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EATS: in and around the Valley | RESTAURANT REVIEW

Tranquil but Trendy

Tuscan-style Padri brings upscale, imaginative dishes to Agoura Hills.

October 08, 1998|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Padri is what might result if a Tuscan farmhouse were redone as a restaurant by a team of martini-drinking baby boomers.

It's the newest member of an Italian restaurant family that includes Il Moro, Locanda Veneto and Ca' Brea. But its tranquil Agoura Hills location makes it far closer to rural Tuscany than the others.

It's appropriately rustic, with a wood-beamed ceiling, straw-colored walls and raw wood tables. The martini-bar side, featuring a cozy brick fireplace and New Age music, is the ideal spot for hunkering down with a date and a cocktail--say, the Vertigo Lemon Drop: vodka and the juice of three lemons in a sugar-frosted glass.

This is a comforting restaurant. The noise level is tolerable and the room is bathed in soft amber light.

The food can also be comforting. Chef Saverio Posarelli trained at the celebrated Florence restaurant Cibreo, and he has solid experience around here as well.

He also has a vivid imagination. Classics such as spaghetti con pomodoro and osso buco share billing with innovations such as insalata di finocchi e rugola con filetti di aranci, a wild combination of sliced fennel, arugula, orange slices, shaved pecorino cheese and caramelized walnuts.

Modern Italian cooking is a new wrinkle for trendy Agoura Hills; I predict Padri will save the Beamers and Benzes in its valet parking section many trips to the Westside.

As at most upscale Italian restaurants, the appetizers and pastas seem to be the most interesting part of the meal. I loved ovaline di formaggio, which takes the cliche of warm goat cheese and turns it into something memorable. The chef wraps ovals of goat cheese in crisp pancetta bacon and serves a heap of perfectly sauteed Swiss chard on the side. It is simple perfection. Pancetta is also the star in spinaci con uovo in camicia, a deliciously rustic salad of baby spinach, grilled mushrooms and a warm poached egg, all in a warm balsamic vinaigrette.

But filetto crudo e affumicato, a thickly sliced carpaccio on arugula with rather a lot of dressing, is a nondescript effort. I didn't much care for the crab and shrimp cakes, either; these crocchette di gamberi e granchio were rubbery. But the bean stew that accompanied the cakes, made from cannelini and borlotti beans, was filling and satisfying.

I only tasted one soup, a minestrone made with black Tuscan cabbage, carrots and potatoes. It was hearty but bland.

The risottos, served in a gleaming copper pot, have been gently stirred for a properly grainy texture. But when I ordered the first risotto on the menu, I could barely taste the chicken, braised shallots and porcini it's flavored with. And the potato gnocchi are gummy, though the chicken and duck herb ragu on it is wonderful.

Almost all the pastas are interesting, though. Maccheroncetti con polpettine is a short tube pasta in a delicate tomato basil sauce, with lots of addictive little veal and ricotta meatballs. Tagliatelle con peperoni arrosto is a broad noodle sauced with roasted red peppers, a little pesto and a handful of shrimp.

The secondi, or main dishes, are for big appetites. The house specialty is pollo schiacciato, a whole broiled chicken, bones removed, brought to the table grandly in an iron skillet. The pan is dripping with a terrific marinade of herbs, olive oil and lemon zest, soaked up by roasted rosemary potatoes.

The osso buco is faultless--both the beautifully tender meat and the marrow-filled bone.

The desserts are all excellent. An incredible vanilla pudding topped with a layer of caramel sauce is the crowning dessert. And the warm, flourless chocolate cake crusted with grilled hazelnuts oozes pure fudge.

BE THERE

Padri, 29008 Agoura Road, Agoura Hills. Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 4-9 p.m. Sunday. Full bar. Valet parking. All major cards. Dinner for two, $36-$59. Suggested dishes: ovaline di formaggio, $6.50; maccheroncetti con polpettine, $9.50; osso buco, $14.50. Call (818) 865-3700.

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