Travels With Mai Tai Tom 2016 Restaurant Of The Year!
Officine BRERA – Los Angeles, CA
Visited: April 2016 & July 2016
No doubt about it, we had the closest competition ever for the coveted (well, maybe someday) Travels With Mai Tai Tom 3rd Annual Restaurant Of The Year Award.” It came down to a battle between L.A. Arts District Northern Italian, Officine BRERA, and Pasadena’s Alexander’s Steakhouse (by the way, we will have our first ever “Favorite International Restaurant from Our Recent Trip Award” that will be presented tomorrow, and hopefully with a shorter name).
Following is my original review from April, and then an updated one from July.
It was time to head back to the Downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District for another “hot ticket” restaurant. Thirty years ago you wouldn’t be caught dead in this part of L.A. (well, actually if you were found here, you might be dead), however in the past 15 years the area has been revitalized and gentrified by an influx of millennial professionals buying lofts and a score of fantastic restaurants like Church & State Bistro, Bestia and 2014 Travels With Mai Tai Tom Restaurant Of The Year, Factory Kitchen).
Speaking of The Factory Kitchen, the gentlemen who brought you that fantastic Northern Italian eatery, Matteo Ferdinandi and Executive Chef Angelo Auriana, recently opened another restaurant in the area; Officine BRERA. Stealing from their website, “The inspiration behind Officine BRERA comes from classic recipes of cucina povera, the countryside along the River Po’ Valley in Northern Italy where both Chef Angelo Auriana and Matteo Ferdinandi grew up. Both have fond memories here of hearty meals shared with family and friends.”
There is ample seating in the center of the restaurant with smaller spaces in the back that are less noisy (although the noise factor here is not an issue). There is also a full bar and a patio.
We arrived on a warm spring evening at what we thought was the “old geezer sunset dinner hour” of 5:45 p.m….it had been the only reservation open until 8:45 p.m., and we booked 10 days in advance. To our surprise, the restaurant was already starting to rock (I guess even young hipsters don’t mind dining early), and it would be completely full in no time (advance reservations recommended).
We were seated in the smaller (quieter) area, and our waiter, William, was very attentive as he poured our Prosecco and wine while explaining the menu. There were three of us dining, so William suggested we share.
The menu is divided into four sections. We started with three items from the “Fried, Cured & Cultured” portion (perhaps I’ll use that name as the title of my never-to-be-published autobiography). The Friseu ($6, six vegetable sage fritters, red onions and Boston Lettuce) was light and crunchy and our table declared it a “Wow” dish. I was already regretting this “shared” thing, as I could have easily eaten all six, but I digress.
The appropriately named Lardo Al Pepe ($10, cured pork back fat, chestnut honey, arugula, candied walnuts and pink peppercorns) was up next. This is basically a salad wrapped in a really thin sliced piece of fat. I mean, really, what’s not to like about that? The candied walnuts and tiny pink peppercorns added a nice crunch.
By comparison, however, the Raschera ($9, Piedmont cow’s milk cheese with slivered apples and celery leaf salad) was a tad unexciting, but out of nine dishes this was the only miss, so bravo BRERA.
Let me preface this by saying, “I am a Gnocchi fanatic.” One time in Lake Bled, Slovenia, I ordered one gnocchi as my appetizer and another gnocchi as my main dish. I’ve never seen a waiter so perplexed. Well, let me say this about Officine BRERA’s gnocchi, it is one of the BEST gnocchi dishes I have ever tasted.
The handmade potato gnocchi, Castelmagno cheese fonduta, black summer truffles and chives ($25) melted in my mouth. If I could give this a “Double Wow” (well, of course I can…it’s my website), I would. I tried to tell Tracy and Susan it was terrible and that I would eat it for them, but they saw through my selfish charade (next time, the gnocchi is ALL mine).
Next up was the cannelloni ($22; braised beef stuffed oven baked fresh pasta with melted cheese béchamel). This was delicious, and Tracy said she was glad the three of us were sharing. It had a nice citrus essence, and they did not skimp on the beef filling.
Last up from this section, we tried the Milanese risotto ($22; Vialone Nano rice, saffron, roasted bone marrow, Lodigrana). Risotto is my second favorite dish in the world behind gnocchi, plus “I’m just wild about Saffron,” however it did not come with an “e-lec-trical banana.” I loved the presentation with the bone marrow in the bone in the center of the dish. Tracy is not really a marrow person, so Susan and I gladly took her share.
