Friday, August 10, 2007

Caffe Carrera...Quite possibly some of the best Italian in America

235 S. La Cienega Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Mon-Fri 11:30AM-10PM
Sun Closed

I'm finally back. On my way back to LA I determined in my heart to hit as many buzz/trend watch spots as humanly possible this month. Let me just say that so far I've been let down on my first run out so I decided to post about some place that goes farther than to classify itself as stellar. Yes, it is above phenomenal. The first trend place I hit was on restaurant row and while I won't mention the name of this place, cause I'm thinking about writing them some specifics to step it up (I care about good dining experiences in LA), I will say that when you dine on LA's famed Restaurant Row you should be floored. I also won't tell you the name of this aforementioned place due to the fact that the page is What's To Eat LA not What's Not To Eat LA.

Caffe Carrera
is by far one of the best Italian spots in LA to dine at. Notice I say dine and not eat since it's an experience when you go there. Located just south of Restaurant Row on La Cienega, this small den of perfection has done what very few on Restaurant Row have been able to do... stay in business for 14 years! This is a testament, in general, in comparison to any LA establishment of any kind. In LA it's just plain hard to stay in business for that long. The owner Armando has found a way and he's been sticking to it for years.

So what makes me speak so highly of the spot? Well, Armando Carrera comes from 5 generations of his family cooking and owning Italian restaurants going all the way back to 1908 in Grammichele, Sicily. He has maintained a healthy clientele who swear that he has one of the best spots in LA to eat at, and I agree. The man really has it together when it comes to serving up not just good or great dishes, but food that is fit for kings.

The restaurant itself is completely unassuming from the outside and you just might miss it by the size of it. The entire place houses 11 tables if I remember right so it'd best be to call and reserve a table just to be on the safe side (not to mention just to make sure he's open cause sometimes he's off doing special events). The interior has a familiar charm to it that is best seen and felt, and this is only one facet of it's sparkling charm.

When you go in you realize there isn't any wait staff. Armando IS the wait staff (with the exception of one guy that might bring out one or two things and pick up your dirty plates). He comes by and talks to you like a friend, and he has quite the sense of humor. He's one of those guys who could go in to any conversation with any person and be immediately at home in the topic, whatever it may be. He has an air about him that tells you you can trust his decisions and you should, at least when it comes to the food. Last time we went we were glancing through the menu and he sat down beside us and just asked us what we're feeling like. Like in the "what would you like from the menu?" kind of way but more of the "If it's Italian I can make it so tell me what's your hearts desire?" We chatted about the evenings events, then decided on the Gamberi & Funghi for our appetizer, Celeste had the Farfalle Amalfi and I, by suggestion of Armando, decided on his favorite, the Osso Buco (not on the menu) with spaghetti and meat sauce for my side(that was my idea). He replied with, "Ahhh, not a vegetarian are we...Meat sauce with your meat haha."
The Gamberi and Funghi was a plate of solid perfection. The shrimp and mushrooms were hearty, cooked to the consistency of jambalaya, served over a bed of lemony orzo. The sauce was balanced and not heavy or exhausting on the palate one bit. Truly a well crafted plate that rocked our socks.

The Osso Buco with spaghetti was an incredible surprise for me as I didn't know what to expect, all I really knew was that it's his favorite. He brought it out and the smell was huge. Boasting a huge beefy aroma, with hints of tomato thanks to the meat sauce. My mouth was instantly salivating. The braised veal shank was to DIE for! Veal is a tricky thing, and this was some of the most tender succulent veal I've tasted. Like butter in my mouth, it was tender and smooth. The simple stewed vegetables that accompanied it were the perfect compliment. The marrow of the bone (which Armando said to make sure I try) was like the concentrated essence of the entire shank. It wasn't gelatinous as some would presume, but more like a fatty piece of meat minus any gristle. The spaghetti and meat sauce were nice for me as I came with a big appetite. The noodles were perfectly al dente and the meat sauce was top notch, a veritable testimony in and of itself to the brains behind all his plates. A small note is that you should get wine. He pours generously and it goes great with all the meals.
This is Celeste's bowl of Farfalle Amalfi, a bowtie pasta with salmon throughout in a slightly peppery gorgonzola tomato sauce. It was mild but strong all at the same time, with the slight garlic and pepper flavors present and pleasant but in no way overpowering, and there were even chunks of tomato that were filled with that unidentifiable wholeness of flavor that must have been gently stewed into them. It was so well balanced that Celeste even said how silly she felt because she wasn't even worried about the quantity of salmon that was included (anyone else ever feel ripped off cause a pricey dish only included about 4 bites of the featured meat?).

We finished our meal by sharing a piece of the Tiramisu. Someone online had commented that it was the best they'd had, including New York. While I don't have the experience of those other areas to make that statement, I know this was an outstanding dessert on every level I could evaluate it. All the cakey layers were very moist, but didn't mush into the other layers or fall apart. As you ate it, there were phases of flavors, first a little ammoretto, the the chocolatey coffee cake and a slightly sweet creamy finish. We consumed it alongside an excellent espresso and latte, making a wonderful ending for our meal.

I really can't do this place enough justice with words. I hold this place in such high regard that words seem pointless. Very few people in LA know about this place but those who do know about it all give it nothing less than 4 out 5 stars(a rating of 4 being more the exception). Next time you're feeling Italian and want something that will knock your socks off, call and reserve your table at Caffe Carrera...I can promise you wholeheartedly that you will be not only be impressed, but you'll also be wondering why you would ever go anywhere else.

P.S. They deliver, cater, do take out and just about anything else you could want from a restaurant.

Drink Refills: You know what I don't know...I always get wine there. You should too.
Entree Price Ranges: $10 to $15 for appetizers and $17 to $30 for entrees.

I'm finally back from possibly the first official vacation I was able to take since I started working. It's not that I haven't had time where I've been off, it's just that even those times I had to think about work. I went to the Arizona and let me say it's such a spectacle that it looks fake. It honest to goodness looks like a painting. While I was out there I stayed in Williams and thought about nothing related to work including writing on my site. Let me just say that it was one of the most refreshing times I've had in my life.

See it looks fake! I actually took this at the Grand Canyon:

And in other news:


WHO: Food & Wine, the modern epicurean magazine, and Food Network's Dave Lieberman

WHAT: "Green Party", featuring hors d'oeuvres from chefs: Akasha Richmond, Akasha; Dominique Crenn, Abode; Sang Yoon, Father's Office; and Michael Cimarusti, Providence.

WHEN: Wednesday, August 15 from 7-9 PM

WHERE:At the home of Dave Lieberman in Hollywood Hills, California

CONTACT: Lori Lefevre 212.827.6403
Sonia Zala 212.536.2014/o

Tickets are $100 per person with proceeds benefiting Food & Wine's Grow For Good, a national initiative dedicated to supporting local farms and encouraging sustainable agriculture.

Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased until August 10 by calling 646.366.8644. Space is limited.

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