Melograno is centrally located on Hollywood Boulevard, a few blocks west of Vine; although the area is not synonymous with fine dining, the cuisine here is worth an excursion. Owned by chef Alberto Lazzarino and his sommelier/business partner, Giuseppe Cossu, Melograno is focused specifically on Northern Italian cuisine from the Piedmont region. This means rich, authentic dishes such as house-made agnolotti with black truffles and carnaroli rice risotto with wild mushrooms. Lazzarino and Cossu bring a wealth of experience and knowledge from their respective disciplines and by joining forces, provide Los Angeles with an original and adventurous spin on Italian dining.Read More ...
Melograno is a surprising find along a stretch of Hollywood Boulevard between Highland and Vine, in an area more synonymous with divey bars and peep shows than fine dining restaurants. Though seemingly out of place, the location is actually firmly planted in the center of what is now a trendy piece of real estate. The Hollywood Hills are the backdrop for the restaurant, the Pantages Theater is a few blocks east, Mann’s Chinese is a few blocks west, and the area consistently teems with both tourists and locals.
The restaurant is owned by Chef Alberto Lazzarino and his business partner, Giuseppe Cossu, who also happens to be the establishment’s sommelier. The two bring a wealth of experience and knowledge from their respective disciplines and by joining forces, they have provided Los Angeles with an original and adventurous spin on Italian dining.
Melograno—which is the Italian word for “pomegranate”— specifically focuses on the cuisine from the region of Piedmont, where Chef Lazzarino hails from. This geographical focus is rather narrow, at least from a culinary standpoint. The cuisine from this region is not what many expect from a meal of Italian food: for example, you will not find a single dish that includes tomato sauce. Piedmontese cuisine also often utilizes obscure ingredients such as lamb kidney and cow tongue. This culinary focus creates a unique challenge for Lazzarino, one that he admits to, but accepts with glee and enthusiasm. To create a menu that sticks to the culinary focus but also appeals to broad audience is fun for him, and this is most definitely reflected in his food.
The atmosphere at Melograno is intimate and inviting and as you step inside, the bustling street noise of Hollywood Boulevard fades behind you. The long narrow space draws you in and the high airy ceilings with exposed beams let you know the architecture is something of note. Murano glass chandeliers hang dramatically from the tall ceilings and cast a soft glow over the dining room. At the back of the space, perched on a small landing, sits the tiny kitchen. The light from a small window inside beams out, and through it Lazzarino is integrated into the dining experience with his guests—something he says is quite important to him. A small and very cozy four-seat bar is also atop the landing, housing the restaurant’s wine collection.
Other seating includes a long leather banquette that stretches along one wall of the restaurant. A semi-circular booth off the entrance would be a perfect table for a special occasion. There is also a large patio adjacent to the indoor seating area. These spaces are separated by large windows and French doors that unite the two seating areas in a very charming way.
The décor inside Melograno utilizes the historical framework of the building. Lazzarino says that they could not make any structural changes to the unique location, but they used this as an advantage. The tiled floors, French doors, and hand railings all nod to another time period, while the artwork, furniture, and table settings juxtapose a modern edge.
Giuseppe selects the wines at Melograno with the same degree of love and care that goes into the cuisine. While the restaurant’s Piedmont focus may be a bit of a culinary challenge, the region produces a breadth of wines that are consistently regarded as some of the best in the world. The wine program of course includes selections from Piedmont, but the list encompasses all of Italy’s elite wine growing regions. As such, Melograno boasts one of the most extensive Italian wine lists in all of Los Angeles. On it, you will find interesting varietals such as Kerner (white) and Lagrein (red), as well as many boutique wines with limited production. Giuseppe’s passion for wine is obvious, and his manner of presenting and educating guests about the subject is straightforward and not at all snobby.
For those wanting to imbibe in a cocktail, the playful menu of specialty drinks, or “aperitivi della casa” makes for a difficult decision. How about the “Giulietta”, made with 10 Cane rum, a dash of amaretto, pomegranate, and lime? Or the “Fellini, made with bourbon, house-made grenadine, and fresh lemon and orange juice?
