Ombra: Just go, already!

The other day I checked out Ombra, a new restaurant in Studio City, and was overwhelmed by what we found there.  Thank goodness for chefs like Michael Young, who are elevating Los Angeles’ culinary landscape, one restaurant at a time.  Not to mention the fact that he’s a complete (certified) Italian Wine Geek.


Gratuitous (but necessary) Food Photography ahead.  If you’re not hungry now, you will be once you click through…

Chef Michael Young (far right) receiving his AIS  Diploma.

First, Chef Michael White served us the best arancini I have ever tasted.  Perfectly fried, with the most delicate textures, inside and out.  It’s the simple things that most restaurants overlook.  This first bite was truly a sign of the brilliant food to follow.

Normally I don’t even eat the little spreads and pastes and compounds that restaurants put on the table with bread at the beginning of a meal.  This time, after trying to ignore this beautiful little smear of white bean puree, I caught a whiff of a bright, vibrant olive oil and gave in.  Al I can say is, you simply must try this for yourself.  Textually it’s closer to mascarpone than white beans.  Light, creamy, seasoned to perfection and then drenched in the freshest, grassiest olive oil.  Chef, you’ve won me over with beans and olive oil.  Seriously?  Yes.

Next we sampled the house-cured pork loin, which Chef generously seasoned with aged Parmigiano and aceto basalmico.  We had already ordered wine, but being a perfectionist Chef Michael Young also had us taste this lovely Lambrusco Sorbara from Vecchia Modena, Cleto Chirli & Figli.  The wine is a gorgeous shad of ruby red- light and almost rosato (a telling sign that this is Sorbara Lambrusco, not Grasparossa).  The nose was raspberries and fresh cracked pepper.  On the palate it was lively, bright, super dry and refreshing against the rich cured pork.

The sauteed skate wing and radicchio were were favorites of the afternoon- an uncommon lunch special made from very simple ingredients, treated with great precision and respect.  The wine of skate was delicate, flaky and extremely moist.  I loved the foil of this rich, succulent fish next to the bold, smoky, bitter radicchio.  We especially enjoyed the combination of this dish with a Ribolla Gialla from Friuli.  Teresa Raiz makes this lovely, stainelss-steel fermented wine in a way that preserves all the fresh, floral aromatics of the Ribolla Gialla, while emphasizing the salinity and minerality of the region’s terroir.  This is not Gravner’s macerated, orange wine.  Ah, the many faces of Ribolla Gialla!

We also sampled Chef Michael Young’s spaghetti with cauliflower, anchovy paste and breadcrumbs.  Again, a small collection of simple ingredients, elevated by perfect execution.  Another stellar wine pairing with this pasta- Murgo’s Etna Rosso.  This wine is made from Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio grapes, grown on the slopes of Mount Etna.  The soil is extremly high in menerals and volcani compounds, which translates into a flinty, high acid red wine.  I cannot describe the perfect marriage of Etna Rosso and anchovy.  You simply need to experience it yourself!

I think the picture above says it all.  Torta di Ricotta with a blackberry compote.  Deceptively simple, but layered with such precise spices, the desert became something else entirely.  The torta was spiked with candied fruit and baking spices, and was strangely reminiscent of panettone.  The compote had been macerated with fresh rosemary, which gave it a fresh, peppery kick.

I am a big fan of Chef Michael Young and Ombra.  I found the food to be truly special, and the wine list inspired.  Simple twists of flavor and carefully calibrated technique just nudged each dish into the realm of the truly fantastic.  Ombra has only been open for a few months now, but it’s clear this will be a benchmark of Italian cuisine in southern California for a very long time.