Arrivederci Valentino, Ciao MacShack and Slumming It at Arby’s

Luciano Pellegrini | Photo by Anthony Mair

Luciano Pellegrini | Photo by Anthony Mair

Well, the hobgoblins have finally arrived at Valentino; the restaurant will close forever November 4 after a solid run lasting the better part of 15 years. During that period, it has been our most distinguished, most consistent Italian restaurant. Chef Luciano Pellegrini won a James Beard Award as Outstanding Chef, Southwest, in 2004, a distinction only shared by Julian Serrano and Alex Stratta.

His talent shone most brightly during this time of year, as white truffles from Piemonte are in season, and he made incredible use of them in risotto, on eggs and with pastas. Ciao, Looch, and here’s hoping you stay in the city. And as to your boss, the incredible Piero Selvaggio–a visionary who helped popularize boutique Italian wines in America–I am happy I can still visit you at Valentino in Los Angeles.

You may not find white truffles at MacShack, now owned by local restaurateurs Frank Masi and J. Dapper, but you will get solid, tasty, value-priced Italian-American comfort food. Now in two locations (8975 W. Charleston Blvd., hard by a Whole Foods Market, and the original, 8680 W. Warm Springs Rd.), MacShack serves a large choice of salads and many healthy items to go with signature pastas, including “Crazy Alfredo” and baked rigatoni, with everything on the menu basically less than $10.

Most of you know about Artisanal Foods owner Brett Ottolenghi. Now I want to tell you about a man with the same last name, Yotam Ottolenghi, an Israeli chef with restaurants in London, a number of cookbooks and a polymath who dropped out of a Ph.D. program in comparative literature to pursue life as a chef.

I visited his original restaurant, Ottolenghi, in London, and had one of the most unusual and interesting meals of my career, a combination of influences such as Syrian, Turkish, Lebanese and Western. He cooks like no one else, yet his dishes are simple and easily reproduced.

Among the standouts were grilled peaches, bitter leaves, Gorgonzola and spicy macadamia nuts with orange blossom and balsamic vinegar dressing; and tea-smoked lamb cutlets with burnt aubergine (eggplant), pickled lotus root and jalapeño. I’d tell you more, but I’d rather urge you to simply buy Ottolenghi: The Cookbook (Ten Speed Press, 2013), and start impressing your friends.

Finally, and this may be an odd way to end such august recommendations, since my wife is out of town, I can sneak in a few visits to fast-food restaurants. Dare I tell you I’d go back for one more Arby’s Smokehouse Brisket Sandwich, thin slices of beef slow-smoked for 13 hours and layered on a chewy bun with barbecue sauce, crispy onion rings and aged Gouda cheese? At two for $8, it ain’t a bad deal. But don’t tell my wife.

Hungry, yet?

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