Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Culina at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills

Culina, Modern Italian, the new restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel at Beverly Hills, opened in March with chef Victor Casanova at the helm, following a $30+ million renovation of the property. Casanova came to the Four Seasons after two years at Il Terrazzo at the Phoenecian in Scottsdale, Arizona. I had the opportunity to have a meal there last week for a celebration dinner. We ordered a variety of dishes, most of which were good and some of which were excellent.

We BYO'd a 1996 vintage bottle of Dom Perignon, which was a wonderful way to begin the meal. The corkage fee which had been a punishing $50 at opening, is now a much more reasonable $25. The delicate bubbles made this an exceptional champagne. The sommelier was very gracious about our BYO and did not pressure us to buy bottles off of the list.

While we looked at the menu, we ordered the Quattro Formaggi pizza (above), with smoked provolone, mozzarella, fontina and parmigiano reggiano. It was a good way to begin the meal and the cheeses had nice assertive flavors. The pizza arrived in no longer than the ten minutes we were told it would, and it was an ample size to share.

We then shared three appetizers, the Ravioli with sweet corn packets, mascarpone and sage brown butter; the Fiori di Zucca (squash blossoms, ricotta, tomato-mint condimento) and the Ricciola crudo (yellowtail, star anise oil and orange sea salt). The ravioli pictured above was the star dish of the evening and one of the best dishes I have eaten all year. The corn was so sweet and the mascarpone did not overwhelm it and the brown butter sauce just brought it all together. I could have eaten another serving of the dish as my entree and been happy. The corn flavor was just so clean and sweet, but with no cloying.

The squash blossoms were stuffed with ricotta cheese and served with a pitcher of tomato sauce. They were light and not greasy and the tomato sauce complemented it well. Not as good as the squash blossoms at Pizzeria Mozza, but very enjoyable.

The yellowtail crudo (below) was tasty and fine but the consensus was that it just wasn't as special as the other dishes, although it was beautifully plated on a rectangular glass dish.

The Manzo bone-in ribeye (pictured below) was also exceptionally good. It is a 16 oz. Niman Ranch bone in rib-eye with aromatic herbs served with heirloom tomatoes and shaved parmigiano reggiano on top. The steak was cooked perfectly medium rare and the meat was very flavorful, with good seasoning. One of the best steaks I have had in Los Angeles. I enjoyed the heirloom tomatoes as well. We ordered the tuscan fries as a side (contorni) and they were a rare miss with no flavor whatsoever.

Below is the pappardelle with slow braised lamb ragu, pecorino and mint. This dish was a favorite of the LA Times and I enjoyed it very much. The sauce was plentiful and the pasta was al dente. However, it was not as good as the best pasta with lamb ragu that I have recently eaten at The Tasting Kitchen in Venice, which was more lusty and flavorful. This pasta was less bold, and not especially memorable like the corn ravioli we had eaten earlier in the meal.

Another successful dish was the Abbacchio allo Scottadito (below), lamb chops with sardinian fregola, pimenton and mint pesto. The nicely cooked chops were on a bed of fregola, a Sardinian semonila pasta that is like couscous. The lamb had a real lamby flavor and the chops had been nicely trimmed to remove the fat.

Lombatina Capricciosa, pounded bone-in veal chop with a ciabatta crust, arugula, sweet tomatoes and parmigiano reggiano is pictured below. This dish was enormous with the bone jutting out Flinstones style. The breaded chop was served with the greens, tomatoes and cheese on top. The chop was good, but not as tasty as the ribeye or the lambchops, but that may be because I don't find breading to add anything to a nice cut of meat like this chop.

The Branzino came with tomatoes, capers and lemon. The fish fillet was served on a square white plate without much accompaniment, in an almost stark presentation. Spinach (not pictured) was ordered as a side and was enjoyed by the fish eater at the table.

We shared the Nuvola di Riso, described as rice cloud with berries. The rice pudding had an interesting texture and the berries were fresh and sweet.

Overall the meal was a success, with everyone enjoying the food. The room was attractive and for a midweek meal, the room was full and stayed full past 9 pm, which is a good thing and alas all to rare in Los Angeles. The service was good for the most part. At one point it was difficult to get a waiter's attention for several minutes when we wanted share plates but was otherwise attentive.

Outside there is an attractive patio with a number of tables and coolest looking heat lamps that I have ever seen with flames flickering in them.

The only complaint we had was that it took more than 15 minutes to get our car from the hotel valet as we waited outside on a cold evening. I expect more organization from the Four Seasons operation, but this is in no way the fault of the restaurant, although they should be aware of it as it is the last impression of the business that their customers receive.

Note that the hotel is technically in Los Angeles, and only across the street from the city limits of Beverly Hills, but is still known by locals as the Four Seasons Beverly Hills.

Culina is located in the Four Seasons Hotel: 300 S. Doheny Drive, Beverly Hills. Phone: (310) 860-4000. Website:

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