I love it. I cook it when I find it (fresh). Pretty easy once you master it - crispy with some brown butter and capers. Comme Ca had a very good skate, but I don't know if they have it all the time though).
Thanks to you I had a fabulous birthday dinner. The restaurant has a great view of the park, and I was seated facing it, but I think the better view was my husband's, which faced the rest of the place. The vault room had a large party enjoying themselves when we went last Sat. First course: steamed mussels for me, venison carpaccio for the DH. Venison carpaccio was very flavorful, served with candied walnuts. I would get this next time--it was excellent. Steamed mussels were of excellent quality but sauce was a bit bland. Still, I sopped it all up with the tasty bread. We split the papperdelle with roasted pheasant and morels. That was my favorite dish. The pheasant was cooked perfectly and tasted like really rich duck. (I know I'm not doing justice to it.) Mains: I had the roasted cod on spinach puree, DH had the Piedmontese NY steak. I know someone else here thought it was dry, but we ordered it medium rare, and it was cooked perfectly, lean and tasty. I would get this next time. My cod was perfecly cooked, but also kind of bland. I wanted to add some salt. Dessert was the Italian doughnuts served with mascarpone gelato, strawberries, and a basil puree. Really, really good. I'm still thinking about those doughnuts. Bill came with 2 hazelnut chocolates. We're going back for our anniversary dinner!
We had a lovely dinner at Drago Centro this past Saturday. To our surprise, we couldn't get a table at 7:30, so we chose to eat at the long marble table in the bar. Unbeknownst to us, this was a brilliant move on our part, because it allowed us to gorge ourselves on the exquisite cheese straws - they're impossibly light, buttery, cheesy bits of goodness. After that, we shared the I Carciofi (Grilled Artichoke, Belgian Endive, Bronte Pistachios, Sabayon), which was fanatstic for two artichokeaholics like us. For our mains, I had the Pappardelle Al Fagiano (Pappardelle, Roasted Pheasant, Morel Mushrooms) and SI had the lasagne (I can't remember what it was called). Both were delicious. We finished with La Coppa d’Agrumi (layered citrus segments, zabagalione, mascarpone gelato), which was light and refreshing. All in all, it was an excellent meal, and as people who both live and eat in Downtown, we found Drago Centro to be a very welcome newcomer.
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!
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)....wow!
-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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.