Promises of handmade pasta and creamy risotto motivated me to make the drive to Drago Ristorante in Santa Monica for a weeknight dinner. Well that, and my friend Diana. She’s the restaurant’s PR guru, and she assured me that I’d adore this restaurant with all of my carb-loving heart.
Opened in 1991, Drago Ristorante is the oldest of Chef Celestino Drago’s Italian restaurants that are currently open in Los Angeles. His other restaurants include Enoteca Drago and Il Pastaio in Beverly Hills and Drago Centro downtown.
Chef de Cucina Evan Gotanda, a graduate of the California School of the Culinary Arts, as well as the kitchens of Bastide and Patina, treated us to a custom tasting this evening. Most of the dishes that we sampled can be found on the regular cena menu.
Dinner began with bread from Chef Drago’s Dolce Forno Bakery in Culver City. The bakery provides all of his restaurants with freshly baked breads, pastries, and desserts daily. I played it safe with just a small nibble of the olive bread because I wasn’t sure what Chef Gotanda had in the works.
Every meal at Drago begins with arancini with Bolognese and mozzarella. We ate these warm, crisp, and gooey bites with eager fingers.
The first official course was the “ricotta e pere.” The light starter consisted of housemade ricotta with poached pears, arugula, and hazelnut salt. The ricotta’s runny texture tasted silky going down.
My favorite course of the night was the “agnolotti di zucca.” Filled with ricotta, the little butternut squash pasta pockets came swimming in a black truffle flecked butter glaze. While the texture of the agnolotti was perfect, it was the rich and earthy sauce that really made me swoon.
The “risotto alla barbabietola” finished a close second to the agnolotti. The creamy dreamy bowl of risotto incorporated beets in a plethora of ways. There were beets mixed in with the rice, candy beets shaved on top, and beet cubes interspersed throughout. The crunchy grains of puffed rice on top provided the perfect finishing touch.
Our second pasta dish of the evening was the hand rolled “cecaluccoli al fagiano.” The toothsome noodles were served with a soulful roasted pheasant and morel mushroom sauce.
Moving on to proteins, we were served an exquisitely prepared “trota salmonata.” Gingerly basted in butter and thyme, the arctic char was perfectly cooked with supple flesh and crispy skin. Paired with the fish were carrots two ways (pureed and roasted) and shockingly bitter rapini.
The final savory course of the evening was the “costata di manzo,” New York steak served atop polenta with bacon, Brussels sprouts, and red wine. There was also a hunk of braised short rib for good measure. While everything was cooked just right, I was much too stuffed to enjoy this course and packed a good portion to-go for The Astronomer.
Chef treated us to two desserts to finish, one fruity and the other chocolaty. The fruity one, “brioche al mirtillo,” consisted of French toast garnished with orange espuma, orange dust, and cranberry granola. It tasted like breakfast time.
The “crostata al cioccolato,” which was served with a thick smear of dates, brown sugar gelato, and crushed walnuts, was lovely as well.
It’s good to know that after twenty years in the business, Drago is still on top of its game. The pastas, risotto, and fish tonight were nothing short of stellar, as was the service and hospitality that we received. Thanks for the invite, D! You know just what I like.
2628 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90403
There’s more to eat in Santa Monica:
- Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery – Los Angeles (Santa Monica)
- Border Grill – Los Angeles (Santa Monica)
- Brunch at Farmshop – Los Angeles (Santa Monica)
- Dinner at Farmshop – Los Angeles (Santa Monica)
- Fatburger – Los Angeles (Santa Monica)
- Huckleberry Cafe & Bakery – Los Angeles (Santa Monica)
- Rustic Canyon – Los Angeles (Santa Monica)
- Stella Rossa Pizza Bar – Los Angeles (Santa Monica)
- Sweet Lady Jane – Los Angeles (Santa Monica)
- The Yard – Los Angeles (Santa Monica)
- Vanilla Bake Shop – Los Angeles (Santa Monica)
- Whist at the Viceroy Hotel – Los Angeles (Santa Monica)
- Wokcano – Los Angeles (Santa Monica)
- Yummy Cupcakes – Los Angeles (Santa Monica)