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.
11604 San Vicente Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90049
Pecorino Website
Pecorino Menu
Pecorino on Urbanspoon


Restaurant Review #197: Gladstone's of Malibu

Indoor dining room

I only went to Gladstone's because I dragged my family out to Malibu to visit Cholada Thai and it was closed (they're closed on Mondays--I forgot). There aren't a ton of dining options in the area, so we forced my mom to deal with her bird phobia so we could all deal with our raging hunger. I can't accurately say that I regret the choice, since we didn't really have any other options on our very tight schedule, but I will say that the experience was far from ideal.

You can't argue with the view

If you're afraid of seagulls or want to eat all of your meal yourself, definitely don't sit outside. These birds have no qualms about coming right up to your table and stealing your food, as we observed. You won't lose much of the beachside experience by sitting inside if you can get a table by the window. The windows open and have screens, allowing you to enjoy the view and the breeze without the annoyance of the birds. It's also pretty chilly, even on a sunny, late summer afternoon, so bring a jacket.

Valet parking is required and costs $3. If you're going to the beach anyway, paying half the beach parking rate at a beach lot is a nice perk, but if you're just going to the (already overpriced) restaurant, the parking charge (with the accompanying expectation that you tip the valet) is just annoying.

Down Home Lobster Roll

My mom ordered the Down Home Lobster Roll. Even if I could eat shellfish, I wouldn't touch this mayonnaise sandwich with a ten foot pole. I don't think the delicate (and expensive) flavor of lobster was meant to be smothered with cheap glop like this. The potato chips were soggy.

Shrimp sandwich

I couldn't try this one either, but my father was not impressed. It's worth mentioning that our server didn't give a hoot about my shellfish allergy when I was trying to order. The menu is laden with shellfish, so if you're really allergic (I'm only slightly allergic), please don't eat here.

Grilled cajun fish tacos

Cajun? You have to be kidding me. The fish in these tacos was overcooked and tasted like it hadn't been seasoned with so much as a pinch of salt. The tacos came with beans and rice--both cold, both flavorless. I wasn't hungry enough to bother sending them back, though, and they weren't good enough to take home as leftovers.

Seagull-friendly beachside dining

I like to give a restaurant the benefit of the doubt, but in this case I just don't have any reason to. Based on my lousy experience, I'd say that Gladstone's relies entirely on their beachside location and ocean views to draw diners and tourists. Such mediocrity makes it all the more annoying that the website and menu are so full of hype. There's nothing like eating with an ocean breeze caressing your face, but the food and service at Gladstone's really aren't worth the high prices. For the same money, you could get some gourmet cheese and snacks at Whole Foods and have a picnic on the beach in a location that isn't an obnoxious bird magnet. For even less money and if it isn't Monday, you can enjoy some of the best Thai food in the city just up the street. If you get taken to Gladstone's against your will, save your hard-earned money and get by on a beer and a baked potato--it's hard to screw those up.

Gladstone's of Malibu (also known as Gladstone's 4 Fish)
17300 Pacific Coast Highway
Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
Gladstone's Website
Gladstone's Menu

Gladstone's 4 Fish on Urbanspoon


Restaurant Review #196: La Pergola, Sherman Oaks

La Pergola's attractive dining room

I chose La Pergola because Zagat recommended it and I needed a place with "normal" food to take my parents to. The restaurant looks dingy from the outside with a dirty old awning and a neon red sign, which is probably why I'd never considered eating there before, though I've driven past it many times. Its outside appearance is deceiving, because the interior is bright, cheery, and uniquely decorated with Italian ceramics.

Ravioli del Giardino

If the cheery decor wasn't enough to make me like the place instantly, the service really sealed the deal. The waiter, who may have also been the manager judging by his demeanor, was impressively patient with my parents' ordering indecisiveness and with explaining menu items and unfamiliar terms. My mom always has to ask the server, "What is that like?" before she feels comfortable ordering anything, even if the dish is already described on the menu.

Since my parents were hungry, I didn't hassle them with photographing their food, so you'll just hear about my dishes. I ordered the ravioli del giardino, a dish so good that I will probably never manage to try anything else on the menu in all the return visits I hope to make. The pasta tasted fresh and homemade and was filled with a puree of vegetables that somehow managed to taste like cheese. The creamy sauce was incredibly rich and I'm sure the dish contained many more calories than I normally eat in an entire day, but it was worth every bite.


For dessert, my dad ordered the house special. Tartufo is the Italian word for "truffle." In this case, it's also a dessert consisting of a ball of chocolate hazelnut ice cream with a chocolate coating and a maraschino cherry in the center. Though it didn't sound all that exciting to me, it was actually very flavorful. I only wished that I had been the one to order it!

Plum sorbet

The plum sorbet was a disappointment after the excellent pasta and tartufo. For $7, it tasted nearly identical to a cherry popsicle, which wasn't quite the flavor revelation I was anticipating. The plum lacked the sour tang of the plum slushes I like to order from boba tea shops. Of course, there are sour plums and there are sweet plums, so a sweet plum sorbet is perfectly valid even if I didn't enjoy it.

Windowside seating with a view of the patio and Ventura Boulevard

We arrived early on a Sunday evening and were the only ones in the restaurant for a while, which I found puzzling considering how nice the restaurant was and how excellent the food and service were. As the restaurant filled up more and more the closer it got to 7:30, it proved to be yet another popular destination for the Sherman Oaks senior crowd (which apparently is a significant part of the neighborhood's demographic, judging by my other dining experiences in the area). Arrive early and maybe you'll get to have the place to yourself, too. Don't let the blah signage deter you--this restaurant is a great find.

La Pergola
15005 Ventura Blvd.
Sherman Oaks, CA 91403
Map of La Pergola
La Pergola Website

La Pergola on Urbanspoon