Friday, May 29, 2009

Riva: A Reverant Experience

I was giddy driving out to Santa Monica this past Sunday afternoon at 4 pm. I should have been cursing the slow-moving Prius in front of me or calling my mother to whine about the poorly timed traffic signals, but instead I was nearly bowled over with excitement. I couldn't wait to arrive at my destination. I couldn't wait for the evening to begin.

As part of Yelp's Wine Club, I was fortunate enough to join a 20-something party of similarly-minded yelpers for a special wine and food pairing event at Riva, Jason Travi's sister restaurant to the highly revered Fraiche in Culver City. I'd had the opportunity to dine at Riva once before, and knew that my friends and I were in for a treat that evening. Especially since the patate simplice pizza I'd enjoyed the last time was included on the tasting menu.

Despite my high expectations for the night, nothing could have prepared me for what awaited us at the Promenade-adjacent restaurant. Nothing could have prepared me for the flawless service, generous pours of wine and impeccably presented platters of food. Nothing could have prepared me for four of the best hours I have ever spent at an eatery in Los Angeles. In a word -- perfection.

Of course, since I error on the side of verbosity, I've got a few more words to share about the experience.


Like fried arancini balls, golden brown and oozing long sensuous strands of mozzarella cheese. And luscious dollops of burrata, drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar and precariously plopped on toasted rounds of bread. And Borgo Magredo Prosecco -- bubbly, understated, and a welcome replacement for its French cousin, Champagne. After two glasses of Prosecco, two Arancini balls and the aforementioned crostini, my stomach was purring with contentment and primed for the feast to come. Our hosts led our motley crew into a private dining room tucked away in the back of the luminous space of the restaurant, and we were transported away from the world as the restaurant staff, co-owner, and knowledgeable wine broker wooed us into heady states of oblivion.

"Wine is supposed to be fun," the wine broker, our MC for the night, told us as he described the 2007 Umani Ronchi Verdicchio Classico that would be served alongside our Crudo. The bright wine tickled our palates with its subtle undertones of almond and citrus, and in the moment, no truer words have ever been spoken. It was fun. Especially when paired with our trio of crudo that included a big eye tuna with tonnato sauce and capers, sea bass with pink peppercorns and lemon oil, and a spectacular albacore. We sipped, we tasted, we sipped again, and then marvelled at the way the wine was transformed after each bite. We couldn't wait for more, and the restaurant and wine broker couldn't wait to give us more.

Platters of bacon confit pizza, the aforementioned patate simplice, and a judiciously topped arugula and prosciutto pie, descended upon our tables still steaming from the wood-burning oven. We teased our tongues with a 2006 Vignamaggio Suahili Syrah Salento and then dug into the feast before us. Despite the demands of cooking for a large group, the pies were flawless, and the patate simplice, redolent with ooey gooey fontina cheese, thin slices of yukon gold potatoes, and seasoned with rosemary and sea salt was even better than I remembered. In the four months since I've been to the restaurant, the kitchen has clearly gained mastery over their dough -- the salt-kissed crust is crisp, but tender to the bite, and easily stands on its own.




A short break and educational briefing from our wine broker followed the pizza course, and despite the haze that was threatening to overcome my sensibilities (and ladylike decorum), I did my best to pay attention to his description of the 2005 Lungarotti Rubesco. The bold red wine, a combination of Sangiovese and Canaiolo, was ultimately my favorite pour of the evening, and the spiciness of its finish paired well with the multitude of various antipasti salads that were presented to us with it. The fresh bite of the largely bean-based salads was a welcome break after the heartier pizza course, and by the time the bowls had been cleared, we were all ready for a sweet ending.


"If you ever need a hostess gift, buy a bottle of this dessert wine and some biscotti," our wine broker instructed us as we received our glasses of the 2005 Lungarotti Dulcis to be paired with an over abundance of small cookies. Our eyes glistened with lust as the platters were set down on our tables, and I lost complete sight of my manners as I dove in for a warm chocolate chip cookie here, a perfectly caramelized, buttery macaroon there, and two or three or four crisp bites of chocolate and almond biscotti. While the dessert wine was a bit cloying for my palate, the cookies helped temper the sweetness, and I made a pointed effort to consume as many as possible so as to ensure the optimal drinking experience.
By the time we rolled out of the restaurant four hours after our arrival, we were all in shock over the amazing dining experience.

"Can you believe that?" My friend Anna asked me.

I shook my head in bewilderment. I couldn't. The service, food and wine that we received for only $30 a person was nothing short of exquisite. But more importantly, it gave each of us a memory that we are not soon to forget. Especially since we have each documented it on Yelp with 5-star glowing reviews.

11 comments:

Esi said...

Um, yeah. I am jealous. Everything looks amazing! Wine is definitely fun ;)

Hari said...

You summed up the evening pretty well :) Still can't believe I had nearly 10 glasses at the 'tasting'!

Jenn said...

I don't drive out to Santa Monica as much as I used to. (i.e. crazy ass traffic) but If you say this place is worth it, then I'll have to make the drive out.

Diana said...

Esi - Haha, wine is a little too fun!

Hari - I know, crazy, huh? Such a great night!

Jenn - Totally worth it! Especially for that potato pizza - heaven!

The Duo Dishes said...

Because of you, we want to eat out more. You find good finds all the time!

Reeni♥ said...

I'm so impressed! I was reading and wondering how much is this costing? How wonderful for $30!!!

Sara said...

Everything looks delicious! All you had to say was burrata and I was sold.

Elra said...

Wow, those pizza look so great, my son and my husband are pizza lover. My son goes to Santa Monica very often, so I'll let him know about this place. Thanks for sharing Diana.

Burp and Slurp~! said...

all that for just $30? dang, girl! you striked it!
everything looks SO good, esp that first course! ooh...cheese...

Anna A. said...

I still can't believe that! Haha What a textbook event! ... I hear Fraiche is next ;)

TonyC said...

1 of these days I'm going to make it there... Figured I've been to Fraiche, this can't be that different...