Restaurant Review #195: Il Moro's Fall Harvest Menu, West LA

Salsiccia Casareccia in Umido con Polenta Fresca

Being invited to try Il Moro's Fall Harvest menu was a unique opportunity for me in that I have never previously had a comped meal at a restaurant which I am already familiar with. I was looking forward to seeing how my previous two experiences at Il Moro as an average diner would compare to my experience as someone who needed to be impressed. Since I already thought that Il Moro's service and food were nearly impeccable, I wasn't really expecting anything to be different on this visit except for the price.

Il Moro did not let me down. Truly the only difference between this visit and my previous visits was that the manager visited our table three times to share his thoughts on the food and the restaurant. He told us that Il Moro's menu is based on the cuisine of the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, a region well-known for its food, and that his chef insists on spending eight hours to make their ragu. He pointed out that the restaurant is popular despite being tucked away, not having much signage and not being in an area that receives any pedestrian traffic. You can come to Il Moro just to have a drink at the bar, you can come for their wine tastings on Tuesdays, you can come for a business meeting (they have a private room), or you can enjoy their outdoor patio. Clearly he has tried to create a restaurant that fulfills multiple needs, and I think he has succeeded.

Carpaccio di Manzo e Insalatina, Carciofi Croccanti in Odore di Aceto Balsamico

I always let my servers pick my wines at Il Moro because they always do an excellent job. This time I had a sauvignon blanc from Luretta to go with the first few courses. The wine was pleasantly fruity, but not too sweet.

Our first treat was a house-made, Italian style pork sausage stew with braised onions and tomato sauce served atop soft, buttery polenta (lead photo). I'd never had anything like it, and the flavors melded together flawlessly. The rosemary garnish was interesting because it added an aroma to the dish which was not part of the flavor--a good choice, I thought, since rosemary can be overwhelming. This dish would fit right in at Cube.

I've only had carpaccio a couple of times, at Orris and Lucques, and I have to say, Il Moro's version is the best I've tasted. Their paper-thin slices of raw beef fillet are topped with organic baby lettuce, sultry oven-roasted tomatoes, lemon dressing, shaved Parmesan cheese, and drops of 10-year-old balsamic vinegar from Modena. Naturally, I licked the plate clean.

Cappelletti in Brodo di Cappone con Fegatini

"Aaack, I ate chicken liver?" was what I thought when I got home and looked at the menu. I paid no attention to the menu at the restaurant because I just wanted to eat whatever the chef sentout. These fresh, handmade quadretti, or tiny squares of pasta, were filled with chicken liver and served in a tasty capon broth. To me, the pasta mainly just tasted salty, but the broth had a richness and complexity that definitely wasn't Campbell's.

Tortelloni di zucca al ragu

This attractive pumpkin bowl (can you imagine having to carve and embowl all of those pumpkins? Yikes!) held homemade tortelloni filled with pumpkin, amaretto cookies, fruit mustard, and parmesan cheese, sauteed with Bolognese sauce and a touch of cinnamon.

Since Giada di Laurentis is always tossing ameretto cookies into her dishes, I was excited to try this dish, which is extremely popular at Il Moro and only available for about three months every year. The cookies were thoroughly blended with the filling and did not provide any sort of crunch (which wouldn't have worked in this dish) but I thought the amaretto flavor was overwhelming and made the pasta filling overly sweet. It really needed a lot of the Bolognese sauce to balance out the sweetness. The sauce was delicious, but I think I'm more of a butternut-squash-filling-without-amaretto-cookies kind of gal. I'm a supertaster, though, so I think a lot of things are too sweet that other people enjoy.

Ravioli di Manzo Brasato e Spinaci al Burro Fuso, Risotto alla Vecchia Modena, and Maccheroni al Pettine al Ragu di Coniglio

At this point in the meal, the server brought me a red wine: Le Pietre, from Aldeghieri. I really don't know if I was drinking expensive wines or moderately priced wines, but I was quite impressed with both of them and with how well they paired with the food. (If you ever question whether your wine is a good match for your entree, just save a few sips for the dessert course and notice how terrible your formerly delicious wine tastes with your dessert.)

For this course, I ate a few things that I normally would not have touched. The risotto consisted of carnaroli rice with porcini mushrooms, slowly cooked chicken gizzards and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Chicken gizzards, you ask with disdain? Truthfully, I didn't notice them at all because the mushrooms were the dominant flavor in the dish, yet somehow the overall flavor reminded me of movie theater popcorn.

The maccheroni consisted of homemade, rolled-tube ridged egg pasta sauteed in a lean rabbit ragu with fresh vegetables, white wine, and a light tomato sauce. The maccheroni looked like penne from a distance, but upon closer inspection, you could see that the tiny lines in the pasta ran horizontally instead of vertically and that each piece of pasta looked like it had been rolled individually.

