Ravenous and agitated, at this point we turned to the closest decent dining venue we could reach within minutes - Firenze Osteria in Studio City, just down the hill from Universal Studios Hollywood.
So first things first: we hit the cocktail menu - a long list of options, with many Martini creations by mixologist Jacopo Falleni, spanning several pages. Ever on the lookout for the new and inventive, my eyes went straight to the Balsamic Martini ($9.50). Miss Sassy had been there just a few days before, had the Balsamic Martini and loved it - so with that reinforcement - I went for it.
This was definitely the first time I've ever had balsamic in a cocktail - and I am hooked! The drink consisted of muddled strawberries, fresh limes, vanilla flavored rum and just a touch of balsamic vinaigrette. The layers of sweet / tart and citrus mingled nicely with the sweet/acidic flavors of balsamic vinaigrette. Truly delicious but rich drink - Miss Sassy considered it her pre-meal dessert.
Looking over the pastas and mains on the regular menu for future reference - they were pretty standard - but solid for the price and venue proximity. Miss Sassy opted for a salad and butternut squash ravioli.
On to the dineLA menu for me: for the starter, I went with the Gamberoni in Camicia - Jumbo Shrimp stuffed with Gorgonzola, wrapped with Pancetta, over sautéed Garlic Spinach and Herbs and Parmesan Polenta. The size of the shrimp lived up to its name, and was juicy and fairly fresh tasting. I would have liked the Gorgonzola to be more pronounced, and salt in the dish overall to be pulled back a bit, but the dish was still tasty with the combination of many of my favorite ingredients. The only other note was that the polenta was a little congealed, and the spinach salted with a heavy hand, not the best execution.
finally get my lamb for my entree - Agnello ai Pistacchi - Herb Encrusted Rack of Lamb, braised Pistachio and Pancetta Cassoulet. The meat, ordered cooked 'medium', was very tender and juicy. I also loved the addictively rich (pancetta?) flavors and edamame-like texture of the braised pistachio (with just a little more crunch - first time I've had this as a side). This dish was a win!
For the finish, I went with the server's recommendation: Flourless Chocolate Cake Served with Vanilla Gelato and Coffee Cream. This was an unremarkable dessert, though good enough for a prix fixe deal. The coffee cream added a slight twist to the standard flourless chocolate cake, which was light and fluffy, but would have tasted better if served at a slightly hotter temperature.
All in all, a nice dineLA meal for $34 (plus $9.50 for the cocktail), especially for those who work / live in the Burbank / SFV area. The dishes were not ground-breaking, mind-blowing works of art, but they were never meant to be - Firenze Osteria is about a good, solid Italian meal in a comfortable environment, there to service the neighborhood. We left satiated and satisfied, and I made a mental note to add the place to our after-work options close to the office (as apparently many execs from nearby studios did).
In line with Fabio's stated focus on community, Firenze Osteria also invites fans to watch Top Chef with Fabio at the restaurant Wednesdays at 9pm - with complimentary hors d'oeuvres passed round at the bar. There was signage at every table promoting this!
He also offers Cooking with Fabio classes at both this Lankershim location as well as Cafe Firenze in Moorpark, sharing his passion for traditional Italian cuisine at $40 per person or $70 per couple - sounds like it could be fun, as much for Fabio's personality / quips as well as the two-course tasting menu offered with the class. Looking forward to checking that out sometime!
Other plus-es / tips for frugal foodies: Martini Happy Hour daily - $4 martinis from select list, from 5-7pm and 10-11pm at the bar. Valet is 'only' $4.50, but there are also plenty of open meters on Lankershim (albeit across the street without a crosswalk closeby), and free street parking at Valley Spring Lane.
Update Feb 2011: Recap of two fun Cooking with Fabio classes I took are here! dineLA offer extended until 2/28! Menu is different from the above though - $33 per person, dinner only. See details at Fabio's blog here
On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 5.5 bites
Presentation - 5.5 bites
Originality - 6 bites
Ambience - 5.5 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$ (2 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 98%
4212 Lankershim Blvd, Toluca Lake, CA 91602
OpenTable: Look for reservations