Vin Bar/Valentino - should be on everyone's list
Vin Bar/Valentino is a very special experience for us. I continue to feel that Piero Selvaggio ranks as one of the best restaurateurs in the country. He and his entire team from Sommelier Paul Sherman, Restaurant Mgr. Giuseppe Mollica, Executive Chef Nico Chessa, Pasta Chef Fabio and the entire FOH team are first-rate. From the welcome greeting of buona sera from Piero to the last thank you for coming, each and every diner is treated as a special guest – nothing is too much or “we can’t do that.” The experience is just the opposite; “we will do anything to make this a special evening for you.”
We never bring wine to Vin Bar/Valentino and always just let Piero choose the wines.
Mozzarella Marinara “revisited” – a classic preparation that was simply delicious. Anchovies were served on the side for the Mozzarella dish
Soft Shell Crabs on a bed of spinach with Agrumato oil infused with orange. “The making of Agrumato olive oil is a very tedious and labor intensive process, resulting in a truly unique flavored extra virgin olive oil. Small amounts of olives are actually ground simultaneously with citrus fruit to produce an extra virgin olive oil with an unparalleled taste.” I love soft shells and these were cooked to perfection. The saucing with the infused Agrumato oil was light and a perfect balance to the soft shells.
Porcini Mushrooms on a grilled Heirloom tomato with a saucing of 10 year old Balsamic Vinegar Reduction – the porcini mushrooms were the finest I have ever tasted and Piero did mention they were very expensive. The saying “You get what you pay for” certainly holds true.
Gluten free gnocchi del Norcino with a tomato-based sauce that had just enough spice without being overwhelming.
The reference to Norcino refers to the following:
“Between the 12th and the 17th centuries, Italy sees a strong development of the jobs linked to the processing of pork. This is the period when the figure of the norcino (pork butcher from Norcia) appears and thanks to his skills, he creates new charcuterie products.”
The gnocchi del Norcini featured 3 different pork products – pork shoulder, speck and Guanciale.
“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. It is this richness, combined with a delicate porkiness, that more than merits the meat’s three-week drying period. Making guanciale may require a little more planning than simply buying good-quality bacon or pancetta, but its abundance of flavor distinguishes guanciale from the rest, making every dish that much more succulent.”
Beef tenderloin topped with foie gras and goat cheese served with asparagus and sweet onions. The saucing was a raspberry, olive oil sauce with shallots and a touch of basil – rich and unctuous.
Pasta Chef Fabio couldn’t resist and asked if we could handle one more course. Risotto with diced spinach, braised lamb ragu and sprinkled with goat cheese on top – perfect risotto with a full-flavored ragu.
Cheese Course – Raschera (an Italian pressed semi-fat , semi-hard cheese made with partly skimmed raw or pasteurised cow milk, to which a small amount of sheep’s and/or goat’s milk may be added) and Robiola (an Italian soft-ripened cheese of the Stracchino family, made with varying proportions of cow’s, goat’s milk and sheep milk) served with white truffle honey, sweet peppers, fig salami, toasted hazelnuts and walnuts.
Valentino has been around for a long time, but it feels as fresh and new as any restaurant that gets a ton of twitter buzz and recent press. I urge everyone of all ages to just go and experience exceptional ingredients executed with finesse with incredible service. Vin Bar/Valentino defines the true meaning of hospitality.
Piero Selvaggio also owns several excellent new venues at the Mall in Santa Monica. For those of you who have an unresolved craving for pici pasta, his Primi al Mercato and attached restaurant have it HOMEMADE. It's hard to find this pasta even in NYC. Short of trip back to Tuscany, give this a try.
As I have stated numerous times before, we prefer dining in the casual part of Valentino, mainly because we have an opportunity to chat with Piero. The food is sensational and you are not dining from a casual/bar food menu but rather exquisitely prepared food from Valentino’s menu that just happens to be served in a casual environment. Per usual, we leave all decisions regarding wine to Piero and Paul Sherman and all food choices to Chef Nico and Chef Fabio. Our only responsibility is to enjoy and savor each and every choice.
Calamari Salad, lemon dressing, beet sauce, celery, carrots – calamari can be a disaster if not executed properly – these were perfect.
Australian Crab Cake, Orange Soup, Drops of Olive Oil, Fried Sage – the crab was delicious and the orange soup was a revelation. Chef Nico explained that it was just oranges ground in the blender and then strained – no cream, no bindings – just orange! This is an idea I intend to steal – it would make a tremendous sauce and as a cool soup it was spectacular.
Breast of Quail wrapped with Speck and stuffed with Raschera cheese on a bed of lentils with small dice of carrots, braised fennel on the side. Another A+ dish – the combination of the quail, the speck and the Raschera was a perfect marriage of ingredients.
“Raschera is a semi-hard pressed cheese from the Piemonte region. Raschera is a table cheese made from raw cow’s milk, but some sheep or goat’s milk is sometimes added. Aged anywhere from one to six months, Raschera is ivory in color, rich in mouth feel, with a buttery and mild taste that gets sharper with age.”
Chef Fabio called the next dish “My Italian Flag Pasta.” It was composed of 3 different pastas — the white was gnocchi, the green was spinach pappardelle and the red was beet pasta. The saucing was a lobster ragu topped with slivers of ricotta salata cheese – this pasta is made in house – perfectly made and perfectly cooked. My question is why go anywhere else for the best pasta in the city?
Spinach semolina dough, porcini tortellini (tortellini pasta filled with porcini mushrooms), foie gras, tomato confit, summer black truffles – another winning pasta dish.
La Quercia Organic Pancetta, Amatriciani with sausage pearls and an array of fresh farmer’s market vegetables – corn, carrots, spring onions, sweet peas, green onions. The sausage pearls had been sauteed in their own fat. Again each element of the dish complemented the whole making for a stunning array of taste and texture.
Amatriciani is a traditional Italian pasta sauce based on guanciale (dried pork cheek), pecorino cheese and tomato. Originating from the town of Amatrice (in the mountainous Province of Rieti of Lazio region), the Amatriciana is one of the most well-known pasta sauces in Italian cuisine.
Cheese course served with spoons of honey and pear salsa and a dried salad of apricot, salami, walnuts and fresh pear
There is only one word to describe this meal – perfect.