The Other Critics

Virbila Indulges in Italian at Obika and Amarone; Gold Tries Tijuana’s Best

Photo: Tatiana Arbogast

“Sometimes a worthy older [restaurant] slips through the cracks without a full review,” says S. Irene Virbila, apparently not paying much attention to the fact that she reviewed Shangri-La, Craft, Serenata de Garibaldi, Ammo, Saddle Peak Ranch, and Jocko’s in the last ten weeks alone. Sigh. Despite initially dissing Amarone a few years back, she now notices that it “really does feel like a little neighborhood place in Italy,” resplendent with the character of Emilia-Romagna. She does know her Italians, and finds the pasta here rich, abundant, and enjoyable, even recommending the tiramisu against her normal instincts. Two stars for a serious wine list, the company of owner Alessandro Polastri and chef Giuseppe Musso, and a careful treatment of veggies. [L.A. Times]

Jonathan Gold, who spent the week cracking us up over detailed demonstrations of the bao steamer that derailed a political career, introduces us to L.A.’s “man in Tijuana” Javier Plascencia, el jefe of “a movement that marries the flavors and structures of the traditional Mexican kitchen with European technique.” Yes, he admits he’s back at Test Kitchen (it won’t be there forever after-all!), loving “what is often considered the most interesting cuisine in Mexico,” with tacos filled with beef cheek, fideo, and morcilla, some sort of quail-topped uni shooter, fig leaf-wrapped short rib, and an “astonishing” Caeser salad from the recently refurbished birthplace of the dish. As usual, we’re jealous of any Test Kitchen experience we didn’t get to try. However, he reminds us “Tijuana is only three hours away.” [L.A. Weekly]

Virbila makes us giggle at the memory of Steven Spielberg’s submarine-shaped restaurant at The Century City Mall of yore. She likes Obika here for the generous indulgence in buffalo mozzarella, its caponata, and the culatello, but finds the bread “flat-out terrible,” letting us in on the secret that they’re tried four different vendors now. [L.A. Times]

Need a lasagna that will impress a few real Italians? Mr. Gold suggests Porta Via in Pas if you have the cash, Bay Cities Deli for Westsiders, and thinks “nothing really beats the lasagna ‘cupcakes’ from Heirloom L.A. [L.A. Weekly]

J. Gold hits Shanghai Bamboo House in Monrovia and is super-stoked to find an often elusive dish he long loved, this version “heaven itself with a plate of dumplings and cold chunks of sweet smoked fish.” Still, “the soul of the restaurant lies elsewhere — cold, boiled chicken that sings with salt and the gamy essence of the bird; ultralight braised tofu rolls stuffed with pork or shrimp; coins of cool, stuffed lotus root slicked with a wine sauce and stuffed with sticky rice,” among others, like the casserole called “ham with yam” and the best Shanghai egg rolls he’s “ever had.” Better yet, he assures you won’t be “white-washed.” [L.A. Weekly]

Virbila Indulges in Italian at Obika and Amarone; Gold Tries Tijuana’s Best