Thursday, February 9, 2012

dineLA 2012: Campanile

Despite our respective monikers, "Ms. Sassy" and I are reverse of what you'd expect when it comes to food - I'm the bold adventurous one and she's into the classics, well executed.

Craft is a given for us every time dineLA rolls around - but this time we decided to do an additional meal together.  Ms Sassy's always had good experiences at Campanile - so despite the menu being on the 'classic' side, I agreed to check it out.  Afterall, places / dishes become classics for a reason, and when done well, they can be amazing.
The humble looking entrance, tucked into a non-descript stretch of La Brea, belies the rustic grandeur of the space and decor - which made us feel like immediately like we had stepped into a different world.
Vaulted ceilings, stone arches, fountains, and even a live acoustic guitar player/singer made us forget for an hour or two, where we were - we were transported to some historic stone-carved venue in the Italian countryside.  It would have been appropriate to order wine, but neither of us are big wine drinkers so we went with cocktails.  
Ms Sassy started with a Grilled Endive Salad baby frisee, goat cheese, spiced walnuts, pomegranite vinaigrette which she loved.  Not being a big salad fan, I didn't taste this one.

My choice of starter was a no-brainer: Black Truffle Risotto wild mushrooms, sottocenereSottocenere is probably my favorite cheese in the world - a semi-soft, smooth and nutty-flavored cheese infused with truffle flavor and covered with a gorgeous grey rind made of edible vegetable ash.  Every time I've had Sottocenere it's been transcendent - so I was excited to see it as an ingredient on the menu, but wasn't sure the best use of it was to work it into risotto (you lose the lovely textures of the cheese, though the fragrant truffle flavors do come through in the rice). I think my disappointment with the risotto was probably a result of high expectations - it just didn't blow me away like I wanted it to.

We both ended up with the same entree: Braised Beef Cheeks funghi misti, butter roasted carrots, parsley pesto - the meat was tender, juicy and cooked well - but again to reference a cliche - just isn't the stuff dreams are made of.  Perhaps it was something in the sauce that I was looking for - like a good Boeuf Bourguignon, perhaps its wine-soaked flavors or just something to really capture the nose, tastebuds, and imagination.

One of the reasons Ms Sassy wanted to check out Campanile for dineLA was for the dessert: Guiness Stout Cake caramelized honey ice cream, caramel sauce - this was a tasty dessert with a hefty yet light Guiness soaked cake with the beautifully colored caramelized honey ice cream reminiscently of the 'head' of the dark colored beer.

The desserts were the most exciting part of the meal for me - I loved my Chocolate Caramel Cashew Tart with banana anglaise, whipped creme fraiche! The chocolate tart was just the right density and perfectly portioned, smoothness punctuated by crunches of cashew.  Banana is a time-tasted pairing with chocolate and I liked the slight twist here with it being used in creme anglaise as sauce.  Loved.
All in all, we had a great time, and enjoyed the ambience.  The food was good, but not a meal that I would crave or make me want to go back to Campanile to try their regular menu.  Though lots of people whose opinion I respect recommended that I do just that - go for their regular offerings which are fantastic.  And I may at some point - but, based on the dineLA meal which was supposed to provide a glimpse of what the place has to offer...and that their regular menu pricing is on the higher end - I would probably only go back when dining with others who are more into the classics or if our primary focus is the setting.  For my money, for fine dining I would rather go to a place like Providence that inspires with every bite.

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 5.5 bites
Presentation - 5.5 bites
Originality - 5.5 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 5.5 bites
Price - $$$$ (4 bite marks regular menu)
Probability of return visit - 80% 

Craft Los Angeles 
624 South La Brea Avenue  Los Angeles, CA 90036
Ph: 323.938.1447

dineLA - $44 dinner
Parking:  Street parking on La Brea

OpenTable: Look for reservations

Campanile on Urbanspoon

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