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RESTAURANTS | CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK

Showing class all around

October 05, 2006|Leslie Brenner | Times Staff Writer

IL MORO, the 12-year-old West L.A. Italian spot run by three gentlemen from Bologna, has had a snazzy makeover.

Wine is a major focus -- there's a new "gastrobar" in front and wine tastings every Tuesday night, each featuring a different winemaker.

But you don't have to venture out on a Tuesday to join the fun -- a page devoted to the featured winemaker is included in Il Moro's menu for the whole week.

Last week, for instance, the restaurant was featuring Le Salette, a producer from Italy's Veneto region. Some friends and I went to check out the new dining room and sample a bottle.

The dining room, as reenvisioned by architect Jeff Daniels, is sleek, elegant and comfortable, very modern Milan in feel, with polished copper walls. Behind the curved, smooth, honey-colored wood banquette you can see the open kitchen; a glassed-off private dining room is to the side. Floor-to-ceiling windows lead to the patio, so whether you're dining al fresco or not, you get that wide-open feeling.

One of my dining companions and I began with glasses of 2004 Cuomo Ravello and 2004 Feudi di San Gregorio, both minerally whites from Campagna, while we pondered the menu. Meantime, the waiter brought over the bottle of red I had ordered from the featured winemaker page, a 2002 Le Salette Ripasso I Progni Valpolicella.

The waiter presented the bottle to me, then opened it and, curiously, poured a glass for one of my male friends, though it wasn't he who had ordered it. My dining companion tasted it and proclaimed it fine, accepting the bottle.

I was worried, though. I'm like a magnet for corked wines, and not everyone can easily identify one. Sound paranoid? I summoned the waiter and asked him to pour a taste for me. I swirled, I sniffed. Yup. Corked. This can't be, I thought to myself. Must I always be such a pain in the neck?

I asked the waiter to assess the wine. He swirled, he sniffed. "Corked!" he said, and gleefully removed those glasses. That, I suppose, is one of the many reasons restaurants should let the person who ordered the wine taste it, even if there is a man at the table.

A few moments passed, and the waiter returned. "That was our last bottle of the Ripasso," he said.

Just my luck.

"So I'm upgrading you."

"Upgrading us?" That never happens to me.

"Yes," he said. "We're offering you the Amarone at the same price." Le Salette's 2000 La Marega Amarone was listed at $85, while the Ripasso I had ordered was $60.

He opened and poured me a taste. Delicious -- dark and sensuous, with some serious concentration and a gorgeous finish.

What a classy way to handle the situation!

For dinner, we started with a salumi plate, which we shared. It included some great-quality prosciutto di San Daniele, salami and coppa. Best of all, it came with gnocco fritto, the deep-fried wedges of bread that traditionally accompany salumi in and around Bologna, the birthplace not only of chef Davide Ghizzoni, but also of pastry chef Davide Marchetti and of Gaetono Foiani, who co-owns Il Moro with Elio DeSanto. Marvellously crisp and puffy, the gnocco were fabulous with the cured meats.

Bologna is in the Emilia-Romagna region, and the menu highlights a number of dishes from there. After a salad of shaved raw baby artichokes and arugula, I zoomed straight to Emilia-Romagna, ordering tagliatelle al ragu di piccione. Most of Il Moro's pastas are house-made, and the tagliatelle were toothsome, simmered in a wonderful rich sauce of roasted squab, Barolo and tomato, scented with bay leaves. Who needed anything else?

One of my pals ordered cappelletti Emiliani allo stracotto -- small pasta packages filled with tender braised beef in a flavorful chicken broth. She swooned -- she and her husband had just returned from Bologna, and biting into the juicy little packages brought her right back there.

For the rest, we veered from Emilia-Romagna, but that means all the more reason to return. There's lasagna alla Bolognese, served only Wednesdays and Saturdays. And risotto alla vecchia Modena, with porcini, slow-cooked chicken gizzards and Parmigiano-Reggiano. And picchiatelli al ragu di carne, featuring a short, tubular pasta designed to trap lots of sauce.

For dessert? It took me all of about two seconds to choose: alzata di formaggi con acacia e mosto cotto -- a cheese plate, featuring Parmigiano-Reggiano; Pecorino gran cru, a 20-month-old sheep milk cheese from Sassari, in Sardinia; Bitto, a sheep and cow's milk cheese from Lombardy; and Brinata, a sheep's milk cheese from Tuscany -- all served with acacia honey and Chianti wine jelly.

With that little bit of Amarone left in my glass, it couldn't have been a happier ending.

brenner@latimes.com

S. Irene Virbila is on vacation.

*

Il Moro

Where: 11400 W. Olympic Blvd., West Los Angeles

When: Dinner, 5 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 5 to 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. Sundays. Also open weekdays for breakfast and lunch. Valet parking on Purdue Avenue.

Price: Dinner soups, salads and antipasti, $8 to $17; pastas and risottos, $16 to $19; main courses, $22 to $60 (for La Fiorentina, a Porterhouse that serves two); cheese and desserts, $7 to $18.

Info: (310) 575-3530

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