12.17.2007

Restaurant Review #198: Pecorino, Brentwood


Tortelloni di Melanzane

Pecorino, a hard-to-spot restaurant in Brentwood’s Little Italy, serves traditional rustic Italian fare plus a few innovative creations in a cozy setting. Unlike the Italian restaurants of the suburbs, Brentwood’s eateries are small and cozy and serve smaller portions of less-Americanized dishes, and Pecorino is no exception.

The clientele also reflect the expensive neighborhood: businessmen still in their suits, ladies who lunch, and retired couples. Exposed red brick walls, dark wooden ceiling beams, and traditional white linen tablecloths create a setting that is part modern industrial loft, part your wealthy grandparents' dining room.

Moderately low lighting from the wrought-iron chandeliers overhead and flickering candles on every table bathes the entire room in a warm glow, and tantalizing scents occasionally waft from the partially exposed kitchen. Chef Raffaele Sabatini and his twin brother Mario, are natives of Abruzzo, a region in central Italy that lies 70 miles east of Rome.

The staff made an excellent first impression by insisting on opening the front door and giving us a generous table for four when we were only two. They also honored our request for a quiet table in the back, though noise may not have been an issue no matter where we were seated. Unlike many of LA’s upscale eateries, Pecorino does not ignore the comfort of its diners to make an extra buck by cramming as many tables into their space as possible; instead, they have preserved the privacy that is part of any enjoyable dining experience by spacing the tables at least an arm's length apart.

Acoustics are also well-designed here: even when full, the dining room is reasonably quiet, making it a great place for closing a real estate deal, catching up with old friends, or holding hands across the table with your significant other.
Filetto di bue in salsa

Despite Pecorino’s warm interior, the restaurant can feel a bit pretentious to those who aren’t part of the scene—your first choice after being seated will be whether to pay $7 a bottle for mineral water or endure the supposed indignity of requesting tap. I can't help but wonder if thus signaling to the staff that you have no intention of dropping a week’s pay on your dinner will result in an evening of mediocre service.

Despite the ridiculous markup on water, refills on fountain drinks are free and frequent, and many of Pecorino’s dishes are reasonably priced enough that you can easily control the cost of your meal. Appetizers, soups, and salads range from $8-19. Primi range from $11-22 and secondi range from $25-44. Desserts are $7-8. If you're on a budget, you could order only a primi (pasta dish) and your bill would be pretty reasonable. Though the primi are small and perhaps not enough food to fill up on, to order both a primi and a secondi would be major overkill, despite what their category names imply.

Of course, if you're out for an evening of excess, you could easily spend $75 or more per person on insalata di avocado, burrata cheese with roasted bell peppers, filet mignon, a bottle or two of cabernet, a sampling of cheeses, tiramisu, and espresso. (It’s worth noting here that diners can take a bite out of any bill of $50 or more by purchasing a $25 certificate on Restaurant.com for $10 before leaving home—just make sure to use the certificate Monday through Thursday and present it before you start ordering. The meal reviewed here, including one glass of wine, one soft drink, tax, and tip, cost about $100. Don’t expect to leave with leftovers.

Though the menu’s dishes are listed in Italian, descriptions beneath each item prevent the selection from being intimidating. The filetto di bue in salsa is a ten-ounce filet mignon in shallot and red wine sauce, served alongside olive oil mashed potatoes with green onion. Though the hunk of meat with lumpy sauce next to a sloppy scoop of lumpy mashed potatoes did not make for an attractive presentation, the generous portions, lightly tangy sauce, and properly cooked meat made up for it. While some restaurants will not cook a steak medium rare out of fear of the health department, Pecorino had no qualms about complying with our request. The mashed potatoes, while an interesting idea for a variation on a traditional dish, would have tasted better with salted butter instead of olive oil and far fewer green onions, if the onions even added anything at all.


Dining room

The tortelloni di melanzane consisted of fresh pasta filled with pureed eggplant and ricotta in a light cherry tomato stew. The pasta was definitely al-dente: not how I like it, but admittedly the proper way to cook pasta. The filling did not have a great deal of flavor on its own, a disappointment given the rich, smoky flavor of properly cooked eggplant, so the pasta was left to rely entirely on the sauce and a generous sprinkling of freshly-grated parmesan cheese for flavor. Fortunately, the sauce was mellow but bright, with tomatoes, garlic, and herbs providing a welcome explosion of summer flavor on a cool winter evening. More sauce, or perhaps more flavor in the filling, would have made for a tastier dish. The glass of pinot grigio I ordered to accompany my dish was uninspiring—perhaps I should have asked the waiter for wine suggestions.


