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RESTAURANTS / FIRST LOOK

At Melograno, Hollywood stands in for the chef's Piedmont hometown

January 10, 2008|S. Irene Virbila

Who'd have figured a promising new Italian restaurant would open right across from Suit City on Hollywood Boulevard? Hey, you can buy a slick, new suit and then repair to Melograno for dinner.

Italian for "pomegranate," Melograno takes over the old Brasserie Les Voyeux space in front of the Queen Anne Victorian where Charlie Chaplin's and other Hollywood moguls' children were schooled.

The place couldn't look more different now.

Chef-owner Alberto Lazzarino and his partner, sommelier Giuseppe Cossu, have given the long narrow room a retro Italian spin with milky Murano glass lamps strung overhead. White-clothed tables are lined up along the walls and at the very back is a big round table with a view onto Hollywood Boulevard and window seats heaped with soft cushions.

Lazzarino, who last cooked at Piccolo Ristorante Italiano in Venice, and before that at Cheebo in Hollywood, isn't just doing the same old L.A.-Italian menu. He's put on some very regional dishes -- he's from the Piedmont region of northwest Italy, which suits sommelier Cossu just fine since that's where some of Italy's greatest reds are made, namely Barbaresco and Barolo.

It's unlikely anybody is just going to cruise down this stretch of Hollywood Boulevard, see the place and decide to drop in. It's a little hard to spot even when you know it's there. Look for the valet, which is not to be confused with the one for Lift, which is up the street to the east.

Sit back (on those soft, plump cushions), order up a bottle of sparkling Prosecco, a pretty Dolcetto or maybe a Barbera and look over the menu. There's plenty to tempt.

If it's chilly, you might want to go for the garbanzo bean, barley and porcini mushroom soup scented with rosemary. Or the lovely autumn salad of organic greens with grapes, pickled cauliflower, pear and marinated Cornish game hen in a pomegranate dressing.

Lazzarino turns out wonderful little agnolotti al plin, which you can order with truffles shaved over them, if you like. His potato gnocchi with nettles in brown butter and sage are some of the best in town. But he's also got short ribs braised in Barolo, wild black sea bass with mushrooms and breadcrumb-crusted lamb chops.

For dessert, go with the bunet, a Piedmontese cake-pudding made with chocolate and amaretto cookies.

And don't look now, but you might even see one or more Italian chefs stopping in to eat and wish Lazzarino and Cossu luck.

Buon appetito!

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virbila@latimes.com

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MELOGRANO

WHERE: 6541 Hollywood Blvd. (at Wilcox Avenue), Hollywood.

WHEN: 5-10 p.m. Tue. to Thu.; 5-11 p.m. Fri. to Sun.

PRICE: Antipasti and salads, $9.50 to $14; pasta and risotto, $14.50 to $18.50; main courses, $23.75 to $26.50; desserts, $6.50. Wine and beer. Valet parking, $10.

INFO: (323) 465-6650

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