Adjacent to Culina at the Four Seasons Los Angeles is a newer Napolini culinary experience, Vinoteca Bar. I heard that it is so much more than just a bar and was eager to meet my friend Ali for lunch.
Since the weather was nice, we opted to sit on the covered outdoor patio, instead of inside the bar and cafe. It’s a more relaxed vibe than Culina restaurant, yet with the same exceptional service. Vinoteca opens at 6:30 a.m., as an espresso cafe with baristas making warm Caffè Umbria coffee drinks and eight-hour drip cold brews made from an elegant, multi-tiered Yama maker.
I noticed rows of convenient electrical outlets for people to plug in their laptop and smart phone to work while sipping a cafe latte and enjoying a pastry from chef Federico Fernandez. Some of his specialities include bacon and cheddar scones, plain and almond croissants, muffins and a powdered sugar pastry called a sfogliatello, which is sometimes referred to as a lobster tail with many ridges. Next to it was another pastry that caught my eye – a cannoncini. This flakey treat looks like a combination of a croissant and a cannoli with powdered sugar dazzling the top. “It’s also known as an Italian horn, filled with hazelnut cream,” said the barista. I ordered one for the ride home.
Our server discussed the menu, which is divided into sections, and informed us that the produce and fish are local, however the rice, wheat flour for the pizza, burrata, Parmigiano Reggiano, balsamic vinegar and buffalo mozzarella are delivered from Italy twice a week to provide authentic flavor profiles. “The same products made here in the U.S. don’t taste the same,” she said.
Our server recommended we order three to four plates per person to share. There are frutti di mare with fresh clams by the half dozen, California scallops, and two different types of oysters.
Next are crudos made with yellowtail, salmon, tuna or scallops. My friend suggested we order one item from each section to share. We started with the yellowtail tartare from the crudo section. It arrived with a smear of soft, white mozzarella cheese decorating one side of the bowl. In the center was cut raw fish with compressed cherry bottarga (an Italian delicacy of salted, cured fish roe) and tiny chocolate mint leaves. It offered a fresh briny essence.
Under the Santa Monica Farmers Market section we ordered the ancient farro grain bowl filled with a sprinkling of mustard greens, chopped dried apricots, peaches and persimmons with strips of semisoft Taleggio Italian cheese. The cheese was mild in flavor, offering a slightly fruity tang. During the winter, this section will include small plates featuring Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, heirloom carrots and fingerling potatoes.
Next we ordered Vinoteca’s specialty montanaras, an Italian street food. They are small flash fried pizzas that are topped before being baked. “No one else makes these on the West Coast like we do,” our server told us. We ordered three types. The lobster montanara arrived first and looked similar to a lobster roll. It was filled with large pieces of lobster, tomato, onion and celery. There was no mayonnaise, just a dash of Italian olive oil. I found the eggplant montanara equally delicious. The square shape was topped with baked cherry tomatoes and melted smoked Provola cheese and garnished with whole basil leaves. The classic montanara was topped with three-year aged Parmigiano Reggiano.
My favorite dish of the day arrived in a bowl and looked like a whole avocado surrounded with cream and microgreens. As we cut into the “avocado” we discovered it was like a geode when cut surprising us with an array of colors. The outside was made with crispy black breadcrumbs covering yellow rice. In the middle was a filling of salmon, chopped onions and English peas. What looked like cream was a frothy Meyer lemon creme fraiche with basil sprinkled around the bowl. WOW! It’s similar to an Italian arancini (rice ball), yet enhanced with a housemade squid ink breadcrumb crust. I asked our server how this is made and learned that it takes the chefs one week to make the bread crumbs. They make the dough for the bread and proof it for 24 hours before baking. Then they let it dry out for a few days, slice it, crumble it, and add black squid ink. Saffron is added to the organic Italian grain rice before it’s rolled into the breadcrumbs and shaped into a true Italian triangle to resemble an avocado.
For those who would like a little wine, the bar serves three and six ounce pours, as well as a variety of Italian wines made in Italy and California. They also have a tasting flight of four wines with three ounce pours. One could pair a glass with each dish. The wine list offers Italian Spumante and white Italian wines. Some are created Italian-style in Sonoma, Napa Valley, Oak Knoll, Santa Ynez and Carneros. They offer the same with red wine. There are Italian reds made in Campania and Sicily and other reds inspired by Italy that are crafted in the California wine towns of Paso Robles, Lodi and Mendocino.
Vinoteca also offers artisanal Italian beer, aperitivo cocktails and an array of digestivi e grappe.
For dessert, the chefs make a sweet montanara shaped as a lobster roll. It’s filled with sweet sheep ricotta, bright red seasonal berry compote, and micro-basil. They also make a true Sicilian style cannoli with the same sweet sheep ricotta, a little chocolate, orange and chopped pistachios.
Vinoteca is offering an oyster and wine pairing special for $20 during their Wine Wednesdays. Guests may order a half-dozen Beausolei and/or Kusshi oysters and receive a glass of Laura Aschero Vermentino from Liguria, Italy every Wine Wednesday until Jan. 25 from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Complimentary parking is available for those dropping in to pick up pastries and coffee. The espresso bar opens daily starting at 6:30 a.m. Vinoteca Wine Bar opens Monday-Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Thursday-Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; and Sunday from 4 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. $$ 300 S. Doheny Drive (310)273-2222.
This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.