Category Archives: Downtown Los Angeles eats

Drago Centro Small Bites: Best Deal In Town!

Ed note: All photos were taken by J’s iPhone since I forgot my camera. Not bad for a camera phone right?

I rarely use this blog to blatantly promote a restaurant, but I have to take this chance to tell you all: Run, don’t walk, to Drago Centro in downtown. Sit at the bar, order yourself one of four wonderful wines by the glass (all priced $6 or under) and order off the small plates menu. You’ll be eating some of the best, most well-prepared bar food in Los Angeles and feeling like you’re getting away with something when you get the bill.

Half-drunk glass of wine…trust me, they pour a lot!

Our first visit to Drago Centro was shortly after the restaurant opened, and we sat in the restaurant, had the tasting menu and enjoyed every single bite. It’s expensive but worth it- the service is impeccable, the view of downtown from the large, glass wall is gorgeous and the food delicious and beautifully presented. It’s fine dining at its best and the kind of place you think put on your list of where to go on a special occasion. So when we discovered that the bar area of the restaurant offered a small bites menu, we decided to go on a random Wednesday night and have been back four times in as many weeks.

The bar is adjacent to the main dining room, separated by the huge, plexi-glass wine cellar which runs all the way to the ceiling. There are chairs at the bar, a long communal table in the middle of the room, a couple of smaller two-tops, plus outdoor sofas and tables. You get a decent view of the kitchen and can watch one of two flat screen televisions which remain silent as jazz music streams quietly over the speakers. Elegant, yet relaxed. Another major plus in my book: all of the bar seating have backs on the chairs so you aren’t sitting on a stool for hours.

J and I always get two (each) glasses of the Mastroberardino Lacryma Christi Bianco from Campania- a light, refreshing white wine priced at only $5 a glass- and it’s always a generous pour….6 or 7 ounces at least. It’s a perfect accompaniment to the long, peppery cheese straws set in tall, silver vases that are all over the bar area so you can simply help yourself. Perfect to munch on while deciding what else to order…..

Having tried almost everything on the small bites menu, we have our favorites, but all of it is delicious. On this particular visit we went for:

La Bruschetta Mediterranea: a thick slice of peasant toast topped with roasted eggplant, smoked scamorza, roasted grapes and a hint of mint:

Not the prettiest of dishes but muy delicioso!

The Due Kobe Hamburgers: Mini Kobe beef burgers with mushrooms, arugula and fontina cheese on tiny brioche buns:

The La Pizza Ai Gamberi: a thin-crusted pizza topped with a pile of fresh shrimp, corn and mozzarella: (Ed note: We’d eaten 2/3 of it before realizing we needed to take a photo!)

We also always order this salad off of the regular restaurant menu- the Le Verdure e Lattughe Novelle: a gorgeous salad of assorted baby vegetables, young lettuces dressed with white balsamic (Ed note: again, being piggish we basically finished eating this salad by the time we thought to take a photo so this is the tail end of it!)

The quality is unbeatable- the salad is a perfect plate of the loveliest baby vegetables- zucchini, patty pan squash, Japanese turnips, golden carrots and radishes all cooked just a bit so that each element retains a nice, bright crispness. The shrimp on the pizza couldn’t be fresher and the Kobe beef in the sliders is always moist, juicy and brimming with flavor. Nothing is over $9, with most of the items priced at $4 or less.

It’s great to be able to eat at Drago Centro on any weeknight and get out for under $60 for two- with the four glasses of wine, pizza, bruschetta, salad and sliders our total came to just over $52.00. I hope you’ll all get a chance to check it out; we rarely see more than a few people at the bar and, selfishly, I want this to stick around, so go on- get yourself some Drago-quality food at Subway prices!

Drago Centro • 525 South Flower Street, Suite #120, Los Angeles, CA 90071

Blog slump + Bottega Louie

Holy cupcakes- it’s been forever since the last blog post! It isn’t that I haven’t cooked or eaten lately; I just feel like I’m in a bit of a blogging slump. J, ever helpful, often calls out “did you take a photo?” before taking a bite of anything, and I just respond by shrugging and digging in. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but it could be that I’ve been really enjoying some nice, post-work bike rides to the Rose Bowl with J, so by the time we get home and eat, it’s late and I’m too hungry to stop for photos! Oh, and Gossip Girl might be on TV (don’t judge!).

