“I won't keep you out late - promise!” I write in the e-mail I send to Sarah at 4 pm on Thursday afternoon. We have spontaneously decided to meet for drinks at the bar of our favorite Westside watering hole, Tavern, to catch up. On what, I don’t know, since we are always “caught up.”
Mostly, our last-minute meet-up is an excuse to drink and avoid all the things we should be doing – like working or, for me, watching all the TV that has been stacking up like Dominoes on my DVR. But we’ll get to all that later – after drinks.
Or so we think when we hang our purse straps on the under-the-bar hooks at Tavern.
“Catching up” takes longer than we expect. Three and a half hours pass by without notice, and we emerge from the bar starving and craving carbohydrates to counter the effects of our substantial Rosé appetizer. It’s too late to go home and make some sort of quinoa and vegetable conglomeration like I had planned, and too late for Sarah to go home and work. We stand on the sidewalk torn between our dining options in the area until Sarah remembers an Italian trattoria she’d visited a couple years ago. A decision is made, and we meander around the corner to Pecorino Restaurant, a quiet respite away from the hustle and vapid displays of wealth that often line Brentwood’s San Vicente Blvd. during the day.
The family restaurant, helmed by co-owners Mario Sabatini and Giorgio Pierangeli, and Mario’s brother, Chef Raffaele Sabatini, seems almost out of place in the chic environs of Brentwood. The rustic space is a breath of fresh air – if fresh air smells like guanciale (unsmoked pork jowel) being fried in a skillet for the restaurant’s Spaghetti alla “Carbonara.” (I’m fairly certain it does.)
The restaurant is decidedly romantic, but also low key – the type of spot two friends can tuck into on a Thursday night at 9:30 pm without a reservation. At some places, our unannounced, late arrival would be met with narrowed eyes and a dismissive manner. Not at Pecorino. Owner Mario, who is manning the host stand when we arrive, beckons us inside with a genuine smile before charging us over to a four-top by the window. Menus are ceremoniously planted in front of us, our water glasses are filled (and subsequently, refilled), and bread and a savory white bean spread appear without request. The staff isn’t just eager to please; they are overjoyed to please – as though it is their sincerest mission to make each patron’s stay in the restaurant as enjoyable as possible.
The courteous service notwithstanding, it’s still easy to enjoy Pecorino. The tempura batter that enrobes the Ricotta-stuffed squash blossoms shatters at the slightest provocation, releasing a river of ricotta that oozes onto the tongue like lava. It’s gasp-worthy, and I’m incapable of hiding my affection for the starter, a special at the restaurant that evening. While a shared plate of the pasta special, a hearty bowl of sausage and porcini ragu over al dente rigatoni, is less memorable, the dish is still comforting in its refined modesty – just like the restaurant that serves it.
On this particular night, however, I am more enamored by the Spaghetti alla “Carbonara” ($14.00) with the aforementioned guanciale, egg and a shower of pecorino cheese. I want to lace the pasta noodles around my fork for hours, idling over each piece of crunchy guanciale burrowed within the nest of spaghetti. It’s a traditional Italian preparation – i.e. not as creamy as more Americanized interpretations, but fully satisfying. The quality of the ingredients used shines through with pronounced clarity.
The Carciofi brasati (braised artichokes, $9) that arrives at the table at the same time as the Carbonara is a solid side dish, but its earthy flavor is slightly dulled by the proximity of the pasta. The siren call of the guanciale holds my attention hostage until every stray noodle has been cleared from my plate.
Even though it is nearing midnight, Mario, who opened Pecorino five years ago (ten years after he left Italy for the United States), refuses to let Sarah and I leave without complimenting our presence with dessert. A Pear au gratin with almond cream ($8.50) and “Millefoglie” with almond titles and strawberries ($8.50) are chaperoned onto the table before we can hold up our knives in protest. Despite the late hour and the tight cinch of my waist band warning me to call it a night, the caramelized edges of the pear au gratin beckon my spoon. The danger with this dessert is its understated sweetness that doesn’t preclude the ability to eat multiple bites of the dainty lasagna-like layers of pear and almond cream. It’s an unexpected delightful cap to an equally unexpected delightful evening.
When I finally arrive home at 12:30, my eyes foggy from all the carbohydrates and the wine that Sarah and I enjoyed earlier in the evening, I laugh at the verbiage of my mid-afternoon e-mail.
“I won’t keep you out late – promise!”
Fortunately, I’m blessed to have a friend who completely ignores my promises. And, like Pecorino, isn’t pleased until I’m pleased – and blissfully stuffed with pasta, pears and Pecorino.
11604 San Vicente Blvd.
Brentwood, CA 90049