Dr. Joel M. Fisher is a renowned wine enthusiast, educator and columnist. He also leads Los Angeles’ biggest and most prestigious wine, brew and spirits festival LA WineFest. This week Dr. Fisher discusses the Ombra Ristorante in Studio City, CA:
Reading the LA Times Food Section Thursday I came across a restaurant review for Ombra Ristorante, on the east side of Studio City. It was a very attractive review, and I immediately called for reservations since son Matt was taking Dad to lunch.
Greeted by Francesco, an experienced and knowledgable waiter, we discussed the menu, and slowly ordered. Chef Michael Young was out, but due back. I ordered the Gaspacho, made with cold heirloom tomato soup, Persian cucumbers and green tomato mustarda. Not at all spicy, it was a delightful beginning to lunch on a hot day.
Matt started with a salad, as I remember, and then to a Pasta which I tasted. My second was a Bronzino, probably the best example of this dish enjoyed in years. Even the green beans were to rave for. Simple, the place probably seats 60 people or so,
Ombra is more than just another neighborhood Italian. Stop in at the Cahuenga Boulevard restaurant for a glass of dry Moscato from the Veneto or a Vermentino from Sardinia and an amuse of arancini, fried rice balls with hearts of smoked mozzarella that strings like telephone wire. His are triangular in shape, rolled in breadcrumbs and perfectly browned, his way of welcoming guests to Ombra. We had to ask Francesco what they were, but enjoyed them
Chef Michael gives you a comfortable, and easygoing and warm presence when he steps into the dining room. There was a particular wine I wanted, which was on the wine menu, but not by the glass. Well, they poured us two glasses of that wine, and we paid extra, but I appreciated the gesture. They even made me a latte, with dark chocolate. The Chef and I know a bunch of the same crowd, and he cooked at Valentino’s , Drago, and elsewhere.
Make no mistake, I very much want this restaurant to survive in my community. I’ll make reservations, stay on the menu, and bring wine for Chef Michael to taste to see if he likes it enough for me to get the local representative to bring product for Michael to taste. I’m looking forward to working my way through the menu.
Open the menu and you’ll quickly realize it’s not just the same old L.A. Italian dishes. You might find a crackling crisp round of porchetta redolent of herbs and garlic as an antipasti, served with a terrific house-made green tomato mostarda. One night a panzanella made with chunks of heirloom tomatoes tossed with cucumber, red onions, day-old bread and sweet basil in olive oil and vinegar impresses. I like his simple Tuscan white bean salad adorned with jumbo white shrimp and capers too. And the octopus with diced potatoes and olives. Young learned to make pasta when he worked at L’Ambasciata, halfway between Cremona and Mantova in Italy.
The pastas are excellent and can be ordered as half or full orders. Cavatelli are small, ridged pasta that curl in on themselves, like shells, tossed in a tomato sauce with Dungeness crab, spring onions and arugula. Fusilloni means big fusilli, the better to grab every bit of pesto — loose, fragrant, very green, a handful of fava beans tossed in and shaved Pecorino. His garganelli (hand-rolled tube pasta) in a spicy salami sauce is a terrific dish. So is the maccarronis from Sardinia in a ragù Genovese made with hand-chopped pork and veal — and lots of onions.
In a sea of Italian restaurants, Ombra feels very personal. That’s because Young is involved in every aspect. He’s the chef and wine buyer and is responsible for the look of the restaurant. The dining room is simple and minimalist — dark wood chairs, white tablecloths, the only ornamentation being vases of flowers and a panel of antique Venetian wallpaper with stylized mermaids on the back wall. When he realized the noise level was too high, he added sound panels, something I wish more restaurateurs would do. It works to mitigate the noise and doesn’t cost all that much.