As a longstanding lover of all things Italian, it pains me to be so far removed from the motherland at this time of year. Summers past have been punctuated with Negronis, seafood pasta and fragrantly seasoned cuts of veal; wonderful meals served on the gently baked stone terrazze of various Italian towns, where the hubbub of conversation warms the innards like a hipflask of Scotch on a mean winter’s night.
Sequestered to the land of bad traffic and valet parking, it could be easy to slip into a Chandler-esque funk: “lost, beaten and full of emptiness,” save for the group of welcoming locals that are going out of their way to make this a nice neighbourhood to have bad habits in.
We start the evening at Angelini’s Osteria down on Beverly, increasingly my new favourite place and an indisputably great Italian restaurant. Crowded, noisy, with acts of culinary theatre at the table to bring out appreciative “oohs and ahhs” from the crowd. Maestro Gino filets a Branzino with the relish of Paganini launching into the Caprice 24. The food is simple but exquisitely prepared and in keeping with the locale, our neighbouring table mates were indeed a pair of blondes to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window....
First up, over warm octopus with aragula and cherry tomatoes and a dish of grilled calamari with fennel and pomegranate were two white burgundies. The first, Raveneau Les Clos 1996 was perhaps not the best example but still showed a blast of the richness and salinity that characterise this great vineyard. Although still full bodied, it was more advanced than I was expecting. On to Leflaive Clavoillons 1992 which had the church glazier upgrading his holiday again: bright gold, with lime zest, white flowers and popcorn, this delicious mature white burg lasted all of five minutes as conversation dimmed to appreciate its zaftig charms.
A perfect pizza bianca mated harmoniously with a 1978 Pio Cesare Barolo, still full of crunchy red fruit and fine, earthy tannin. 1996 Ceretto Brico Asili, 1997 Giacosa Barbaresco, 1997 Marcarini Brunate and 1997 Scavino Bric del Fiasc came on molto allegro accompanied by two paste, a deliciously meaty ragu and a frankly heavenly dish of agnolotti coated in sage butter. Amidst this serenade of angeli alimentari, the Giacosa was the pick of the bunch, playfully bright with that inimitable ‘Giacosa’ charm.
In what would undoubtedly be top of the card on another night, 1997 Gaja Sperss faced off against 1997 Sandrone Cannubi Boschis. The Sandrone unexpectedly lush and exotic, sweet roses and cherries melting into a dark core of fruit with little perceptible tannin. The Sperss was at once more serious and focussed, FF with that tingling red brightness you only find in the best Barolo and Burgundy. Incredibly long and vibrant and a joy with the perfectly cooked bistecca alla Fiorentina that accompanied it.
By this time, our collective palate and seating arrangements had expanded to take in the table next door (remember the bishop?) but even such lubricious distractions could not diminish the majesty of the 1989 Conterno Granbussia. Suffice to say, this is as close to perfect Barolo as I’ve tasted and would have been a perfect end to the meal. But it wouldn’t quite be a Hollywood ending right? So as surely as fugue follows toccata, we commandeered a series of cars and wound our way up to a group member’s house, high in the hills above Sunset.
If the dinner was hazy in recollection, the after-dinner is barely translucent. There was drunken noodling on one of Jimi Hendrix’s Stratocasters, take out pizza and in an act of incredible generosity from our host, 2003 Roumier Les Amoureuses and 1995 and 1996 La Tache served side by side.
Figuratively at this point, the bishop had finished off the altar wine, burnt down the church and fled to Acapulco with his curate for company. 1996 La Tache is the sort of wine that makes recidivists of idle burg drinkers. And evenings such as this make life in the ‘big sordid dirty crooked city’ a little closer to la dolce vita after all...
With thanks to Gino and the chaps at Angelini Osteria, 7313 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles CA90036 (www.angeliniosteria.com) and all the group (particularly Sg. L&L) for a fab night.