After a brief chat with Alberto and a splash of prosecco, I am very eager to see what his Northern Italian cuisine was all about. Once joined by my friend, our gracious server delivers a choice of bread to the table. This is always a nice surprise, especially when the bread is not your ordinary par-baked baguette. Alberto makes his own focaccia by hand with olive oil and onions and the results are light and delicious. Baking bread in house is a good indication of Alberto’s attention to detail, something most great chefs have in common.
Our first appetizer is Barbabietole e Caprino con Bagna Cauda, roasted baby beet salad with a goat cheese “cake” and bagna cauda dressing. It is not the first time I have had a salad with beets and goat cheese, however none has ever been this good. Every component of the salad, while exceedingly fresh and tasty on its own, works that much better all together. Alberto’s dressing is just one of the reasons the dish is so memorable. The inspiration for it comes from a classic Piedmontese dish “bagna cauda,” which is a crock of caramelized garlic, anchovies, and olive oil. For the dressing, the garlic is braised in milk giving it a creamy, almost sweet flavor. What makes this dish so delicious is that the dressing is so delicately tossed onto the salad that it allows the flavor of the crisp greens and the tender beets to shine through. The savory goat cheese cake has been pan seared to give it a nice crunch and then perched atop the lettuce, making the presentation playful.
A second appetizer of House-Made Duck Prosciutto is a wonderful follow up to the salad and a great accompaniment for the Abbazia di Novacella Kerner. In its preparation, duck breast is cured with herbs, salt, and sugar. The curing process renders a lot of the fat out and the result is a decadent, smooth texture and a deeply complex flavor. The prosciutto is sliced parchment-paper thin and adorned with a salad of spicy arugula and crunchy white frisee. It is presented artfully on a circular plate with a nest-like bunch of lettuces on top. A gorgonzola dressing is drizzled lightly on the prosciutto to finish the dish.
My favorite dish of the meal is Alberto’s Agnolotti al Plin with summer black truffle. Alberto makes the angolotti a couple of times a week, and on the night I visit Melograno, I am lucky enough to try some. The agnolotti dough is made with a lot of egg yolks, giving the noodles a soft, silky texture that only hand-made pasta has. This lovingly prepared dough is filled with sautéed swiss chard and flavorful meat and then delicately pinched together by hand. According to Alberto, the tiny pockets of pasta only cook in the boiling water for a brief moment. The dish is then infused with just the right amount of black truffle to enhance it and not overpower. Alberto loves to showcase the black truffles from the summer as they are riper than winter truffles and therefore impart more intense flavor. The buttery sauce Alberto makes using these summer truffles is something very memorable.
Melograno’s signature dish, Taglierini al Brasato di Lepre e Melograno, braised hare with pomegranate reduction, truly defines the culinary focus of Melograno. Alberto prepares a ragu using rabbit meat, first by macerating it in Barolo overnight, then roasting it with aromatic vegetables and adding more wine to deepen the flavors. Butter is added to the ragu as a finishing touch to give the sauce some creaminess. Then Alberto tosses this ragu into his hand-made angel hair pasta and drizzles a concentrated pomegranate reduction around the plate. The dish is very much Alberto’s stylish version of what would be a rustic, uncomplicated dish back in Piedmont.
For dessert, we have Bunet – another traditional dish of Piedmont. It is a pudding-like dessert made with bittersweet chocolate and crushed amoretti cookies. Presented beautifully, the glossy rectangular bunet stands proudly on the plate, looking so perfect that I hardly want to take a fork to it. After admiring the presentation for a moment, I do indeed eat the bunet and it is delicious. Its smooth texture is wonderful, like that of perfectly cooked custard. The bunet is a must for dessert at Melograno and a great way to finish a traditional Piedmontese meal.
After the meal, Giuseppe graciously pours us a glass of Castello di Meleto vin santo. As we sit and drink our dessert wine and relish in the wonderful meal we had just eaten, I take in the atmosphere again and realize I feel very at home. Not just from the ambience and friendly service, but from the essence of Alberto’s food. That is, the quality of food prepared with love, and when food is prepared this way it is hard not to be reminded of wherever you call home.
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