While we were dining, we saw entrees from the “Wood Grilled, Spit Roasted & Slow Braised” portion of the menu come out. The portions looked really large, and the tables around us were all sharing their entrees. Holy mackerel, I don’t know where they get their trout, but those were some big fishes. At this point we were starting to get full and as we really wanted to try the desserts, we decided to save the “Wood Grilled, Spit Roasted & Slow Braised” for another visit. On this evening’s menu there where three fish entrees (trout, pink snapper, Mediterranean sea bass), pork, veal and beef. The entrees ranged from $29 for the aforementioned trout to $69 for an 18 oz. California Reserve prime rib-eye.
Usually we split desserts, but after perusing the menu, we knew that would be an impossibility because there were just too many delectable-looking choices. It was at this point I knew my recent four-week old diet was history, but you know what they say, “A waist is a terrible thing to waste.”
There were eight items on the dessert menu plus gelato and sorbet. The three of us already knew we wanted to try the Castagnole ($9, five freshly fried doughnuts, anise sugar and salty bourbon caramel sauce). William suggested we try the Formaggio Dolci ($10, ricotta baked cheesecake, Bing cherry jam, lemon feuilletine crunch). We rounded (much like our stomachs) out our dessert course with the Ciocco-Motto ($10, chocolate custard, earl grey, blackberry coulis sauce, fresh Chantilly cream).
The salty bourbon caramel sauce from the Castagnole earned another “Wow” from our group as we dipped our doughnuts in it. That sauce is so delicious, the restaurant should sell that to go.
Tracy is not a big cheesecake person, but she loved the lemon feuilletine crunch topping on the Formaggio Dolci, which we learned are basically crushed wafer flakes. I am a cheesecake person, and this dish was unique…and very good.
During our evening, the food presentation was great, and the service impeccable, including a change of silverware between each course. Every member of the staff who stopped by our table bringing us dish after dish was personable and professional.
He said, “Thanks,” and walked away, probably thinking, “What the heck is a MaiTaiTom?”
The three of us are in unanimous praise of this restaurant, and as stated, get your reservation well in advance. Bring a good and adventuresome appetite, because you’ll want to try many of these dishes. I can still taste that gnocchi!
Officine Brera is definitely in the running for my 2016 Restaurant of the Year. Will the Factory Kitchen (aka Factory Place Hospitality Group) team capture two of these coveted awards in three years? Stay tuned…the year is young, and we’re constantly hungry.
JULY 2016 REVIEW:
After a performance of “Beautiful,” chronicling the life and music of Carole King (go see it if it’s ever near you), a group of six of us navigated the streets of L.A. and once again found ourselves at Officine Brera. Tracy, Susan and I had already dined here, but this was the first time Kim, Mary and my sister Deanna had tried it.
Once again the service was top notch, led by our waiter Hector who patiently explained the menu to our newcomers and me (I have a short memory span).
Remember, the menu changes often, so you might not have exactly what we ate. We didn’t take many photos, since we had a larger group and didn’t want to be too obnoxious.
From the FRIED, CURED & RAW section of the menu, we started with Frisceu; vegetable sage fritters, red onions, boston lettuce ($6). Delicious once again!!!
From RAW, SAVORY & MORE, once again the “Wow” Gnocchi; Castelmagno cheese fonduta, black summer truffles and chives ($25), was utterly stupendous.
The other “Wow” dish from this category was Nastrini Del Miracolo; ancient grain house-made pasta, butcher table’s meat ragu & Italian parsley ($19). Two great dishes from the WOOD GRILLED, SPIT ROASTED & SLOW BRAISED portion of the menu were the “Wow” Manzo all’olio slow braised beef shoulder, root vegetables, anchovy oil, potatoes, natural jus ($29), and the Stinchetto di Maiale; Wood-oven roasted Pork Shank, aromatic herbs, Swiss Chard and polenta ($29).
One other good item, the Polenta e Fegatini; yellow corn polenta, chicken liver, poppini mushrooms and natural jus ($18) was so good that none of it got to me. I’ll have to take the gluttons word for it.
Two trips to Officine Brera in 2016 resulted in two incredible dinners. Congratulations on being named Travels With Mai Tai Tom 2016 Restaurant Of The Year!
maitaitom rating: 4.85 mai tais out of 5
1331 East 6th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90021
Hours: Monday – Thursday 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 pm – 10 p.m. (Friday 11 p.m.)
Saturday: 5 p.m. – 11 p.m.
Sunday 4:30 p.m. 10 p.m.
Parking: $7 Valet parking (dinner) and $5 (lunch)
$20 corkage for first two bottles…$35 after that (bottles must not be on their wine list)