Oh the joys of finally reaching the ranks of “food blogger.” Earlier this week, I was invited to a media-comped dinner at Cecconi’s, the Italian restaurant that took over the former Morton’s space (famous for its Vanity Fair Oscar parties) in West Hollywood, CA. I didn’t know much about the spot going into the evening except that it was Italian, fancy, and probably out of my price range. Well, I’m happy to report that I was misinformed on two of those points. Yes, Cecconi’s is indeed Italian, but it’s not ludicrously expensive, and furthermore, its casual ambience and bright patio make it a wonderful summertime destination.
It also helps that the food is really, really good.
Pics after the jump…
The evening begins at the expansive bar, which is adorned with hanging meats, fresh produce, and lots of marble. I’m a fan.
The bar is crowded and lively. I even spot a celebrity at one point. Since I’m a guest of the restaurant though, I keep things discreet and fight the urge to snap a secret photo of her. She looked great though. Blind item!
Our first cocktail. It’s called the Intro to Aperol, and it’s Aperol, gin, lemon juice, and angostura bitters shaken and served in a coupe. Garnished with a flamed twist. It’s also, by the way, DELICIOUS.
The sizable cocktail menu. Drinks are $14 a pop, which is about on par for nice mixology spots.
My Moscow Mule. It’s one of the best I’ve had recently. Instead of using overly intense ginger beer, the restaurant uses house-made ginger syrup from fresh-pressed ginger juice. It’s then infused with soda, and honestly it makes all the difference. I would come back for this alone.
The makings of a Sicilian Flower, which is equal parts St. Germain, Aperol, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, and Averna all stirred and served into a chilled coupe. Plus, a flamed orange peel garnish to keep things interesting.
I had no idea what to expect from this cocktail, especially since the bartender mentioned it in the same breath as a Manhattan. I thought I’d be walloped with old school intensity, but it was smooth and flavorful and totally unlike what I thought it might be. Also, it’s not on the menu; so don’t be discouraged when you don’t see it there.
There was also a libation called the Watermelon Paradise, which was gin muddled with cucumbers and mixed with fresh watermelon juice and house-made ginger syrup shaken and served long over crushed ice. Finished with black pepper over top and a basil leaf. It was a) beautiful, and b) refreshing. I don’t even LIKE watermelon. Sadly, I neglected to take a photo of said Watermelon Paradise.
Soon we were faced with oodles of small dishes, or Cicchetti. This one, tuna crudo & avocado crostini, was lovely.
Zucchini blossoms and goat cheese. Very nice. Didn’t blow me away, but I appreciate the fresh flavors.
A Mediterranean octopus dish. You know, when octopus is cooked properly, it is a thing of beauty. This, my friends, was a thing of beauty. And then some. Definitely one of my favorites.
Somehow the cocktails all migrated towards me.
Fava and aged Pecorino bruschetta. I appreciated the subtle flavors, but compared to some of the more bold dishes, this one paled a touched. Still very good though.
Meat-a-balls. These were spot on.
Bone marrow and crostini. Don’t be turned off. This was great.
Eventually we’re relocated from the bar to a table in the restaurant’s beautiful outdoor seating area. If only I’d visited Cecconi’s prior to posting my 10 Places to Drink Outdoors in LA guide. Coincidentally, Lien Ta, who wrote the HuffPo piece that inspired mine, was seated at the table as well. Hi Lien!
Oh my gosh. Yes. YES. Gnocchi romana, gorgonzola. Cheesy, savory goodness.
Shishito peppers & anchovies. Tasted nice. Probably my least favorite of the bunch though. Would be a great bar snack though.
My mouth was watering when this pizzette landed next to me…
And then the black truffle appeared.
I’m a glutton for truffles, and I definitely went to town on this delicious, cheesy gift from the heavens.
Oh there’s more. Beautiful scallops wrapped in bacon. I should note that the price point for most of these dishes range from $5 to $8. You heard that correctly. (The black truffle-adorned pizzette is probably a touch more expensive).
Empanadas? Nope. These are calzones with a wonderful red pepper sauce. I’m telling you, I ate very well.
And now the first entree: crab gnocchi with peas and saffron in something of a crab bisque. It was a lovely dish, and now that I’ve learned that it’s not even on the menu, I feel all the more special, which makes it even better.
The sun sets, the lights go down, and my pictures become grainy, which is too bad because this squid-ink risotto with cuttlefish and prawns was significantly more beautiful than this image suggests.
Agnolotti, which came with more summer black truffle. They know the way to my heart.
My lil’ dish. Everything tasted very good, but the star for me by far was the prawn, which was perfectly sweet, succulent, and not a bit overcooked. I ultimately had three or four of them. I couldn’t stop.
Some of the destruction.
Mmmmm… hollow prawn heads.
Our table. Let’s not overlook the super tasty bread that went largely ignored on the table.
A rather miserable photo of rock salt crusted sea bream baked with lemon and herbs.
Suddenly we’re surrounded by a dozen servers (and the head chef Andrea Cavaliere) who all go about cracking open and the salt crusts on the sea breams. It’s an elaborate process that I would surely screw up.
A blurry photo of Dover sole, making its humble arrival.
Some of the vegetable sides, which included great, buttery spinach.
My plate. The sea bream was certainly juicy, and not as crazy salty as one might think. For sure though, there were specs of rock salt that would sneak in here and there, but it worked for both texture and flavor. The Dover sole, however, was my favorite of the two fish.
And then came dessert. Here are two expertly made cannoli.
A mousse with caramel and in the background a chocolate molten cake. Both of these (and the cannoli) were my favorite. And of these three, the cake was the one I wanted to return to over and over again.
Ultimately, the table was full of seemingly every dessert item from the menu. We definitely did not go home hungry.
Overall, this was a delicious and hearty meal, and what’s most impressive is that looking at the menu, the prices are not outrageous. Some entrees veer into the $30 range, but there are a variety in the $18 – $25 space. Plus, the prices on the cicchetti are almost obscene.
As for the crowd, the scene was mainly either older or European, all well-heeled. The restaurant stays open until at least midnight (and as late as 1 AM) though; so I’m not sure how it changes over the course of the night. I can say that when I left at 10:30, the place was still crowded and lively. Plus, for those of you wishing to amble about “Boys-town” after, it’s a great place to start the night.
8764 Melrose Avenue
West Hollywood, CA 90069