Stephen Kalt opened up a hot new Italian place on Melrose. I say hot because it was a 30 min wait at 8:15 on a Sunday night, and they’ve only been open for about a month. I missed Lodge Bread’s pizza night (they ran out early, thought they had demand under control =(, so wanted Italian, and thought I’d try the new kid in town).
Things started off pretty well actually with duck heart spiedini, which were well grilled, meaty, and just a bit musty. Very nice candied orange/onion combination to go with it as well. (Btw, you can get bread via request, which they don’t tell you; it’s grilled with olive oil and tastes pleasant. I forgot to photograph it though).
Moved into pizzas. Did a bianca and a rosso. Bianca was the clam pizza with ricotta. I guess it looks cool with the clams in the shells, but it kind of seemed like a way of only putting 6 clams on a $17 pizza? Clams were a bit stringy. The only positive side effect seems to have been that the clam juices spilled out of the shells all over the pizza, resulting in a very saline flavor, like having the ocean spilled over your pizza. Overall fairly tasty actually, but kind of just made me miss the vongle at All’acqua.
Rosso, went sort of boring, I’ve only ever had pepperoni and honey pizza at Urban Pie before. Urban Pie was way better for $4 less ($12 versus $16). At least it was pleasant enough though, very saccharine on the nose, with pepper and cheese coming through as you chewed eat bite.
For me, these pizza crusts are weird. They’re fairly soft, and almost seem undercooked… but they have that “cracker” taste to them. I don’t know, maybe some people would love this, but it tasted a bit, idk “cheap” to me somehow.
Anyway, headed into pastas, with their signature white and black garlic coming out first. It was very strange. The garlic types were cooked nicely: the white piquant and sharp, the black pungent and saccharine. The calabrian chili oil actually made the dish fairly spicy, and the pasta itself was slightly on the soft side, but worked alright. However, there was an ungodly amount of cheese on the pasta that nearly overpowered everything else…not really very pleasant. Also, this is kind of a minor quibble I guess, but they serve the pastas with a knife and fork, not a spoon and fork, which makes it somewhat difficult to get all the larger bits into the bites of pasta. Overall, if you didn’t mind being punched in the palette by cheese, it wasn’t a terrible pasta dish I guess.
Next up was a squid and bone marrow pasta. Sounded super exciting, but was mostly disappointing. Tender cuts of squid where nice enough, but bone marrow nowhere to be found. If it was mixed into the sauce it didn’t taste like it, or even add the texture you would expect of such a sauce. Kind of an awkward pasta overall, and felt like squid and tomato fettucine, again, with an insane amount of cheese…somehow very pedestrian, and noodles again, on the softer side, but not horrible.
Overall, pastas are not great, but I guess passable, if you love cheese.
We ended the meal with probably the best thing of the night, this odd Moroccan brick dessert with creme anglaise and pistachios. It was nutty, salty, savory, crunchy, cool, and creamy all at the same time. A hint of orange in there was well. Really interesting, pleasant dessert, great way to end a meal.
My verdict on this place is that it is not worth driving to at all. If you’re around Melrose and La Brea and are desperate for Italian, and you can’t be bothered to drive to Jon & Vinny’s (or, more likely, you can’t get in), I guess it’s an alright neighborhood spot. Some things show promise, but pizza and pasta is several leagues below the current Italian game in LA.
Here’s the problem for me, this place is priced like it’s a Bestia competitor. Pastas START at $19. I guess admittedly they don’t do any $32 rustichella, (Bestia) or $45 lobster torchietti (Republique), but on average they are more than Bestia, and just under Republique. They are just down the street from Republique and Jon & Vinny’s, both of whom do pasta that is several leagues above Spartina in terms of finesse, balance, texture, flavor, etc…
I guess this place is for someone, since they were packed. (Btw, the dining room acoustics are horrific…even without loud music, don’t expect to be able to talk to people sitting across from you, and the tables are small). However, I don’t think it’s me. I can’t ever see myself returning after experiencing the novelty since so many of LA’s best restaurants are right by the place. To be honest, walking by Ta-Eem on the way to Spartina, I half wonder if the food there might’ve been overall better from the looks of the platters people were carrying outside.
I will say that, to me, the meal tasted very much of New York. Maybe that’s the appeal bringing people in. I guess people can take that however they want shrugs.
On the plus side, portions are somewhat generous, this amount of food fed 3 people, and with a very pleasant bottle of lambrusco the meal was $175, or only about $58/person. I think without the wine it was only $43 per person.
Personally, I’ve still rather go eat at Odys and Penelope, Republique, Jon & Vinny’s/Animal, Trois Mec/Petit Trois, Ta-Eem, Mare, Ink, EP/LP, Mud Hen, Lucques/AOC, Chi Spacca/Pizza Mozza, etc… in the neighborhood, but perhaps anyone craving duck hearts and Moroccan brick pastry will find the place worth at least one visit.