Anyway, one afternoon a few weeks back, we decided to ride our bikes from our home in Highland Park to downtown, to check out Bottega Louie, a new restaurant/bakery/deli/bar/cafe that had just opened. It took us just over an hour to get there, and we purchased a couple of mini sandwiches and were satisfied, but not necessarily wowed. The space was gorgeous with high ceilings, and the display cases boasted all kinds of goodies, but we felt the staff just didn’t seem to really know what they were doing. On more than one occasion during our first visit we’d see nervous employees milling about, not quite sure what they were supposed to be doing.

We decided to give it another go, this time for dinner, and were so happy we did. The staff seemed to have worked out the kinks and were working together in harmony, and we were seated right away at a cozy back table. On our first visit I’d seen the pizza oven and knew we’d have to try one of their pies. We ordered the arugula salad, the portabello “fries” and the margherita. All were superb- the baby arugula was spicy and fresh, portabello strips deep fried to perfection and pizza thin, crisp and topped with a light hand. We were thrilled.

We went back and were as pleased with the second visit, and this time I finally whipped out the camera. Since we’d already tried the pizza we wanted to check out their other offerings.

Our new favorite rosé, from the Bastianich family:

We once again ordered the arugula salad and it was as perfect as the first time:

The arancini were good, but not as good as the ones at Terroni’s:

The carmelized green beans were beautifully browned, some blackened, and totally delicious:

The Fettucini Belmondo was as simple as it gets, and was delicious and fresh:

Everything was good, but I think the real winner is the pizza, which we’ll be back for repeatedly (along with that arugula salad!).

We decided to skip the plated desserts and opted to buy a couple of canelés from the bakery to take home. We’d bought one canelé on our first visit and were totally, utterly hooked. It was quite possibly the best canelé I’d ever eaten- slightly crisp and carmelized on the outside and tenderly moist on the inside. We picked out one vanilla and one orange canelé and I handed the cashier at my credit card.

After two swipes, the cashier apologized and said that the machine had been wonky all day and wasn’t reading my card. I handed her another, and, after two attempts it went through. This entire process took about 90 seconds and I was too busy gawking at all of the food in the display cases to really even pay attention. The staff acted like they’d killed my goldfish, and, having overheard me telling my husband earlier that I should have gotten a pisachio eclair, asked me to wait while they got something for me for my “trouble.” I tried to tell them that it was no big deal and it really wasn’t any trouble but they insisted and handed me a large box. I felt awful so I tried to give it back and they just kept insisting, smiling and winking that I’d be happy when I opened it.

So, was I happy? You tell me:

I mean, holy cow. Let’s take inventory here: two chocolate macarons, one vanilla macaron, a madeline, one giant brownie, a blueberry scone and my beloved canelé! By the way, I ate the pisachio eclair in the car so it isn’t pictured (I know, I’m a pig! But it was a mini eclair!) but get a load of these sweet treats! All because it took four attempts to swipe my credit card? I still felt bad about it but they seemed like they really wanted to, so of course J and I sampled some of the treats and I took the rest to work. The canelés are still my favorite, but the chocolate macarons were pretty amazing too.

Check out this perfectly made canelé

I mean, they had me at marghertia……. but now, I guess they complete me.

Bottega Louie
700 S Grand
Los Angeles, CA 90017
213 802 1470


J and I love our sake. We love it cold, in a glass overflowing into a masu………..especially if it’s Shichiken brand. Let’s just say that we definitely had a little lovefest with the sake two Fridays ago at Z Sushi. It was fun while the party lasted, but the next day we were both seeing spots and laying in the fetal position, making “uuuuuuuuuuggggggggggggg” sounds. Beloved sake, why must you kick our butts so hard?

