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(Gerry Furth-Sides) Pasta is the star of the Drago family restaurants. And there are as many of them as brothers, even more these days, serving classic Sicilian and other Italian regional dishes with a sure hand.
The legendary oldest brother Celestino (pictured above at a charity event honoring him), inspired the Pasadena restaurant of the same name, one that translates into a gold standard restaurant since Celestino first opened on Beverly Drive a quarter century ago. In fact, the inspired, cheery chef is now “Cavaliere Celestino” since the Italian government knighted him a couple of years ago
We have been dreaming about the Pappardelle on Fabiano e Morelle (wide Fettuccine with Pheasant and Morel Mushrooms) on the seasonal Holiday Mushroom & Truffle Menu menu at Celestino in Pasadena’s tony south Lake district for almost a year now. It did not disappoint in taste, texture and complexity. And it is only one of the three sections to try of Morel Mushrooms, Porcini Mushrooms and Fresh Truffles from Italy.
The sauce teased every bit of flavor from the bird and perfectly complemented the fanastical mushrooms capped with the distinctive honeycomb appearance of ridges and pits. They are impossible to cultivate and prized so highly they influence enthusiasts into a madcap hunt for them during the season, no pun intended. And these are the best, from Italy!
An open kitchen (rather than a showy bar) hints that cooking is key here. At the same time it easily blends into the warm glow of the dining room, inviting and with enough pin lights for visibility. It also seems to add a note of warmth and inclusivity of cook and customer, and the happy faces in the kitchen don’t belie this.
It’s almost impossible to decide whether the service or the food deserves more accolades but we started with the food so let’s go with it.
Be careful what you ask for here. I merely mentioned the heels of the bread and got a basketful. Without asking for it. It is impossible to eat just one: Drago bakery that also wholesales to restaurants is the very best in town. Their pretzel burger bun stands alone among all others and we miss LA Farm even more just for it.
The beautiful intense deep red ROSSO di Montepulciano from the Poggio Golo winery in Tuscany was just the medium weight wine to pair with the rich pasta and the rabbit dishes, fruity and veinous. Known to be food-friendly and practically priced, the glorious tall German wine glasses (that looked better than they photographed) added to its allure. Interestingly the grapes for this ROSSO de Montepulciano from the municipality of the same name in the province of Siena differs from Montepulciano wine from grapes associated most often with Abruzzo and grown all over Central Italy.
The Zuppa del Giorno (soup of the Day) was pumpkin. And pumpkin it was, with only a bit of butter added to the smooth, silky puree. Mario told us that they rarely used broth so that the true flavor shines through of the vegetable. A smiling swoop of olive oil and a drizzle of Creme Fraiche tops the dish.
A whimsical presentation of Coniglio al Forno con Salsa di Olive Nere (Roast Rabbit with Black Olive Sauce) with baby potato, carrot, a teardrop tomato and spinach was light yet substantial.
Mario brought out the famous Nonino family Moscato grappa, teasing to take the bottle when I loved the taste so much. Originally done to simply use the grape leftovers from the winemaking process, grappa is made by distilling the skins, seeds, pulp and stems, known as pomace. It is usually sharp but here the sharpness is only the intriguing tart citrus spice because the addition of the moscato pomace lends an aromatic, soft, sensuality to the grappa. The perfect ending to a perfect evening.
Profiteroles and Panna Cotta ended the meal.
The very clever, and very delicious Panna Cotta (“cooked cream” in Italian) dessert which is made with sweetened ream thickened with gelatin and molded, here had a citrusy fruit gel in the center of each circle instead of the usual berries or caramel or chocolate sauce. It is fascinating that while panna cotta is thought of as a traditional Piedmontese dessert from the north of Italy, it was not mentioned Italian cookbooks before the 1960’s.
Calogero Drago (shown above right with head waiter Mario, and below) also keeps a sure hand on the front of the house. The friendly Mario (left) only looks serious … although he is serious about his position at Celestino for 15 years… and actually began his career with Chef Celestino at the original Beverly Hills location.Calogero hosts the sprawling set of white tablecloth dining rooms and spacious, welcoming veranda on Lake Street as easily and personally as if it would be a tiny room, chatting up the customers and directing the staff in English and Italian. (photo above and portrait below are courtesy Celestino Restaurant)
Calogero Drago celebrates 15 years on Lake street and is the only Drago in Pasadena. The crazy friendly and slightly frenetic Il Pastaio perks up Beverly Hills and Drago Centro is a major downtown LA attraction.
Celestino Ristorante & Bar also has a very limited amount of the incredibly rare White Truffle. Those “in the know” know to ask their server for the daily white-truffle specials.
Celestino Ristorante is open for lunch week-days from 11:00 am to 2:30 pm. Dinner is served 5:30 pm to 10:30 pm Monday through Thursday, 5:30 pm to 11:00 pm on Friday, 5:00 pm to 11:00 pm on Saturday and 5:00 pm to 10:30 pm on Sunday.
The Holiday Mushroom & Truffle Menu is available through the end of December 2016. For information or reservations, please visit www.CelestinoPasadena.com or call Celestino Ristorante directly at please call 626.795.4006.
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