We’ve spoken to a lot of people who left Rivabella sounding the alarm over mixed-to-mediocre-to-disappointing dining experiences, including a friend who was randomly stopped in traffic outside of the restaurant and warned, "don’t go there!" Today the restaurant gets scrutinized by master Italian reviewer Jonathan Gold, who notes that Italian master chef Gino Angelini’s eponymous Osteria "is almost everyone’s favorite Italian restaurant in midtown." Applauding the chef’s re-entrance onto a bigger stage, he says, "There are occasional flashes of brilliance here," with a polish to some of the chef’s past, previously "haphazard" dishes and a "perfection of regular-guy Italian food…like the kind you get in Queens, only more beautiful." Admitting that it’s hard not to remain conscious that you’re still eating "in da club," Gold credits IDG’s vibe for not being too "obtrusive," even if it’s clear this "is probably less Angelini’s project than the [company’s] newest outpost." Of the cooking, he concludes, "RivaBella features not quite the personal alta cucina of Rex, the serenely businesslike cooking of Vincenti or the elevated trattoria cooking of Osteria Angelini, but a kind of Italian cuisine in a streamlined international style…slick and professional…but also reproducible, a little too engineered, as if Angelini were already looking toward opening RivaBellas in Las Vegas, Scottsdale, Ariz., and Newport Beach." [LAT]
Besha Rodell’s balanced reviews have made us reconsider enough restaurants in the past that we can restrain ourselves from labeling some of her insights this week "Virbila moments." Still, it’s hard not to feel that the cultural reference points at Corazon Y Miel might resound more with Bell locals and Central Americans who grew up munching on giant turkey legs than they do to a relative newcomer to the Southwest giving four stars to $20 appetizers. Early on, she calls the influences of Salvadoran chef Eduardo Ruiz’s menu, "mainly Mexican but also Californian and Latin American," and frames a full paragraph around its lack of standard Mexican dishes like guacamole and tacos. Huh?
But maybe it’s a bonus that the critic can cut through all the winks and nostalgia for grandma’s kitchen to focus her attention on the actual cooking. Rodell has plenty of very nice things to say about the restaurant’s "playfulness," cocktail program, ambition, and prices. There are dishes she loves, like the burgers, bacon-wrapped dates, and ceviche. But she does find that "cooking missteps are sometimes a problem" here, after being presented with tough chicken hearts, undercooked chicken feet, and a sweet tooth run amok in the rich pork sopes. While Gold and Johnson both threw their thumbs up, for Corazon y Miel, Rodell looks forward to the day when the execution matches the heart here, and hangs two stars on the door. [LAW]
Brad A. Johnson heads to San Juan Capistrano’s new volcanic rock-fired steakhouse RokPrime (also the name of our favorite Transformers character). He’s quite smitten with the decor, even more upon hearing that it may have once been a Denny’s. When steaks are served, "clouds billow up from the rocks like smoke in a war zone. It takes only an instant for the splatter to overwhelm the table," leaving everything and everyone covered in grease spots. "In theory, the concept of serving steaks atop volcanic stones heated to 750 degrees sounds like a cool idea," the critic writes, before watching the action for another ten looong minutes and realizing the meat is way overcooked. He tries to outsmart the mess by not requesting the volcanic rocks with his next order, but they arrive anyway. "Hot rock cooking might be the overriding gimmick," Johnson concludes, "but inconsistency is the unifying theme." Strike 3! One and a half measly stars go to the place. [OC Register]