I have said this numerous times before, but I have to repeat it again, Piero Selvaggio ranks as one of the best restaurateurs in the country. He and Chef Nico Chessa orchestrate our meal and we never look at a menu. They devised a perfect tasting menu – a meal that had a wonderful internal harmony with just the right amount of food plus a perfect diversity of flavors and textures.
The gracious owner par excellence – Piero Selvaggio
One of the advantages of eating at Vin Bar and going early is that we have time to talk to Piero and catch up on his news. He does have GREAT NEWS! Piero described his plans for Primi Al Mercato at Santa Monica Place. I for one will be there as soon as it opens – fresh Italian pasta made daily, fresh sauces, incredible cheese, unbelievable salumi – you can eat there or have the best home-made meal you don’t have to make yourself.
From Eater LA:
“Aha, one more food concept announced today for that anticipated new gourmet alley, The Market atop Santa Monica Place. It’s not Eataly but we’ll take it, Piero Selvaggio of Valentino Restaurant Group plans to open Primi Al Mercato on May 20, a dual trattoria and retail space known as the Laboratory di Pasta. The trattoria will serve “creative pastas” with sauces composed of seasonal ingredients from the nearby Santa Monica farmers market. On the subject of the Laboratory di Pasta, it’s high time the westside landed a specialty pasta shop, other than fresh/frozen pastas at Bay Cities, the packaged stuff sold at Whole Foods, and some farmers market vendors, there isn’t much by way of fresh pasta by the sea.”
Vin Bar room – casual and cozy
I have posted this before, but it is worth repeating:
“Raised on the island of Sardinia, Nico Chessa has worked throughout Italy, mastering the signature dishes of every region. He was privileged to be the executive chef for the gala reopening of the Sistine chapel in 1996, where he had the honor to serve Pope John Paul II. Joining the Valentino Restaurant Group in 2003, after leading the kitchens of high profile restaurants in Houston and Washington, D.C., Chessa has long catered to a clientele of world-leaders, entertainers and notable dignitaries. Acclaimed for his Sardinian-style food by award-winning journalist John Mariani, Chessa’s charismatic presence has brought him an added following as frequent guest chef for the premier Crystal Cruise Line.”
This was a “take” on Vitello tonnato, chilled veal in tuna sauce. Instead of the main protein being veal it was tuna and the saucing was a veal sauce. Terrific.
First wine from their list
Grilled Octopus with Black Squid Ink Fregula. Fregula is a type of pasta from Sardinia. It is similar to Israeli couscous. “Fregula comes in varying sizes, but typically consists of semolina dough that has been rolled into balls 2-3 mm in diameter and toasted in an oven.” The octopus was tender and perfectly cooked with the fregula adding a perfect taste and texture contrast.
Pasta Fagioli (literally translated as pasta and beans) with clams – in a word – delicious.
Ravioli di Zucca con Tartufo Invernale Pregiavto – Spinach Ravioli stuffed with butternut squash, butternut squash cubes, winter black truffle, butter and sage – balance is the key for each dish served at Valentino. This is ingredient driven cuisine executed with finesse without an array of unnecessary accompaniments.
Fabio, the terrific pasta chef who has been at Valentino for 25 years presenting the next dish.
Hand-made Strozzapreti (priest chokers) with Ricotta, Pheasant ragu and Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top. The ricotta was baked and made much like a mousse – somewhat like an emulsion. In an earlier post I explained that this is called “priest chokers” because centuries ago, it was common practice to let priests eat for free in restaurants. Wishing to get rid of the “freeloaders”, chefs rolled the pasta in such a way with the hope that the pasta would get lodged in the priest’s throat and choke.
Close-up of the Strozzapreti – having perfect pasta is a given at Valentino and as I mentioned above Piero will be opening Primi Al Mercato at Santa Monica Place and you can either have perfect hand-made pasta at home or just enjoy a casual meal there.
2nd wine from their list
gnocchi, ricotta di bufala, fresh tomato, basil, small dice of fresh mozzarella – light as air gnocchi with faultless saucing
Tortellini with Italian cheese, a “smear” of gazpacho sauce and a “smear” of bean puree – they did mention the special Italian cheese used, but I am not sure I got the name right so rather than make something up, I will just say Italian cheese.
Minted-flavored Tagliarini pasta with zucchini, carrots, calamari sauteed in garlic oil for about 1 1/2 minutes, sprinkled with bottarga – a flawless preparation. Once again, I have to reiterate that this is cuisine where execution and ingredient quality is of utmost importance.
Agnolotti del Plin floating in chicken broth – “Agnolotti Del Plin is a typical Piemontese dish that is rarely found outside of the area, even nearby in Northern Italy. Agnolotti Del Plin (literally in Piemontese language – “pinched” agnolotti) are stuffed typically with meat.” The best description I was able to get was that it was stuffed with a “special” from Nico. My one thought – “chicken soup for the soul.”
Porchetta with fava beans, red and yellow bell pepper, shaved pecorino cheese – a great ending to a wonderful meal.
Bottom Line: Run don’t walk to Vin Bar/Valentino and I intend to be at Primi Al Mercato as soon as it opens.