Monday, January 30, 2012

dineLA 2012: Ombra Ristorante

After discovering this gem of a lunchspot in Studio City last dineLA (well, we ended up ordering off the regular menu that first time, but dineLA was the reason we'd gone there!), we'd been back to Ombra numerous times - and after looking at their dineLA menu for 2012, just had to go in for another fix.  Especially for the $22 lunch deal (savings estimated at $17)!

I started with the Vitello Tonnato Sliced Veal / tuna sauce / pickled onions.  Beautiful slices of young cow (eloquently described, I know) - with texture somewhere between chicken and turkey, and a mild taste that I would say would be a cross between chicken and beef, are punctuated by shreds of sour and crunchy, vibrantly pink pickled onions, and capers, and counterbalanced by giant dollop of creamy tuna sauce, a completely unexpected combination that works surprisingly well together.  The sour flavors were a perfect way to whet the appetite at the start of the meal - I ate every last bit and wanted to lick my plate.
My friend 'Wise' chose as her starter, Zuppa di Baccala Stewed salt cod / gaeta olives / potatoes / light tomato broth. This seemed to be sort of a more exotic take on minestrone.  I liked the taste of the salt cod in the tomato-based soup-stew, but in texture it was a bit muscular / tough. 

Fellow luncher 'Wonder' went for the Lenticchie e Burrata Brown Lentil Salad / Quinoa / Burrata. I had a taste and wanted more variety of flavors, colors and textures in this one.  Lentils and quinoa don't really excite me on their own, so for me they needed to play sidekick to another ingredient that would be the superhero.  As it was, this felt like a side, or a work in progress - waiting for something else to come in and save the day.

As it was my last week at my old job, I guess we got too absorbed in conversation while ordering to notice that we'd all gotten the same entree, which was a shame as I'd actually wanted to try the ones with truffle / bottarga!  In any case, all three of us got Polpette di Cinghiale Wild Boar Meatballs / soft polenta.  I really wanted to love this, but while the meatballs were juicy and tasty, the polenta was much too salty and dense where I wanted it to be light, creamy and mild to let the wild boar take center stage. 

Since I knew I was starting a new job on the Westside this week, and would not have another chance to revisit Ombra for lunch during dineLA, I went back on my own another day to have the veal again as starter, and then to try the Tortelli di Patate Blu e tartufo Peruvian potato ravioli / butter / parmigiano / black truffle.  Here's where I remember why I love Ombra so much - Chef Michael Young delivers simple pasta dishes that are incredibly well executed, but with some unexpected ingredient that makes eating at Ombra a fun culinary discovery.

Instead of the usual meat or seafood, Chef Young filled these ravioli with Peruvian potato, which offered a beautiful bloom of purple wrapped inside each freshmade dough wrapper.  Served at just the right heat to maximize the aromas of the simple yet delicious butter and parmigiano on top, raised to another level of food-euphoria with slices of fragrant black truffle.
For dessert, all three of us went for the Budino di Pan D'oro "Pan D'oro" Bread pudding / salted caramel sauce.  A rustic preparation of a classic dessert, but one of the best I've ever tasted - soft, fluffy yet substantial, served at perfect temperature, skillfully controlled sweetness offset by bursts of salt.  I can still taste it in my mind a week later.

On my return visit, I reluctantly dragged myself away from the bread pudding (since it was going to be added to regular menu) to give the Strudel di Mela e papaveri Apple and poppy seed strudel a try.   I enjoyed the slices of apple that tasted poached, and loved that instead of the usual cinnamon, Chef Young used poppy seed for flavor.  My only note on this was that the dough could have been more buttery, flakey and less tough to cut through.  Loved the light, airy whipped cream on the side as well.

Chef Young actually made his rounds in the dining room on my second dineLA visit, to chat with fellow diners, and perhaps it was seeing my eyes light and blow up to an unnatural size every time another dish arrived - but Chef Young was kind enough to send out a complimentary plate of a dessert from their regular menu: Bonet Piemontese ($7 on regular menu) which I absolutely fell in love with.  The menu description says "typical Piemonte chocolate dessert / amaretti cookies".  I have never been to Italy and have no idea what a 'typical' Piemonte chocolate dessert is like, but to me this was anything but ordinary.  In consistency, it was somewhere between jello and mousse. In flavor, it was sort of like Nutella with amaretto - chocolatey hazelnutty almond scented deliciousness.  Need to go back soon, even if just for this dessert alone.

So, my picks out of the dineLA items tasted?  Sliced veal, Peruvian potato ravioli with black truffle, and bread pudding, hands down.
And with the Amex foursquare sync/check-in, I got an extra $5 statement credit which renders my total lunch bill at $22-$5= $17!!!!  For a 3-course meal that involved truffle!!! In an elegant space with awesome service!  Plus I got hotel points by using a credit card associated with a hotel loyalty program, and 100 points for making my reservation with OpenTable.

For those who work in the Valley within driving distance - you've got 4 more days to go for dineLA - don't miss out on this one!

[For more of my dineLA picks and deal breakdowns, see my post here.]

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 6 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $ (1 bite mark)
Probability of return visit - 100%

Ombra Ristorante
3737 Cahuenga Blvd., Studio City, CA 91604
Ph: 818.985.7337

Parking: Street parking on Ventura Blvd in front of restaurant (note meters have 1 hour limit)
OpenTable: Look for reservations

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