Friday, February 16, 2007

The 100 Year Old Machine

The parking gods were smiling on us and we found a space less than half a block away. This may not seem relevant, but I really hated the idea of circumnavigating the five corners intersection of Hermosa Beach (Hermosa Ave., Manhattan Ave. and Gould Ave.). It's difficult enough just to get through it!
So we were there, on time, and hungry. The host knew us by name, met us at the door and sat us at a table for two in the middle of a banquette that ran from the front to the back of the small room. The floors and mismatched tables are so dark as to be black, white linens add a crisp clean look. The plaster walls were mostly bare save for a map of Italy, a few large mirrors and candle holders. Everywhere there are lit candles and wine bottles. The flames make for a lovely cozy atmosphere.
Large dark wood cubbies and clever racks for the wine collection line the back of the room. A large low table allows waiters to prepare the charcouterie there in the dining room.
It feels European, thrown together yet quaint. The lack of soft textiles allows the harsh tones of conversations from other tables to be easily heard, my only complaint.
The menu is being reprinted and we are handed three sheets of paper stapled together as a menu and another set of sheets which served as the wine list. The menu was sparse, a few salads, risottos, gnocchis, and at closer inspection I find there are only antipasti and primi (first courses) listed. Ah, specials.
They all sounded lovely and there were many! At least 8. All seasonal, classic Italian, great ingredients.
  • Smoked Duck and Porcinis in light cream sauce with Papparadelle
  • Veal Shank, cooked all day, off the bone into a sauce, with some other thick pasta
  • Saddle of Rabbit
  • Filet Mignon, two different preparations are offered.
  • Monkfish marinated for 30 minutes in lemon sauce, roasted with veggies
  • Roasted whole fish, taken off the grill and filleted for you
I can't remember them all.
We order the Duck Papparadelle, the whole roasted fish, and a board of cheeses and meats to start with.
The waiter helps us choose a wine from the formidable collection of Italians they currently have in stock. We chose the Ripasa Valpolicella 2004 which was lively enough to pair well with the cured meats and light enough to go with my roasted fish. Later in the evening we see our waiter's doppleganger (or brother?), also a waiter at La Sosta, he is leaning over the candle at a nearby table, swirling wine in his glass over the flame as he explains, to the man and woman who are eagerly listening, about the grape used to make the wine and the color and texture properties it adds to the final product. Clearly they care about their wine at La Sosta.
Our board arrives and he manages to fit it between us on the tiny table. The selection is beautiful! Speck (like prosciutto only smoked, he says), Pancetta (I can't help think that I usually cook the stuff and eat it like bacon, so is this bacon sushi?) and a spicy Spanish chorizo style salami he calls caccitino (sp?), Pecorino cheese from Sicily, peppered and aged goat cheese, and a third which was basted in wine and refered to as "drunken". In addition there was truffled honey, a few roasted and marinated tiny tomatoes and slices of pickled eggplant. Wow! The truffled honey paired with the Pecorino was wonderful. The honey and the eggplant were almost better than anything else on the platter. The portions were perfect, not too small, but large enough to have a few good bites of each.
Our second courses arrived and for the most part did not disappoint. The pasta dish was rich and delicious with tiny paper thin slices of the smoked duck and served in a sensible portion which we really appreciate. The fish was succulent and moist but a bit bland. I found a few bones as well. But the vegetables are cooked perfectly and well seasoned.
We skip dessert as usual, choosing to finish our bottle of wine as we chat to the waiter about the meats and the incredible slicing machine at the back of the room. The machine is giant about three feet deep and the same across. We watch as a waiter turns a huge fly wheel and gets the blade moving back and forth with a little momentum and then he takes his hands off the wheel and the blade keeps slicing beautiful delicate slices of the cured meats as it winds down. The host tells us that the machine is about 100 years old and is made by a Dutch maker. When it doesn't work, you take it apart, clean it up and it works again, perfectly.
I really like this place. It has a wonderful vibe and I'm looking past my perfectly cooked but a little boney and bland fish because the rest of the experience gives me hope that delicious, authentic and seasonal food prepared by caring people can be found in the South Bay.
La Sosta Enoteca, 2700 Manhattan Ave.(27th St.) Hermosa Beach, CA 90254
La Sosta on Urbanspoon

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