Monday, August 3, 2009

Images: Dinner at Ado in Venice, California

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Chef Antonio Mure in the tiny kitchen at Ado

I'm working on an article for my LA Cooking Examiner column that will feature a recipe from Antonio Mure, the chef and co-owner of Ado in Venice, so I went there tonight with fellow food writer Gerry Furth-Sides to take some pictures. I thought I might get to taste the dish for the article, a lovely tagliatelle with zucchini, teardrop tomatoes and walnut pesto. But I wasn't expecting chef Antonio to send over an entire dinner! If you're reading this, chef, thank you. It was delicious.

So what happens when two food writers sit down at a lovely restaurant together? They share their food, and they take pictures. Here's what we had:

I started with an escarole salad with fresh figs, toasted almonds and a balsamic vinaigrette. Chef Antonio peeled the figs because he says they look better that way, which I found interesting. The balsamic vinegar and the sweetness of the figs tamed the bitterness of the greens quite a bit - they were still sturdy and had a little bite.

Gerry got a lovely buffalo carpaccio with a wild mushroom salad - very tender. I'm not experienced in the ways of carpaccio, so I probably would have mistaken it for beef, but it was definitely buffalo.

We shared the two pasta dishes. The first, fresh homemade tagliatelle with fried zucchini, red and yellow pear tomatoes, roasted garlic, and walnut pesto, is the one for which I'll post the recipe in a day or two. I thought it was particularly interesting that chef Antonio deep-fried the zucchini moons in olive oil before adding them to the saute pan with the roasted garlic and tomatoes. Frying them first made them almost chewy, instead of the watery texture you get when you saute zucchini from raw. The walnut pesto was a simple paste of raw walnuts, olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and - oh darn - what was the last thing? Maybe a little cream? I'll have to call over there and check. [Update: cream, infused with dry mustard powder, rosemary and sage, plus garlic.]

The second pasta was extremely unusual: beet tagliatelle with a Taleggio cream and quail ragu. Let's begin with the pasta. Chef Antonio roasts the beets, purees them, and then dries the puree over low heat for hours to remove most of the moisture, so that he can add as little flour as possible to make the pasta dough. The Taleggio, a lovely aromatic Italian cheese, is carmelized in cream to lend an additional boost of flavor. And quail ragu - well, all I can say is, pity the poor sous-chef who has to spend hours deboning quail (which has an awful lot of bones) for this rich meat sauce. Worth it, but truly, hours and hours.

Oh, and chef Antonio finished both pasta dishes off with a special Sicilian olive oil. The squeeze bottle wasn't labeled, and I saw several around the kitchen, so I asked him how he knew which one was the Sicilian. "It's the smallest bottle," he said, "because it's so much more expensive than all the other stuff." Makes sense.

I'm not much of a dessert person, and less still of an ice-cream-frozen-dessert person, but the semifreddo with shaved chocolate and crushed torrone (an Italian almond nougat candy often made for Christmas) was outstanding.

The other dessert, a vanilla custard-like cream crusted with pistachios, was also quite good. I was very intrigued by the texture: It was thicker than a pudding, more dense than a flan, almost like a ricotta cheesecake filling, but it didn't taste cheesy.

And only after I got home and looked at all my pictures did I discover the big SMUDGE on the lower left quadrant of my lens. Disappointing, even though I'm far from a photographic perfectionist. But the pictures still tell the story.

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