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Feb 27, 2009 01:14 PM

Cecconi's: A Restaurant for People Who Don't Love to Dine

The very start of my dinner at Cecconi’s is indicative of how everything went: The restaurant had absolutely no record of my reservation, not searching under my last name – even trying various misspellings – or my first. It was suggested I wait at the bar and return in ten or fifteen minutes – I arrived early – and come back to see what could be done. The bar, right inside the door, was a mob scene, like what one would find in Hollywood around eleven on a Friday night. But this was the sleepy commercial elbow of Los Angeles/West Hollywood at eight on a Thursday.

I told the hostesses the bar was impenetrable, stating my inclination to wait right at their station rather than get lost in the sea of chattering party people who had come to have a liquid dinner. I was seated immediately. In a doorway. Right next to the bar.

So, on the plus side, my issue was resolved quickly and with a pleasant demeanor. On the minus side is the fact that I had an issue at all, and the resolution was less that satisfying. Welcome to Cecconi’s.

Cecconi’s is not a restaurant for people who love food. The fact that so many people had come to Cecconi’s not to eat should attest to that. The bar at the heart of the restaurant was swarming with the young and trendy as they nursed glasses of wine in clusters, some of them waiting an hour or so for a table, and many more of them just there to drink, apparently. The volume of the restaurant, with what seems to be an entire quarry’s worth of marble inside, was frighteningly loud; Mozza seems like a hushed lending library in comparison. The room seemed small and claustrophobic with the great crush of people at the center, too. Tables are placed in doorjambs between the terrace and the interior, and our seats originally had our backs to the aisle before the manager who waited on us most of the evening repositioned us (and the table beside us) from the traffic.

Again, the mixed nature of Cecconi’s came into play with the service. We had a waiter, but in the nearly three hours we were there, we only saw him three times. When a table was reset behind us, a wine glass hit the floor. When a wine glass hits a marble floor, the effect is something like a hand grenade: My friend had a shard of glass in the neck of her sweater. Fortunately, she was not cut, but there was still broken glass beneath our feet when we left. We waited long gaps to get served, dirty cutlery was not immediately changed, bread plates were never brought, and we waited so long for our check, we probably could have just walked out on the bill in the crowd, and no one would have known.

One of the managers actually did the bulk of our service – a lovely woman from the original London Cecconi’s named Janine (sp?). She was what pulled the experience out of the fire for us. She provided excellent service – and, frankly, a manager is not a waiter, so her serving us went above and beyond. When she told my friend that, as a manager she did not accept tips, my friend very nearly left no gratuity. We let her know that, through all the problems we had with our experience – the glass, the lost reservation, the poor waiter, and on and on, she was the one thing that made our experience good. In appreciation for our feedback, instead of the 50% discount on the food, she gave us a 100% discount, which was very gracious of her. All we had to pay for were our drinks. She said that, as they were getting started this week, they were looking for that sort of feedback, and she knew what Cecconi’s was about from the London restaurant, and they were trying to get their staff here up to par.

Now to the food:

I started with a nondescript negroni some of the cicchetti while waiting for my friend to join me, ordering the octopus with lemon and olives and the roasted bone marrow. The bone marrow was fantastic, coming with toast rounds, roasted garlic cloves, and sea salt. The garlic was sweet and creamy, though getting it out of its peels was a bit messy. The octopus was nowhere near the level of Osteria Mozza’s wonderful version, being a bit chewy and slightly fishy in taste, served with potato cubes, roasted grape tomatoes, and olives.

When my friend joined me, we started off with the veal meatballs and the ahi tuna tartare. The meatballs were good, quite firm and plump in a bright tomato sauce, but both the meatballs and the sauce lacked the richness of Pizzeria Mozza’s version. (Sensing a theme here?) The tuna was not my choice, and my friend regretted it – she thought it too lemony and underseasoned, but the fish was fresh. We followed by piling on meat-heavy dishes. The artichoke and burrate crostini was totally forgettable. The osso buco was the hit of the night, with the veal falling off the bone (and with the bonus of more marrow), though I thought the cooking sauce could have had a little more personality. The carpaccio was good, but the strong caponata and Venetian dressing (essentially a very lemony mayonnaise) drowned out a lot of the meat’s flavor. Probably the best dish was the pappardelle with housemade sausage, which had a nice meaty cream sauce with onions. It was the one dish with the right balance of complexity and simplicity of the best Italian food.