Pear and white chocolate mousse

Like most dessert menus, Pecorino’s is pretty predictable: tiramisu, crème brulee, ice cream, sorbet. For a restaurant that strives to remain true to its European roots, the dessert menu was noticeably absent of any fruit-based dishes, unless you count the sorbets. We ordered two of the more creative-sounding items, pear and white chocolate mousse and chocolate mint mousse.


The pear and white chocolate mousse was confusingly named for two reasons: one, it was not a poached pear accompanied by fluffy white chocolate mousse, as I had imagined, and two, there was no hint of pear flavor whatsoever in either the mousse or the sauce that surrounded it. A few errant chunks of elemental white chocolate in the mousse marred an otherwise smooth, tongue-coating texture that captured the essence of the main ingredient. Raspberries, a traditional accompaniment for both chocolate and its albino cousin, along with a rarely seen ground cherry (a sweeter relative of the tangy tomatillo), garnished the attractively presented dish.

Chocolate mint mousse

The chocolate mint mousse, which was also quite gorgeously plated, would have benefited from a stronger chocolate flavor and a mint filling that didn’t taste fake, like a Rocky Road candy bar—not the flavor you want to experience at an upscale restaurant. If I wanted to be generous, I would say that the accompanying mint sauce was vibrant; if I didn't, I would say that it reminded me of a certain 80's movie whose theme song is wildly overplayed every October 31st. The dessert portions were generous enough to share.

At the end of an otherwise nice meal, the service committed a cardinal sin of American dining: making us wait thirty minutes to pay. Perhaps the staff was trying to add to the authentic Italian dining experience by following the European custom of requiring diners to request their bill, but given the attentive service we had received earlier in the evening when the staff seemed to be everywhere all at once, it seemed incomprehensible that no one so much as stopped by to ask how we were doing once our desserts had been served. Even declining coffee and asking for a doggie bag wasn’t enough to prompt our waiter to deliver the bill.
As far as getting there, maneuvering San Vicente at dinner time on weekdays (also known as rush hour) will have you fantasizing about buying a motorcycle--or a helicopter--so unless you live within walking distance, it’s a good idea to make the latest reservation you can—say, 8:30 or 9:00.Parking at this restaurant, or any other in the neighborhood, is almost nonexistent, though if you get lucky you can snag a meter on San Vicente (free after 6:00pm) or a spot in a nearby neighborhood (though these neighborhoods seem to have more red zones and oversized driveways than parking spaces).Otherwise, expect to hand your keys over to the valet—just make sure they don’t give you the wrong Mercedes when you leave.

If you’re looking for Italian food in Brentwood, you have plenty of choices: Osteria Latini, Vicenti, Sor Tino, La Scala, and Toscana—just to name a few. At Pecorino, while the food was generally good and the service was mostly fine, neither impressed me enough that I would care to return when there are so many other options. In particular, I’d rather drive a mile to West LA and eat at Il Moro, where the prices are the same but the food and the service are considerably more inspiring.
Pecorino
11604 San Vicente Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90049
310.571.3800
Pecorino Website
Pecorino Menu
Pecorino on Urbanspoon

3 comments:

Chubbypanda said...

It's named after a cheese. What's not to love? =b

I always figured that the irritatingly frequent offers of bottled water in pricier establishments are the result of a certain class of Southern Californian who would throw a hissy fit if said bottled water wasn't readily available.

sistah43 said...

hi

I stumbled on your review. Try the coconut custard desert at Pam's on Venice Blvd (used to be Rosalyn Thai on Lincoln which used to be good and then plummeted).

Pam's has excellent dishes (they have an eggplant dish which takes a long time to prepare but is worth the wait--maybe not the price for the small serving); but the custard ($9) easily serves 2.

jj said...

thanks for the review. i've always wondered about this place. i live nearby and was walking past it one time and some guy (the owner?) told me to come by and he would give me a tour of the kitchen. haha. he was kinda cute!

anyway, you should check out pizzicotto down the street, it's really good