Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Special Foodventure #41: Il Moro (West LA)

This past weekend I was invited by Il Moro's public relations rep to sample their new fall menu (for free, one of my very few). Having remembered their positive LA Times review from last year, and enticed by the press release's description of their seasonal pumpkin tortelloni, I accepted and brought along a friend to bounce ideas and thoughts. (Since we are getting special treatment, this post will not have ratings, but more general notes of the space and food.)

Tucked in an office building, I'm sure the first impression many have of Il Moro is that it's a "business restaurant" for quick working lunches, meetings over drinks and maybe the occasional happy hour and quick bites before the drive home. But, to our surprise, the restaurant was packed on a Saturday night -- the crowd mostly mature and upscale-casual, with a few families and younger couples/groups of friends. A good number of the patrons conversed in Italian too, which looked optimistic.

(Il Moro dining room image provided by the restaurant's PR agency)

The dining area itself is neutral-warm in tones (primarily beiges, blonds and browns) made a little more intimate with dimmed lighting. The space is fairly airy and open, and diners can catch glimpses of the kitchen staff over the partition and easily eavesdrop on conversations from adjacent tables.

Il Moro's cuisine is focused on the Emilia-Romagna region, whose cuisine is focused on rich, zesty flavors and rightfully so. Within the region is Modena (known for its production of balsamic vinegar), Parma (pork products and parmigiano-reggiano cheese) and Bologna (orignator of the bolognese sauce).

Just like the region, if there was one word to describe the entire meal at Il Moro, it'd be bold. Every course we had packed a pretty big wallop on the flavors, which was good most of the time -- though by the end of the seven courses our tastebuds were pretty exhausted from the constant punch and stimulation. Hopefully, for the average two or three course meal this won't be as big an issue. Here's a roundup of what we had (all the dishes were of the chef's choosing):

Salsiccia Casareccia in Umido con Polenta Fresca - housemade italian sausage with a braised tomato and onion stew over polenta. The sausage itself wasn't particularly spicy, but the the stew tasted very fresh with the wonderful sweet-acid balance of the tomatoes and onions, further contrasted with the textured creaminess of the polenta. It was a satisfying antipasti and I could actually see this being more of an entree dish with slightly larger portions.

Tartar di Tonno in Spuma Di Avocado - raw tuna tartare with shallots, lemon dressing, avocado mousse and bread slices. This was the only problematic dish in the meal, we were initially surprised to be served this course since it isn't particularly Italian (and has been argued as a universal appetizer). Furthermore, this dish went overboard with the lemon dressing, making the tartare and the mousse too tart to enjoy the creamy fattiness or the nuances of the seasoning.

The apps were followed by a duo of housemade pastas: Maccheroni al Pettine al Ragu di Coniglio (pettine pasta in a rabbit ragu) and Risotto Mantecato alla Marmellata di Cipolle e Bocconcini d’Agnello (risotto with lamb, thyme and onion marmalade). Both pastas were pretty intense in their own right and they complemented each other well. The ridged pettine was great for picking up the chunky, tangy ragu sauce and the rabbit meat was surprisingly tender and mild-tasting, more like pork than the usual gamey-ness I expect. The lamb in the risotto was similarly mild, and I love the onion-thyme combo, which was woodsy and almost mushroom-like, which worked well with the slightly-nutty rice.

On top of the pasta duet, we also shared a serving of their Fall seasonal Pumpkin Tortelloni, with pumpkin mixed with sweet spices and amaretti cookies in a chicken and veal bolognese sauce, served in a pumpkin bowl.

It tasted as interesting as it looked, with a unique combination in flavors and mouthfeel (savory, chunky sauce against sweet, smooth filling) held together by tender pasta pillows.

After the pasta courses came the Ossobuco d'Agnello al Vino Rosso e Polenta Taragna, lamb shank braised in a red wine-porcini mushroom stew with a baked maize-buckwheat polenta. The polenta was unremarkable (toasty & herby, but too pungent for our liking) but the lamb and the fragrant, earthy mushroom-wine stew was delish, with the properly braised meat meltingly tender enough to fall apart with a fork, but not so overcooked that it becomes a meaty mush.

For the finale, we shared the chocolate creme brulee with strawberry sauce; the dessert is more like heavy mousse cake than a custard, but creme brulee like in that it has a chocolatey sugar crust on top. Nonetheless, it was a decadent, not-too-sweet, not-too-dense treat that had very deep cocoa aroma and flavor. The sauce seemed overpowered by the cake, but was nice with the berries surrounding.

Overall, the experience was pretty positive, despite the tuna-related confuzzlement and our palates being blasted with intense (but mostly yummy) flavors at every turn (thankfully, we had no shortage of water for cleansing between courses). For obvious reasons, our table service was close as it can get to perfect, but we observed that surrounding tables also received immaculate attention from the front-of-house staff too.

I can see why the restaurant received the praise it did from LA Times & LA Weekly (not to mention the packed Saturday night dining room even after 13 years of operation). While dinner is more of a special occasion affair at Il Moro, they also cater to the business and casual crowds with lunch, the more relaxed gastrobar atmosphere, as well as more informal events such as their regular wine tastings and live music nights. As noted by others, it's a hidden gem worth checking out. I know I'll be back to enjoy more pastas & sweets (they have a surprising amount of chocolatey items on there, perfect for a cocoa-phile like me!)

Final note: the Fall specialty dishes, according to the manager, are served until end of December.

Il Moro
11400 Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA


Aubrey said...

Just had to say you are one blessed blogger. I love Il Moro. Celeste and I love their cheese plate as well as just about their entire menu. Have to pop in again soon to peruse the new offerings. If you get to try their cheese plate make sure you try their in-house made chianti jelly. Can you say crack jelly?!

Chubbypanda said...

Someday they'll start offering me free food. Until then, I'll just gorge on your reviews. =)

glutster said...

thanks for commenting, i think i'm going to drop that policy now.

anyways, have you been to Au Lac (read my blog).

it's in fountain valley...

H. C. said...

Aubrey Oooh, Chianti jelly definitely sounds insteresting with an addiction potential. Also sounds like something that I may try to cook up.

CP Haha, special treatment is a double edged sword. But I try to be neutral-objective as possible here and hope no one thinks of me as a sellout :P

Javier No I haven't, but I saw your post on it! Like the other guy noted on your blog, much kudos to you for being so health conscious so young (and still discovering delicious finds). I really should be more open about trying out vegan foods though . . .

Anonymous said...

To answer the question you left on my post, yes, I always tip on comped meals. I try to estimate how much the meal cost (erring on the side of estimating too high) and tip 20%. I always look at the restaurant's menu ahead of time so I can get an idea of the prices. There are some people who argue that you should tip as much as possible on a comped meal (say, 50%) but most of the meals I get invited to are pretty expensive, more than I could normally afford to pay for a meal, so a 50% tip would be prohibitively expensive. Plus, I did this once, and the waiter seemed genuinely concerned and said that I shouldn't have left so much money, that it wasn't necessary.

I think there's no question that you should leave a tip, though--otherwise your server is working for free, which isn't really fair to them. I'm sure restaurants send us their best servers for these meals. Getting chosen to wait on a special table should be an honor, not a punishment.

Anonymous said...

I'm tempted to start a food blog. Perhaps it's a great way to get heavily discounted fine dining. Great review.

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