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Drago (Non-Centro): Should I Go?

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I'm an SF hound who's staying in Playa del Rey for two nights, and am planning on having dinner with my Pasadena-based parents out near where I'm conferencing (Santa Monica/West LA/etc.). Drago came to mind via some Jonathan Gold-love I read a while back, but I'm surprised by the absence of enthusiasm/comments here in the LA boards -- is this just a case of its having been around a while? (I should note that there's not much in the way of criticism, either.) Or are there other places you'd steer me to in its place?

Notes: 1) I'm looking for a great meal -- not an expense account meal. 2. While my dad's wildly adventuresome, my mom's not -- so I'm looking at something between new American and old Continental....

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Drago Restaurant
2628 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90403

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  1. Drago is very good, but in the same neck of the woods for similar cuisine, I would opt instead for Valentino.

    There is nothing wrong with Drago -- and it is indeed very good, probably better than Drago Centro in downtown LA -- but Valentino is on another level.

    2 Replies
    1. re: ipsedixit

      I don't know about Valentino being another level than Drago. When it's good, it's great, and better than Drago, but of the many years I've been going to Valentino, II have to say that I've had mixed experiences. The best around four or five years ago. Terrific. The worst was a couple months back. Part of it was the food, the service, and a door to the kitchen that kept banging all night (I was in a room I'd never been in befoe). So if I had to choose between the two tonight, I'd choose Drago. Actually Drago is a good choice for your parents - you can find adventurous stuff (like pasta with sardines and bread crumbs - a Sicilian classic, but pretty adventurous for most) and more traditional stuff for your mom. It's a great restaurant.

      But if it's all about wine - go straight to Valentino's.

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      Drago Restaurant
      2628 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90403

      1. re: foodiemahoodie

        I agree.
        I don't know that Valentino is necessarily on a different level. Certainly not than Drago Centro which I think is definitely a tad better than the SaMo Drago. I go to all of these quite a bit. Centro uses some upgraded ingredients, is more ambitious in its cuisine, and certainly is a nicer setting.
        As to Drago SaMo vs. Valentino, I agree that Valentino can reach greater heights at its best. For more basic meals it might still be a bit better, but not always, and the difference is less. I would also agree with you that service and seating varies more at Valentino as it is big, and can get more pressed on busy nights. The other factor is that Drago is definitely less expensive. Those great meals at Valentino can be $125 +T, T, & bev. Both Drago & Centro offer (IMO) reasonably priced tasting menues which is how I go most often. Comparing, I think the Six course at Centro is $70, while I'm estimating it would be $90-100 at Valentino. Drago often has a 5-6 course for $60ish. I just had the 6-course duck menu for $59 last Saturday. It was not earth-shattering, but was very tasty and plenty of food, and nice value. They included some nice preps, moderately creative, of: foie terrine, agnolotti, confit, duck breast, and a dessert that had some foie and a pepper ice cream that was very good.
        If I order off the Drago menu it is hard to pass on the papardelle with morel & pheasant ragu. This dish is delicious and a wonderful red wine pairing. They always do well with pastas and most of the roasted meats.
        I find that I usually spend more at Josie and Vincenti, though I really like both. Jiraffe is like Drago to me, very good and very good value, though their entrees are not as deep. I am not an Il Grano fan, more in regard to service/attitude and upcharging than the food itself which can be very good.

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        Jiraffe Restaurant
        502 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90401

        Il Grano Restaurant
        11359 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90025

        Vincenti Restaurant
        11930 San Vicente Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90049

        Drago Restaurant
        2628 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90403

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

    2. I like Drago--and the still relatively new all-duck dinner sounds intriguing--but there are other places in the area I prefer. For "new American," Buffalo Club, Fig, JiRaffe and Josie come to mind or, if you have your heart set on Italian, I prefer Il Grano, Valentino or Vincenti. I have also heard good things about the new Villetta but have not yet been.

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      Josie
      2424 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90405

      Jiraffe Restaurant
      502 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90401

      Il Grano Restaurant
      11359 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90025

      Valentino (Santa Monica)
      3115 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90405

      Buffalo Club
      1520 Olympic Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90404

      Vincenti Restaurant
      11930 San Vicente Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90049

      Villetta
      246 26th St, Santa Monica, CA 90402

      Fig
      100 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90401

      1 Reply
      1. re: New Trial

        Thanks for all the input, ipse, fmh, & NT -- much appreciated. I think I'll keep my Drago reserve for now, based on your input, and maybe hit Jiraffe (which I've wanted to go to for awhile and forgotten about) or Fig (despite the fact that my friend recently called it the most SF restarurant outside of SF)... thank you! (and keep em coming, if anyone else has thoughts!)

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        Jiraffe Restaurant
        502 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90401

        Drago Restaurant
        2628 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90403