The ravioli filled with fresh spinach and braised beef in Barolo wine in a golden butter sauce was one of the best dishes of the evening. I couldn't take apart the spices I tasted in the filling, but they almost reminded me of Indian food. I'm not sure how large a regular serving is, but I doubt I could have eaten more than a few pieces of this incredibly rich pasta. As it was, I was already too full to finish even three pieces, delicious though they were. Still, I would definitely order this ravioli if I went back.

Costiccine d'Agnello alla Senape

By the time we received the grilled baby rack of New Zealand lamb brushed with herbs in a mustard sauce, I was probably too full to really enjoy any more food. The lamb had a texture more like beef (normally I think lamb has a slightly crumbly texture) and I wasn't that keen on the sauce, which I thought was too salty (but my guest loved it). The dish was served with perfectly cooked asparagus sauteed in butter and garlic. While all of the dishes were attractively presented, this presentation was the most show-stopping one of the evening.

Chocolate tarte brule with fresh strawberry sauce

Coming from someone who doesn't get that excited about chocolate, this dessert was spectacular. Carmelizing the top of this chocolate mousse-like cake with a flourless chocolate crust was truly an epiphany. The sensation of the fork breaking through the delicately crunchy top followed by the flawless smoothness of the other two layers was great foreplay for the sumptuous flavors to follow.

On my previous visits to Il Moro I sat on the patio, but this time I sat indoors to have a different experience, take advantage of the better lighting for my photos, and because it was rather chilly outside (their patio is heated, though). Even though the restaurant was fairly full, it was never too noisy and there was plenty of space between our table and the neighboring tables. The kitchen is open, so occasionally an errant food aroma that doesn't quite go with what you're eating will waft over. The chairs were exceptionally comfortable.

While Il Moro's menu is not your typical "safe" Italian menu of lasagne, pizza, and spaghetti that most of middle America is used to, it does have enough "normal" dishes for the average person. However, it also has many upscale or unusual dishes that you aren't likely to find at most Italian restaurants, even in a city as culinarily diverse as Los Angeles. The menu is not always easy to understand, but the servers are friendly and will be happy to explain any dish to you. Il Moro was and still is one of my favorite restaurants, and I highly recommend it.

Il Moro
11400 Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90064
Il Moro Website (with menu)

Foodie Universe's previous Il Moro review

Il Moro on Urbanspoon


Restaurant Review #194: Cafe Bizou, Sherman Oaks

Sesame coated salmon with potato pancakes and mushrooms in a burgundy wine sauce

Despite having eaten at over 200 restaurants in Los Angeles, when my parents come to town, I have a hard time figuring out where to take them. My adventurous tastebuds don't appear to be genetic, so my knowledge of local Japanese restaurants is lost on them. Thankfully, Cafe Bizou turned out to be a place that satisfied both my parents' desire to eat food they were familiar with in a restaurant unique to LA and my desire to eat something flavorful and well-prepared.

Halibut with vegetable strudel and mashed potatoes in a tomato garlic sauce

We made a reservation for dinner on a Friday night and were glad we had, because plenty of people were waiting when we arrived. There isn't actually much of a place to wait though, especially when it's raining outside, which made the entrance pretty cramped. Within the restaurant, the tables are better spaced than in most of LA's eateries. That being said, we had a difficult time creating enough space for our plates, glasses, and bread basket at our table for four.

All entrees and pasta dishes have the option of adding a cup of soup of the day or a romaine salad for $1. I'm not sure if I think the extra dollar is gimmicky or a good way for folks who don't want either to save a bit of cash. For a dollar, though, the portions were generously sized.

Steak au Poivre: Sliced steak served with mashed potatoes and vegetables in a brandy cream sauce

The best entree of the evening was the salmon (lead photo). Coming from someone who doesn't really care for salmon, that's saying a lot. If I go back, I'll definitely order this dish. The other two entrees we tried were also solidly prepared, albeit less unique. The vegetable strudel that accompanied the halibut could have used more flavor in the form of cheese, butter, or even a little extra salt. The steak was perfectly cooked, and every dish was attractively presented.

Flourless chocolate cake

The dessert choices were pretty standard. Amusingly, my parents thought that flourless chocolate cake was for people with dietary restrictions, so I ordered it so they could see what they were missing out on. Moist and lightweight instead of dry and heavy, the flourless chocolate cake was superb. The tiramisu, which I normally think is a dessert menu cliche, was extra moist and had clearly earned its spot on the menu.


The best part of our meal at Cafe Bizou was, well, everything. If you're a regular reader (or a regular diner, period) you know how difficult it is to find a restaurant where the food, the atmosphere, and the service are all done well. For an evening out where there's something for everyone on the menu and everything works and tastes as it should, Cafe Bizou is an excellent choice.

Cafe Bizou
14016 Ventura Blvd.
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
Cafe Bizou Menu
Cafe Bizou Map

Lunch M-F 11:30 - 2:30
Dinner daily 5:00 to close (oh, I hate when places say that!)
Brunch Sat, Sun 11:00-2:30

Appetizers and Soups $3 - $9
Entrees $13 - $20
Martinis $7 Wines by the glass and the bottle, or BYOB and pay corkage
Cafe Bizou on Urbanspoon