Il Grano (Sagra Del Pomodoro): Starring Homegrown Tomatoes [CLOSED]

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Tomatoes Los Angeles

Second generation restaurateur Sal Marino spotlights homegrown tomatoes.

Photos by Matthew Kang

Sal Marino grew up in Naples, where he developed a profound respect for Italian cuisine. Since 1997, he’s worked to make Il Grano one of the top Italian spots in Los Angeles. The West LA restaurant deserves attention on a regular basis, but it’s never more compelling than during the summertime Sagra Del Pomodoro festival, when Marino prepares dishes using 42 varieties of homegrown tomatoes.

Every Wednesday, Sal writes a different tomato menu. The menu even changes between lunch and dinner, depending on finds from the Santa Monica Farmers Market.

Marino was one of the first chefs to introduce crudo to Los Angeles, and he’s developed a deft touch with raw fish over the years. Matt’s Wild Cherry Pea Sprout Salad ($14) accompanied slices of warm Japanese yellowtail carpaccio. The red, yellow and burgundy tomatoes were uniformly juicy and sweet, and the fish was impeccable.


Italian Food Los Angeles

Marino was one of the first chefs to introduce crudo to Los Angeles, and he’s developed a deft touch with raw fish over the years. Matt’s Wild Cherry Pea Sprout Salad ($14) accompanied slices of warm Japanese yellowtail carpaccio. The red, yellow and burgundy tomatoes were uniformly juicy and sweet, and the fish was impeccable.

Italian Food Los Angeles

A single Grilled Santa Barbara Prawn ($15) was cut in half and lightly grilled. The oversized shrimp came with a momotaro Peach tomato salad, which provided a pleasantly acidic foil to the naturally sweet meat.

Bread Los Angeles

Our waiter said that pastry chef “Nancy” makes the breadsticks and focaccia up to four times a day. Both breads arrived at table warm. Focaccia was fluffy and salty, and Nancy’s sticks were much more supple than normal.

I asked the waiter for Nancy’s last name, and he said, “I only know her as Nancy, and that she makes delicious things.”

Italian Food Los Angeles

Risotto Cuore di Bue ($14) was expertly cooked, a tomato-infused mound of risotto with a smoked mozzarella center, a basil flower crown and extraneous dots of pesto. Roasted eggplant cannelloni ($12) featured an ethereal crepe-like wrapper and an intensely sweet San Marzano sauce flecked with organic Sicilian oregano. The fluffy eggplant filling was folded with a crumbled white cheese.

Italian Food Los Angeles

San Marzano rabbit fettuccine Bolognese & loin stuffed with olives ($18) achieved mixed success. The simple al dente pasta was tossed with a flavorful orange sauce. The slice of loin was tender and tangy from the olive “stuffing,” but contained a couple “nasty bits,” to use an Anthony Bourdain expression – little nubs of cartilage. The best parts were the accents: crispy basil leaves and a tiny yellow “sungold” tomato containing Kalamata olive slices.

Italian Food Los Angeles

We should have listened to Marino and limited our dessert to his market-plucked recommendation. We’ll get to that in a second. In the meantime, behold one of two tomato desserts.

A compartmentalized glass plate cradled scoops of celebrity tomato, mascarpone & celery sorbet ($9). The trio represented the colors of the Italian flag: red, green and white. Mascarpone was creamy and tangy. Celery was clearly sweetened and reminded me of Dr. Brown’s Cel Rey soda. That’s a good thing. Unfortunately, the tomato sorbet was watery and bland. The fourth compartment held apple slices, raspberries and a single mint leaf.

Italian Food Los Angeles

Marino said huckleberry panna cotta ($11) was his best dessert by far, topped with tart blueberry-shaped berries he sourced at the Santa Monica Farmers Market. The firm but creamy base was flecked with vanilla, and there was a central layer of sweet huckleberry jelly. Excellent balance and flavor.

Beginning in November, Il Grano will offer bollito misto on Wednesday nights, a gigantic cauldron of boiled meats. That may be great, but it’s hard to imagine it topping Sagra del Pomodoro.

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Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

Blog Comments

dude, bollito misto! my dream…
nice write up, and woah, great photos! jk 🙂

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