12/26/2012 11:48 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

DOMA Restaurant -- Croatia Comes to Beverly Hills!

Sonja Perencevic has opened the lovely DOMA Restaurant in Beverly Hills.

There is a country of 4.5 million people called Croatia in Central Europe, part Balkan, part Mediterranean, and -- surprisingly -- all democratic and modernly sophisticated. There is this charming blond woman named Sonja Perencevic and her daughter Nikka who were born there before coming here. About four years ago, Sonja took over the legendary Dan Tana's Restaurant in West Hollywood from its namesake owner, also Croatian, who wanted to retire, enjoy life and watch soccer. She devoted herself to restoring it to its previous level of success, especially when its long-time manager left to open his own eatery. Now Sonja and Nikka have taken on another challenge... to open DOMA (362 N. Camden Dr., (310) 277-7346) a restaurant in Beverly Hills that is a high-end Mediterranean-Italian dining room of utter elegance and charm. They acquired the former Prego space and converted it into a sleek modern room with warm, smoky gray wall tones and pops of white and celedon floral arrangements. Comfortable high-backed banquets overlook the inviting open kitchen.

Dustin Trani is the brilliant young chef who commands the kitchen.

And in that kitchen we find an anomaly... a fourth-generation Californian chef named Dustin Trani who once actually worked in Croatia as the featured chef at the People's Café in Zagreb, the capital of the country (which, I assume, is where they all met.) Dustin began working at age 11 on the line of his grandfather-and-father's restaurant, J. Trani's, in San Pedro, an Italian-oriented seafood eatery which opened in 1925 and is still running strong. For a 28-year-old chef, he has extensive experience... from a Michelin-rated restaurant in Italy to the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand. I have added him to my exclusive "Chefs to Follow" list because I have been astonished at the accomplished and delicious dishes that have emerged from this kitchen in the course of my several dinners there. No, there are no actual Croatian dishes on the menu, although on my one visit to Zagreb many years ago, while shooting a Cinerama movie in adjacent Hungary, I found a vast array of Italian and seafood dishes matching the best of Europe's offerings. (Because of its Adriatic coast, it is a seafood mecca.) It may sound pretentious to say that this is sophisticated, utterly enchanting food... but yes, it is. Incidentally, DOMA, which means 'at home' in Croatian, is next door to the wildly popular, expensive and excellent Chinese food temple, Mr. Chow, Michael's long-time venue (which is getting a spinoff in Malibu shortly where Nobu Malibu used to be located.)

Shrimp and calamari is one of the delicious starters. are the succulent crabcakes.

...while the gourmet pizza matches the best to be found in this city.

Dustin told me that he is aiming for a modern Mediterranean concept with a touch of Asian. "I want to bring an unexpected punch to these classic dishes, balancing pairings of sweet and savory flavors throughout the menu." He is aided by the surprising desserts from Pastry Chef Melissa Sharon. At last night's dinner, with my trusty tasting team of Penny McTaggart and David Rapoport, we sampled a wide array of eclectic Italian and seafood offerings. There are some gourmet pizza offerings ($16 to $21), but this is not a place I ordinarily would come for a pizza slice, yet they are thin-crusted wonders. It is where I order the Big Eye Tuna Tartar ($15), and local Crispy Calamari and Rock Shrimp with spicy Thai aioli and balsamic reduction ($12). I was not enchanted by the Arancini Bolognese Risotto Balls ($9), but I was delighted with the Japanese Hamachi ($15) and the Thai Grilled Shrimp Salad ($16). Penny loved her Strawberry and Wild Arugula Salad ($13), while David grudgingly shared his Grilled Spanish Octopus ($19).

The Spanish ocotpus will please you with its savory flavors.

...while the Butternut Squash Ravioli surpasses any in town.

A quinoa salad is a revelation (at least to me). Crunchy goodness.

The beef cheek ragu atop papppardelle pasta is astonishing in its depth of flavor.

On a previous visit I had enjoyed the Baja Stone Crab Cakes ($15), with their roasted sweet pepper emulsion and burrata cheese. I had also sampled several pastas, and re-ordered a Uni and Stone Crab Ravioli ($17) so my duo could see why I was so high on the pasta dishes. David and I dug into the Port-braised Beef Cheek Ragu atop al dente pappardelle pasta ($21) as Penny raved about her Butternut Squash Ravioli ($18), with its toasted butter-sage sauce.

The chef has deft hand with all seafood, as seen here with his Swordfish Milanese dish.

Meat lovers will relish the sliced prime NY steak with fingerling potatoes.

On my first visit here with a group of food bloggers, we shared a cornucopia of dishes which triggered my deep interest in pursuing this further review. A Prime New York Steak ($49) was a 16.oz prime piece of beef served with melting fingerling potatoes and cipollini onions with a veal demi-glaze. There is a Prime Ribeye ($65, for two) yet to be explored, but several seafood dishes were shared and enjoyed. It is obvious that his family background in the seafood-friendly port of San Pedro has rubbed off on the son, for I was deeply pleasured with a Grilled Big-eye Tuna ($31), Seared East Cost Scallops ($33), and especially my favorite, the Grilled Swordfish Milanese ($29) serve with olive oil mashed potatoes, a warm tomato salad and micro-arugula. Last night we ordered the Veal Chop Saltimbocca ($51), served with soft Parmesan polenta. David and are agreed that one dish is superior; the Colorado Lamb Scaloppini with its golden Chanterelle mushrooms and butter cognac sauce is a real winner.

The flourless chocolate cake is but one example of the delicious desserts.

Pastry chef Melissa Sharon is a real talent in the pastry dessert department.

Pastry chef Melissa Sharon tells me that she is striving to make her desserts lower in sugar and somewhat healthier while not losing any taste test. The dessert menu always includes a few vegan and gluten-free specialties (i.e. the vegan mocha tapioca) and I was knocked out by the flourless chocolate cake with its punch of rosemary, part of the Chocolate Trio ($15). A Marscapone Cheesecake ($15) came with poppyseed shortbread, raspberry caviar and lemon dust.

Lunch here is a bit of a madhouse because the restaurant has become the unofficial house commissary for William Morris Endeavor, which recently moved across the street. I stopped by one noon for a quick sandwich and ran into several agents I knew who expressed delight with their new neighbor. I had a Blackened Chicken Sandwich ($12) served on house pita bread with truffle potato chips. Lunch prices are somewhat reduced from those of dinner.

There is a full bar and an extensive wine list, as well as many domestic and imported beers. My terrific waiter, Goran, recommended a muddled fruit cocktail which was addictive. The genial General Manager, Francesco Greco, is well-known to us all from his many years at Toscana. With so many banks and agencies hereabouts, I am not surprised. Upstairs is a private dining room and banquet facility with room for 80, and I gather that it is fully booked through the holidays.

The Doma bar is a hot scene every day after work.

Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Reservations at (310) 277-7340 are recommended.

It is said that fine dining is on the decline in L.A., and that may be so, but it is essential that we all support a fine new restaurant that offers oh- so elegant food and service in a calm, sophisticate setting, which is what DOMA is doing in spades. This is a worthy successor to the much-missed L'Orangerie. We have been blow away by the delicious dishes and drinks. Beverly Hills is the clear winner to have this destination restaurant in it midst, and I am heading back this week for the Beef Cheeks Pasta and those amazing olive oil mashed potatoes. Sonja and Dustin, thank you for this... and we wish you much success. Yes!

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