We opted for the blood orange cake with caramel and yogurt for dessert. The cake had the texture of something like French toast, and the caramel, with bits of orange zest, was more like warm marmalade. It was good, though, and not too sweet, although what made it blood orange and not, say, Valencia escaped me. The wine options by the glass are not huge, though mostly Italian. My wine was okay, but nothing great. My friend asked to get a taste of a Super Tuscan on the list, which never arrived. The manager Janine then brought her a full glass on the house. (That was good because it tasted something like gasoline – not a winner.)

When all is said and done, the food is sometimes quite good, sometimes mediocre, but never anything truly remarkable. Cecconi’s is not Mozza but any stretch of the imagination. What could set it apart could be impeccable service and an inviting atmosphere, but having dinner in a room something like a trendy nightclub with waiters’ scrambling like Keystone Cops really does not compensate for that. There were celebrities in attendance, and Cecconi’s will likely pop up on the ubiquitous Chowhound “Where Should I Go for Star Sightings?” threads, but is it a restaurant for people who love great food and elegant dining? No – at least for now, they need to look elsewhere. With the boisterous noise levels, the poor floor layout, the huge party crowds bulging from the center, the chaotic if well-meaning service, and the food quality that never rises above quite good, Cecconi's is apparently a restaurant expressly designed for people who don't love to dine.

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  1. I read no mentions of the fact it was grand opening/soft opening week at Cecconi / EOM.

    4 Replies
    1. re: TonyC

      The 50% discount mention is buried in there, as well as the allusions to having staff in from Cecconi's London location. There are hints to its being the first week of Cecconi's operation, but I also think that the poor level of service was exceptional even for a first week. If they were not prepared to serve that level of customers yet, they should not have booked so many. I was at the opening weeks of both Comme Ça and Osteria Mozza, for example, and neither restaurant showed nearly the same problems as Cecconi's did - and by the well-heeled clientele pouring in to drink, I doubt that a food discount was pushing them in the doors. Gradually building up to full capacity to let the staff get its bearings would have been the wise thing to do.

      1. re: wilafur

        Sorry, I was writing in a hurry, and there was a lot of diagonally-striped marble floor to cover...

        1. re: Woolsey


          btw, good review. your original waiter (prior to being rescued by the mgr) was probably the same one i had earlier in the week. service was bleh, food was weak (burrata app) to very good (gnocchi & risotto) but i had a good time people watching during dinner.

          1. re: wilafur

            The waiter was Mike. He was well-meaning but, well, not there. The room was just... ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculously loud last night. Maybe if we weren't jammed right into the thick of it, we might have enjoyed it a little more. But sitting wedged up under that insane bar scene, with everyone looking like they're waiting to go to Paris Hilton's house? Yikes.

            If a restaurant is comfortable with great service, I can forgive less-than-astounding food. If the food is off-the-charts awesome, I'll endure a somewhat annoying dining experience. But a loud, obnoxious room with scattershot service for ho-hum food? No way.

            From the looks of all the agents and B-list celebrities in the crowd last night, Cecconi's will be the new industry restaurant. Hopefully it will thin the posers out of Mozza and make getting a table there a little easier.

    2. I thought this board's (recently changed) policy was no reviews allowed during soft opening?
      Well, that's probably the case with the small fry ( Umami? ), not with the biggies.
      Am I wrong?

      1 Reply
      1. re: RicRios

        I really wouldn't call this week a "soft opening" at Cecconi's. Soft openings rarely pack the place to the rafters as Cecconi's is doing; what I witnessed Thursday night is one of the hardest openings ever. Yes, there was a discount on food, but all other aspects of a soft opening - lower levels of bookings, more attentive staff - were not there. And, frankly, no openings publicized by Daily Candy could ever be considered "soft."

      2. We went to Cecconi's on Wednesday evening (drawn to the 50 percent off) and while the staff was clearly disorganized, the service was friendly. We were welcomed as walk ins (at 6PM) with our daughter, age 3 1/2, seated at a nice table and given paper and crayons along with the menus. We loved the pizza - truly authentic Italian pizza with just the right give and crunch (better, in our opinion than pizzeria Mozza or Terroni) - the tagliettele Bolognese was also excellent as was the grilled shrimp salad. The lobster in the spaghetti was slightly overcooked, not sure I would order it at the full price. By the time we left at 7:30 it was a crazy, trendy mob scene. Overall, we'd happily return for an early evening pizza and the nice, if hapless, service.

        1. Hi Woolsey,

          Great review. :) Thanks for the in-depth report and the warning.

