Executive Chef Dustin J. Trani. All photos by Jay.
It was about a year ago that we wrote a rave review of a new Beverly Hills restaurant called Doma (362 N. Camden Drive, at Brighton (310) 277-7346). Since then it has become one of my favorites, a quiet, sophisticated setting which unfailingly serves up delicious food at a reasonable cost. But lately it has exceeded all of my expectations, rising to a level of excellence and excitement which is unexpected and unusual in new eateries. And when Executive Chef Dustin Trani told me that he was introducing a new menu for Spring, with many new items on it, I gathered some friends and spent a fabulous evening there this week, with a meal which was so far above all norms that I felt a need to share it with my Huffington readers.
My Italian friend says this is the best seafood linguini he has had in years.
Moroccan lamb belly with fingerling potatoes.
You may remember that this was the location of Prego Italian for many years, holding the longest lease of any restaurant space in Beverly Hills. It was bought by a charming Croatian woman, Sonja Perencevic, after she had steadied the course of her first restaurant, Dan Tana's, which she acquired from her old friend, Dan Tana, a few years ago. She told me then that she was seeking to open a really elegant, casually sophisticated restaurant in the heart of Beverly Hills -- and she succeeded beyond expectations. Her secret, apart from designing a sleek, comforting room, was in the hiring of a fourth generation American chef, Dustin J.Trani, whom she met when he was recommended by her Tana chef.
A few sample meals and he was on board. A smart move. His family has had a venerable seafood restaurant down the coast in San Pedro since 1925. Dusty, 29, began working there on the line at age 11, and has traveled the world perfecting his cooking skills. What I have realized this year is that he has an equally skilled partner in the kitchen, his imaginative pastry chef, Marissa Sharon. Together, they have forged a menu which rivals that of the finest New York and San Francisco spots. I am tempted to call the cooking Modern Mediterranean Italian, with an emphasis on seafood, but that doesn't really do it justice. And a note: His brick-fired pizzas are unequaled by any other in town (with due respect to my favorite, Stella Rosa).
Another new ingredient in the Doma mix is the General Manager, Jeff Gazzarri. Does that name strike a bell? He is the nephew of the legendary night club impresario, Bill Gazzarri, who ran the top night club spot, Gazzarri's, for many years, originating some of the biggest rock 'n roll bands in history.
The thin-crusted pizza baked in wood-burning oven is utter perfection.
One more note about their full bar. I happen to favor an unusual, single-malt Scotch from the island of Islay, Ardbeg -- very very smoky from its infusion of peat smoke. So hard to get, that I have given up on finding it in bars, only drinking it from my precious bottle at home. Last night, I walked in and asked Jeff if, by chance, he had ever heard of Ardbeg. He smiled and walked away. He returned in a minute with a highball glass containing two fingers of Ardbeg. Then I went on to a dinner, which was a highlight of all the meals I have had in the past year -- and my readers know that I am not shy in talking about my wonderful meals. Incidentally, our waiter's name was Igor and he is a true professional, sensing all of our needs and filling them before we knew we had them. The Ardbeg kept flowing, followed by a few glasses of Laetitia Pinot, from the Central Valley, the equal of any from France or Oregon.
Pastry Chef Marissa Sharon is a genius with her desserts.
Sonja Perencevic is the owner of Doma and Dan Tana's.
Our dinner began with three raw-bar courses: Salmon Carpaccio dressed with chili, lime, cashew and coconut air. It was accompanied by Hamachi, the fish dressed with ginger soy, ponzu, caviar and sesame tuile. At this point my friends and I were beginning to smile, which was followed by squeals of joy as we had the Big Eye Tuna Ceviche, the seafood topped with fermented Thai vinaigrette, Dungeness crab shreds and drops of coconut cream. Oh, yes, this was opening well. Igor brought out a plate of Tempura Shishito Peppers, informing us that they were not too hot. The grilled peppers had been dressed with Thai chili beurre blanc and driplets of feta cheese. These were so addictive, I was tempted to ask for another plate when chef brought out a platter of Calamari, telling us it was local, made with Thai aioli, balsamic reduction and micro-cilantro.
I told my companions that Dustin had worked at the Oriental Hotel in Bangok and cooked with Chef Ming Tsai at the Beard dinner -- thus, the many Asiatic touches to the Italian-oriented dinner. My carnivorous craving was about to be satisfied with an infusion of my favorite meat, for we had a dish of Moroccan lamb belly. The meat has been confitted with lamb fat, served with fingerling potatoes, lemon crème and a sprinkling of smoked salt. I was about to grab an errant slice from my date's plate when Marissa arrived with a platter of Shrimp Sui Mai. The savory dumplings would have done justice to those from Din Tai Fung, the dumpling temple in Arcadia. These were dressed with coconut air and shishito soy consommé. Delicious, and I was becoming full. But Dustin cautioned me that I should pace myself, he was only starting. Now he tells me.
Salmon carpaccio began the meal.
..and some seafood came next -- hamachi, ceviche, calamari.
A strange salad followed. I was told it was a tempura micro-beet salad. I was reluctant, until I took a bite -- and then another. There was Humbolt Fog cheese, the ne plus ultra of frommage, with micro radishes, pea tendrils and a shallot-honey Dijon dressing. Unusual, but I noticed that the entire table consumed it all. I had been preaching to my friends that Marissa made heavenly home-made pasta here, which was a reflection of her stay in Italy. She had been interning with Andrea Bianchini of Florence, a world-renowned chocolatier, but obviously had picked up some pasta-tricks from all of the chefs. Here was a house-made linguini served with Spanish octopus, wild Mexican shrimp and Dungeness crab. My buddy across the table rolled his eyes and said it was the best seafood pasta he can ever remember, and he was Italian!
As I scarfed up the last dregs, Igor came out with a platter of Mascarpone Agnolotti, those little hat dumplings, these filled with the mellow white cheese. I asked about the succulent sauce and was told it was made with truffle salt, Parmesan butter and 48-hour veal stock. Nothing I could duplicate at home. Were we done? No way. In my previous review, I had concentrated on the many whole fish dishes our chef was noted for -- and here was a whole Branzino, the fish roasted with olive oil zabaglione, fingerling potatoes and tomato pan sauce, which exceeded any marinara in memory.
Shrimp sui mai were an Asiatic wonder.
Marissa's dessert cannoli would have made the Soprano's best list.
The lovely pastry chef smiled as she began the procession of desserts. We had discussed my ongoing lactose-free diet, which I had tucked away for the evening, but she said that she had a dessert which would satisfy any lactose-free dieter. It was a vegan salted caramel pudding. Think dark chocolate ganache, whipped coconut cream and toasted coconut. So good. It was followed by a French vanilla Panna Cotta, the custard served with fig compote, a few strawberries and all drizzled with 35 year balsamic vinegar -- the real (expensive) one from Modena, Italy.
Were we done? Not by a long shot. What Italian dinner would be complete without a homemade Cannoli. The crisp pastry shell was filled with Ricotta cheese with citrus, dark chocolate and pistachio. It would have eased the killing instincts of the Soprano's cast. No more, please. Just one or two more, she urged. Here was a milk chocolate Mousse Tart, the cake was dark chocolate shortbread topped with raspberry "caviar." I sipped my rich coffee and longed for a few puffs on my Padron cigar in my car going home, and Marissa handed me a package of French Macarons in various flavors so I would not suffer any hunger pangs before I went to bed.
You know, what? I think I am going to go back tomorrow night and have some dishes again. Life is good!
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