Taste of Italy will see its 11th year in Downtown Los Angeles, transforming the plaza surrounding the historic El Pueblo monument and across from Union Station into an Italian Piazza for one very special night. Benefitting the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles (IAMLA), Taste of Italy is set to bring it a who’s-who of Italian restaurants and wineries from throughout the city.
IAMLA provided a sneak preview of some of the tastes to behold at the festival, with a pairing menu at Hermosa Beach’s Sosta, a Taste of Italy participant. Opening last year under longtime South Bay Italian Chef Luca Manderino, Sosta showcases homey favorites alongside inventive creations. Crudo di branzino, heavenly prosciutto and seared ribeye were a few crowd favorites, but ultimately it was the house-made gnocchi al gorgonzola that took the cake. We can only hope that such velvety, melt-in-your-mouth potato pillows make their way to the main stage.
Wines served included Custodi Belloro Orvieto D.O.C. Classico, 2015; Tenuta Carretta Nebbiolo, 2017; and Cascina Adelaide Barolo, 2013. Expect pours from PRP Wine International, San Antonio Winery, Lyra Fine Wine Importers and Castoro Cellars, among others, at Taste of Italy.
Additional restaurants are set to include Factory Kitchen, Celestino Ristorante, Drago Centro, Colombo’s Italian Steakhouse and Jazz Club, Osteria Cal Mare, Brera and Black Market Gelato, among many others.
Taste of Italy is set to take place from 5 – 10pm on Satruday, Oct. 12, with an expected attendance of 2,500 people. Proceeds go to The Italian American Museum of Los Angeles, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to showcasing the ongoing contributions of Italian Americans in Southern California and the nation. IAMLA is located in DTLA’s Italian Hall, constructed in 1908 and is among the oldest remaining structures from Los Angeles’ historic Little Italy. More information and tickets for Taste of Italy available at IAMLA.org/Taste-of-Italy.
Caló Kitchen + Tequila hosts a distinctive ambiance where the intimacy of a small space meets the energy of modern LA dining. A one-lane walkway separates booths and a packed bar, with servers quite used to backing up or leaning in for patrons to pass in the same way a flight attendant would aboard an aircraft. Upstairs is slightly quieter, with the same artistic lighting calming the air and allowing you to take a breath, even if it’s to just enjoy the view of the shopping mall across the street.
Caló (Spanish for ‘slang’) puts an interesting accent on American Mexican favorites. The menu isn’t miles long like you’ll find in some full-service Mexican establishments, in the same way that the interior isn’t decked out with bright colors or filled with Mariachi music. Instead, Caló integrates a level of elegance in its ingredients to match its ambiance, while remaining both fun and indulgent.
Case in point with the shrimp and bacon tacos, profound in rich flavor and texture made all the better with a valentina cream sauce. Caló’s prime skirt steak nails it as well, bursting with a critical mass of umami that lusciously spills into a homemade tortilla. The carnitas, made with prime kurobuta pork and Mexican coca cola, can be cut with a spoon. And in traditional American Mexican fashion, Caló offers a few combination options that allow patrons to try a bit of everything—the seafood trio and Caló platter, to name a few.
Then, of course, comes the tequila part of the equation. Unsurprisingly, Caló has a meticulously crafted margarita menu, boasting everything from your traditional Cadillac to strawberry jalapeno and watermelon basil. Sadly, blended margaritas aren’t an option here [allegedly the bar doesn’t have room for a blender]. And if fruit pulp isn’t your thing, ask for your drink to be strained beforehand. Caló also boasts a healthy beer and wine list, including an intriguing and ever-so-subtle horchata beer.
Churros are undoubtedly the dessert of choice, filled with a traditional burnt caramel custard and served with chocolate sauce, thick house-made whipped cream and—for a touch of novelty—peanut butter for dipping.
Caló Kitchen + Tequila is located at 2191 Rosecrans Ave, El Segundo, CA 90245. Open 11a – 9p Sun – Thu, 11a – 10p Fri/Sat. Average out-the-door price for split appetizer, entrée, split dessert and 1 – 2 drinks is ~$85/person. For more information call (424) 269 – 2322 or visit CaloKitchen.com.
Grimaldi’s Pizzeria has served up New York slices since 1990, where it opened its first location under the Brooklyn Bridge. Their technique goes much further back, however, utilizing coal-fired brick ovens that encompass more than a century of pizza-making. Now, with nearly 50 properties across the US and several international projects in the making, Grimaldi’s has proven its ability to scale classic production while retaining a heartwarming vibe.
The menu is somewhat of a rarity to the typical west-coaster: a full-service restaurant that’s almost entirely focused on pizza and salad. Read: no pasta, no chicken wings, no oversize meatballs or other usual suspects you’d typically find at a family-style Italian joint. What this means is an In-n-Out kind of focus—limited menu, but each item is done very well. What this also means is that the kitchen doesn’t even have a stove. Those old-fashioned brick ovens are the lifeblood of the fishbowl-style kitchen, going through more than 200lbs of coal a day.
The finished product is a classic New York-style crust, thin and crispy on the outside with an earthy element delivered from those coal ovens. And with a strong lineup of specialty pizzas and toppings for build-your-own creations, the choices are hardly limited. Corporate Executive Chef Cory Lattuca, a 15-year Grimaldi’s veteran, consistently churns out seasonal items to make the menu pop even further. Buffalo chicken pizza, anyone?
Lattuca takes Grimaldi’s a step further with sweets and drinks. Somehow those ovens are rigged to make some mean cannoli and New York cheesecake [Oreo and sugar cookie crust?!?]. Add a strong lineup of beers, housemade cocktails and—of course—wines. Fun fact: Grimaldi’s makes its own house wine in Italy.
Grimaldi’s has multiple locations nationwide. Hours can vary but hover around 11a – 10p Sun – Thu and 11a – 11pm Fri/Sat. Avg. Out-the-door price for split salad, split pizza and 1 – 2 drinks is ~ $30/person. For more information, visit GrimaldisPizzeria.com
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.