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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Girasole: My New Favorite Italian in LA

Ok, so I just got back from Italy a few months ago. But even after all that pasta, a brief hiatus left me wanting more. My dining companion and I ventured out to find the best BYOB in town, so we stumbled upon Girasole on Larchmont.

What a find. I can't believe I'd passed by it so many times all these years and never discovered this truly hidden gem! There are many things to love about this place.

1) BYOB with no corkage

Can't beat that. Prices are a bit higher than your average Italian joint but then again, this isn't your average Italian joint.

2) Cozy, family-run place

It's tiny so reservations are a must and I don't recommend big parties of more than four. I love the neighborhood joint-feel of it.

3) Last but certainly not least, the fantastic food

I was so pleasantly surprised when I ordered the mixed cured meats plate and got a large board of bresaola, prosciutto, porchetta and a spicy salami calabrese with some arugula and drizzled olive oil. The meats were so fresh -- just sliced off the cutter -- and while it didn't necessarily come close to the cured meats I had in Italy, it was still a world away from those served in some of the average Italian places around this town. This was the first wow.

Then when I bit into the first morsel of the much yelped about pumpkin ravioli with sage and butter, I was hooked.

I'm usually not a big fan of sage but here it worked so well I couldn't just have one. In fact, the sweetness of the pumpkin, strong sage flavor topped with the what's-not-to-like butter were literally singing in my mouth. Washing it down with some Sangiovese made it even better. I was full but couldn't stop eating. Honest to God.

The tagliatelle al ragu was good too. A bit heavy on the sauce for me but still a lot better than many establishments purporting to serve "Spaghetti a la Bolognese," a claim our Italian friends would cringe at.

We were initially disappointed we couldn't find carbonara on the menu, so we made some inquiries and they agreed to make it for us (apparently one other patron had ordered it that evening). We were drinking Syrah and Pinot Noir that evening, and truth be told, this carbonara was just as addictive as the pumpkin ravioli. Ok, not as good as the one my dear friend EB made for me in Bologna, but very good nevertheless. Because it had pancetta, eggs and noodles, I felt like I was devouring a comforting breakfast dish, except I was having it with wine. Again, totally full on my second trip there, but unable to stop myself.

Girasole has single-handedly reversed my aversion for ravioli with its amazing offerings. I tried the mushroom ravioli in a creamy wild mushroom sauce. Ridiculous! I'm usually 1) not a big fan of ravioli as stated, and 2) not crazy about cream sauces because they're too heavy.

Well, this dish defied my expectations once again. Every bite felt like I stuck my head in a bouquet of wild mushrooms. It felt like I was there in the forest, smelling the wonderful aromas of the mushrooms. Did this dish go well with the red wine? Suffice it to say I couldn't stop eating this either.

On another visit, we tried the prosciutto with melon and figs. The menu listed it as one or the other but our greedy selves had to ask if we could get both. Ask and you shall receive.

This was another pleasant surprise. Fresh, just sliced prosciutto, some wrapping uber-sweet cantaloupe slices (like candy) and others adorning a few halves of black figs that had been drizzled with sugar and torched on top to warm and caramelize them a bit. The figs were phenomenal -- fresh and of course went perfectly well with the salty meat.

The only dish that didn't blow us away was the lamb stew that came with plain risotto. While good, I found the stew a tad salty for my taste, like it had been overcooked and its liquid over-reduced.

Some complained about the service but both times we went, we found the service to be good to excellent.

Oh, the olive oil that comes out with the bread (could be fresher) before the meal is interesting. I tasted hints of green tea, of all things, but our server assured us it came from a fine brand from Italy called Genco, as he showed us the large rectangular canister. Some patrons like the olive oil so much they buy it by the canister, he said.

Now onto dessert. We had an orange cake that was moist, very orange-y and delicious. Went great with the coffee.

I can't wait to return to try the braised rabbit that gets raves and other raviolis on the menu. Up to this point, Osteria Mozza had been my favorite Italian restaurant in LA but Girasole is inching up quickly, especially for its value.

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