          2 Replies
          1. re: exilekiss

            Well, I think it's a warning for certain types - foodies, for lack of a better term. Cecconi's struck me as the resurrection of Morton's for a new age - younger, sexier, hipper, but still a destination not for food but for the crowd. But instead of having power players sequestered neatly at their tables, Cecconi's has the hot and trendy piled on display in the center of the room.

            Apparently the London Cecconi's, which is close to one of that city's high-end shopping districts, functions in much the same way, with papparazzi hanging around outside to get photos of Madonna and Gwenyth Paltrow as they leave from dinner - most likely one consisting of six quail eggs and a slice of pizza like a woman at the table next to me. My friend and I got quite a few looks of longing at our meat-bedecked table by the skinny young things as they passed by, as if to say, "I remember when I used to eat. It was nice..."

            1. re: Woolsey

              Hi Woolsey,

              Awesome post. :) Thanks for clarifying the scene. It'll be filed for when I have to entertain friends from out of town that insist on going someplace more for the scene than the food.

          2. I had a very different experience at Cecconi's. I thought the food was quite good, the service was excellent and prices are reasonable. There is room for improvement and I’m sure that will occur as the restaurant has only been open for a week.

            The SO and I first stopped by Cecconi’s on Saturday for breakfast not expecting much as I figured this would be a trendy, high flash, low substance restaurant, but I live in the neighborhood and figured it was worth a shot. There weren’t too many patrons at that time of day, so noise level wasn’t an issue though I could see how it might be a problem with all that marble.

            We were seated promptly and after pursuing the menu we ordered Eggs Benedict ($11), a frittata with ricotta, mushrooms and pancetta ($9) and coffee and loose leaf tea (I believe both were $3). The tea and coffee arrived promptly along with complimentary toast which was served with warm butter and three jams. They give you your own large pot of coffee and tea so there was plenty to drink and we never had to ask for refills. After a few more minutes the food arrived and I have to say my Eggs Benedict were probably the best I’ve ever had: sauce was wonderful, there was the right ratio of everything and most importantly, the yolks were perfectly cooked as they were completely runny. I should mention the eggs do not come with any sides, but with the toast we had more than enough to eat.

            We were impressed enough with breakfast that we vowed to go back for dinner not realizing that would end up being the very next night. On Sunday we went back for dinner since we needed a place that was open late and their hours are very late indeed. We arrived at 9:30pm and once again were seated promptly. No noise issue as the restaurant was only half full at this time. We ordered the small beets and mozzarella salad ($11) to share as a starter and had the pappardelle with sausage ($15) and chicken tortellini ($12) for entrees. The pappardelle was so good, very rich and came with an excellent, peppery sausage. I thought the tortellini was a little too simple for my tastes, not enough complexity, but the SO liked it. As for the salad, the salad itself was excellent, but the dressy could have used a bit more seasoning. To be fair, they dress it tableside and give you your choice of dressings, so perhaps I just made the wrong dressing choice.

            During both visits the service was friendly and attentive without being obtrusive. I was very happy overall with the fresh, high quality food and at those prices I will definitely be back.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Newkie

              Agreed I loved the food when I went..............

              1. re: Newkie

                I agree with Newkie,

                The place was real good. I also like to think you cannot compare this place to Mozza. It doesn't even seen to be in the same price bracket.

                I went to Cecconi's on opening week (no soft opening, just 50% off food during first week) and the service was impeccable and food was really tasty.

                1. re: sarcasmsk

                  We'll skip the question of quality; clearly your experience of Cecconi's was much different from mine. But the question of value compared to Mozza is much more cut-and-dry:

                  Entrées at Cecconi's range from $20-$38, with many being around $26. Full servings of pasta are around $14-$16. This is comparable with Osteria Mozza. The pricing for the $15-$18 pizzas is comparable with Pizzeria Mozza. Given that Mozza offers wine by the larger quartino while Cecconi's only offers it by the glass - and Cecconi's has a smaller selection of lesser quality for comparable price - shows lesser value on Cecconi's part. And the cocktails were comparatively priced, but Cecconi's does not have a specialized cocktail program like Osteria Mozza, and their cocktails, well - they're not even in the same ballpark. (Order a Negroni at Osteria Mozza, and the service comes with a orange peel flamed by the server and top-shelf gin. A Negroni from Cecconi's is lower-quality well gin and a thick orange wedge stuck on the side of the glass. I've had better Negronis at Taylor's.)

                  So ignoring the quality of the food offered, prices are comparable between Mozza and Cecconi's, and sometimes Mozza even offers much better value for money.