The root of all evil……the night before, at Z Sushi……

After we managed to stand upright without wanting to run for the bathroom, we decided that the only cure would be a big, hot bowl of ramen. Funny, since J and I have never gone for ramen in Los Angeles. Never. Seems strange, I know, but I guess it just isn’t on the top of our list when it comes to Japanese food (sorry Rameniac!). We’re usually sushi, soba or donburi people, but ramen sounded like the perfect medicine for our sake-induced hangover. We jumped into the car and headed to Little Tokyo.

Even though it was 3:00 PM, there was still a line outside of Daikokuya. We waited patiently as the scent of ramen wafted through the air. We started getting impatient, however, when we saw about eight people leave the counter at the same time, but there weren’t enough waitresses to clean their messes and seat us. We literally stared at the empty spots for 15 minutes before someone finally wiped them down and seated us. That was frustrating, but where else are two hungover people gonna go at 3:30 in the afternoon?! I was starving and couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into anything at that point.

Gyoza…’s perfect food.

We decided to order one plate of gyoza and two Daikokuya ramens. I don’t know why gyoza is a common accompaniment to ramen, but it just is. In Japan, you almost always order a small plate of the dumplings with ramen…..kind of like curry and coffee. I’ve never had the latter myself, but you see “Coffee and Curry” signs all over Japan, as if it’s some match made in heaven. Personally, the combo does not appeal to me in the least bit. Gyoza with anything, however, is a match that suits me anytime, anywhere. I LOVE gyoza and couldn’t wait to try theirs.

We could see everything being made from our counter seats. Even though the vat of boiling tonkotsu (pork bone) soup was right in front of us, we weren’t too hot sitting there. It was nice to watch the guys make fried rice, tontaktsu for the donburi and boil the ramen noodles in the individual colanders. Man, were we getting hungry. Just when we couldn’t stand it anymore, our waitress brought our gyoza, and they looked fantastic. Browned and crisp on the outside, the filling wasn’t nearly as flavorful as Mom’s but it did the trick. We were ready for ramen!

Oh – before we get to the ramen, I must say….there was a family of five sitting at a table behind us. Mom, Dad and three if the biggest little annoying spoiled brat boys I have ever seen in my LIFE! The little rats were bothering EVERYONE in the restaurant- playing with balloons that kept landing in people’s food, screaming while stuffing their faces at the same time…..and Mom and Dad just sat there, helpless. I had half the mind to go pull them out of the place by their ears. Seriously- it was so friggin’ annoying. Don’t you hate it when kids are obviously ruining the dining experience of everyone in the restaurants and the parents just SIT THERE? I should have pulled mom and dad out by their ears. Ugh! Sorry, but when I was comin’ up, my parents would have never even allowed us to create such a scene. Honestly- have some respect!

Char sui….world’s perfect food……

Ok, nice rant eh? Like I said, I was hungover, but even if I wasn’t I would have kicked their little beehinds if it wouldn’t land me behind bars. I mean, who wants to be in jail when they’re hungover? Ok, back to the ramen. The two steaming bowls finally came, and we dug right in. The noodles were great- nice and slightly chewy. I loved the char sui….I mean, it’s pork with pork fat on it…what’s not to like, right? The bamboo shoots were also tasty, but the egg was really dry. I realize it’s hard to keep the yolk soft when you’re making so many bowls of ramen, but it was way overcooked and just broke into a million pieces. The soup, which many Japanese consider to be the most important part of ramen, was good but needed more…….salt. I know it sounds crazy, since most ramen tends to be on the salty side, but I kept resisting the urge to put some soy sauce in my soup. I later found out that J felt the same way. We both finished it all, nonetheless, and did actually feel better. The ice cold oolong tea was the perfect thing to wash it all down with.

Dry egg in ramen……..

I think I’ll have to try the donburi on my next visit to Daikokuya. Although it hit the hungover spot, I think I need the soup in my ramen to be a bit more flavorful. I have to admit though, I was transported back to Japan while sitting in that little ramen shop. The vintage Japanese signs and calls of “irahshai!” took me back to my days in Tokyo. The service leaves a LOT to be desired (i.e., they move like a herd of TURTLES!) but the food was pretty good.

“Oriental Curry”

327 E. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 626-1680

Mata ne!