I know where I'll be dining on Thursday, March 27th, and the last Thursday of every month thereon. It will be at a wonderful, very popular Italian restaurant in Santa Monica, Locanda del LAGO (231 Arizona Ave, at the 3rd Street Promenade, (310) 451-3525), with valet parking. Of course, I also recommend that you have lunch or dinner there any time and I often do so, but that Thursday is a special event each month. It's what Executive Chef Gianfranco Minuz calls "Morso Della Bestia," which translates as "Bite of the Beast." It was a chef in London, Fergus Henderson, at his St. John's restaurant there, who made popular the expression, "From Nose to Tail Cooking," and indeed he wrote a best-selling cookbook with that title. What it simply means is that the chef uses every part of the beast he acquires.
Taking a whole pig as an example: from a fried pig's tail to roasted whole head, with dishes of grilled heart, fried sweetbreads (thymus glands), to liver, trotters and other offal, along with the prime cuts of ribs and chops. As someone once said, "We use everything but the pig's squeal." LAGO has been having a series of whole-animal dinners on that last monthly Thursday, with five course 'nose-to-tail' prix-fixed dinners. On the 27th, he tells me, he will be using a Durazo Farm milk-fed suckling pig. ("Praise the lard," was his humorous expression, adding, "I love all things pork, kind of swine and wine or 'Dig the Pig.'" Funny, charming guy who is a Michelin-star chef from his former restaurant in Veneto.) He told me that the suckling pig he uses was humanely raised and sourced locally. In addition, his menu, which offers his Northern Italian interpretations of seasonal dishes, features fresh produce from the Santa Monica Farmer's market down the street. He offered me a copy of the March 27 menu and I pass it along to those Huffington readers who are hungry and curious enough to join me. The Antipasto will be a marinated and roasted pork tenderloin, with a baby frisee salad and horseradish sauce. The Primo course is a taste of Spiced Ground Pork, a sprinkling of Himalayan pink salt, all atop a bowl of rigatoni. The Piatto di Mezzo is a soup of pork shoulder, broccolini, roasted shallots atop wild rice. The SECONDO (main) course is Porchetta, slices of the slow-cooked pig, sprinkled with fennel pollen, with baby carrots and pink lady apples. The Dolce (sweet) course is organic vanilla gelato, with organic Pudwill Farm's strawberries.
Chef Gianfranco carving the wild boar chops.
The Wild Boar Chops at the monthly dinner in February.
In February I attended a dinner on that particular night and we dined on wild boar from Texas. It was a feral wild boar which was trapped in the wild and processed exclusively under the Durham Ranch label. I found the meat to be nutty, sweet and earthy... high in protein and low in fat. Starting at 7 p.m., the room was abuzz with excitement. I sat at the communal table in the center of the room, 14 happy people who obviously had been to one of these dinners before. The five-course menu costs $49 (not including tax and gratuity) and you can do a free-flowing house wine addition for just $18. (There's also a premium wine pairing for $28, but I passed on that.) Chef has just emailed me that his April 30th dinner with feature 'Nose to Tail' Lamb, and in May he will change course with Halibut. Like I said, my last-of-the-month Thursdays are now taken to the foreseeable future. Reservations for the special dinners are required, at 310-451-3525.
Lago owner West Hooker-Poletti and Exec Chef Gianfranco Minuz at a charity event.
I have been frequenting this restaurant since it opened in April, 1991, offering the authentic food of Northern Italy's Lombardy region. It features specialties from Milano and Bellagio on Lake Como. (Have you ever been to the Villa D'Este there? Fabulous. It's where George Clooney has his famous vacation home.) West Hooker-Poletti and his professorial-looking Executive Chef Gianfranco are serving first-class food to a huge audience of locals, celebrities and travelers. (I've seen Spielberg, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, and many other 'names' here.) GM Roger Barakat and Megan Heritage guide the front-of-the-house. I find that its very warm atmosphere and sidewalk café evoke the charm of an Italian 'locanda' (inn or trattoria) 'del lago' (on the lake). West told me that they make every effort to use locally-sourced ingredients and "green practices" when possible. In addition to those special Thursday dinners, they offer nightly a 'Chef's Seasonal Menu' featuring the most flavorful organic seasonal ingredients from the nearby Santa Monica Farmer's Market. For example, I just had a dish called Asparagi E Uova Strapazzate ($15) which was warm asparagus, soft scrambled egg, both topped with domestic Malossol caviar and a brioche bun. The Risotto Al Sedano Rapa ($18) was risotto with celery root, crab, and chives. I continued that dinner with Pan-Roasted Wild Norwegian Cod ($29) with Italian lentils and Brussels sprouts. I finished with a delicious dessert: Salame Di Cioccolato ($10), dark chocolate salame, cookie crumbles, kumquat compote and blood orange sorbetto. See what I mean by seasonal authentic Lombardy cuisine? LAGO is the proud recipient of the Marchio Qualita "Q", a prestigious award given following a rigorous selection process to select a few restaurants for specializing in authentic Italian regional cuisine. A fabulous restaurant which I highly recommend any day of the week.
The communal table where I sat for the Wild Boar dinner.
Photos are author's own.