Dining at Drago Centro is a sophisticated affair. Executive Chef Celestino Drago and Chef di Cucina, Ian Gresik, prepare a creative array of authentic Itialian dishes satisfying diners from Beverly Hills, Newport Beach, Pasadena, and downtown.
After a $7 million trasnformation of a former Bank of America branch, Drago Centro was opened in 2008. “The Italians took over the bank, broke open the vault and turned it into a kitchen,” said owner/chef Celestino Drago, as he gave us a tour of his restaurant and kitchen. Drago started cooking at 16 in his home country of Sicily. He was the first in his family to be a chef. As the oldest of eight siblings, most followed his footsteps and are in the restaurant business. Chef Drago has become one of the city’s and the country’s most lauded Italian chefs.
The centerpiece of the room is a fifteen-foot glass wine cellar filled with Italian, French and California wines. It’s a piece of art. “I wanted it to be designed as a workable piece of the room for people to see,” enthused Drago.
There is a special area in the kitchen for making fresh pasta and pastries with a glass window looking out into the dining room.
The former bank vault room now serves as a private dining room for up to 40 guests where diners can watch their food being prepared.
“The walls are all made with solid cement and steel. It’s the safest place to be in case of an earthquake,” Drago said.
Another private dining area is the intimate Flower Room that can accommodate up to 16 guests.
We were seated in a comfy booth near the windows which overlook the Los Angeles Central Library. General Manager, Matteo Ferdinandi, came by our table and while we were talking, I remarked about his eclectic selection of music, like Bachman Turnover Drive, Steely Dan, Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin. Ferdinandi said he selects the music to create a lively atmosphere.
“The restaurant is many realities. During the week it’s fast paced with business lunches, so I have background music you can’t identify. However, on Saturday night I ramp it up a little.”
One of the best ways to experience Drago Centro on your first visit is by ordering the menu degustazione or tasting menu. We started our Italian dining adventure with an amuse of salt cod croquettes resting on a spoon with a dollop of basil cream. Next, arrived fresh baked olive bread and sourdough rolls with a terrific bottle of extra virgin olive oil.
“I have my own bakery in Los Angeles, Dolce Forno Bakery. Drago said. “We parbake all of my baked goods and then deliver them to my restaurants. We finish baking the dough and deliver the bread warm and fresh tasting to the table.”
Our first course was white Holland asparagus with shaved green asparagus and a tiny and not too sweet donut, served as a crouton, very light and savory.
English peas floating in a lobster consommé with succulent pieces of lobster over salmon-colored tortellini tasted as beautiful as it looked.
The white spaghetti was peppered with clams, mussels, octopus, and shrimp. The pasta was cooked al dente and bathed in a light white sauce to offer a very subtle flavor, yet allow the seafood to be the stars of the dish.
Gently fried sweetbreads with long and thin gnocchi and tender green fava beans with a pea purée and long pea tendrils was exquisite in presentation and taste.
The generous slice of roasted duck with sweet Bing cherries, foie gras and a spoonful of mushrooms with a crispy arancini (Italian rice ball) were served with broccolini. This dish made such an impression on me with its delectable essence and texture, that I plan to come back soon to enjoy it again.
The piéce de résistance– dessert – was a work of art. Grappa crème ice cream on a bed of broken chocolate cookies was next to milk chocolate foam, with a chocolate donut rolled in sugar, and a milk chocolate dense mousse with exquisite crunchy chocolate glass candy adorning it. Even though I was thoughly satisfied with my meal, I had to taste this beauitufl dessert, and ended up devouring every chocolate morsel on the plate.
As we walked outside into the cool downtown Los Angeles air, I had a big smile on my face. This Italian restaurant has a great team of chefs and servers that produces a thoroughly enjoyable epicurean adventure. $$$. Valet parking is located on the corner of Flower and 5th street. 525 Flower St. (213)228-8998.
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