Long Beach, the final frontier? That might just be the case, given how resistant my food-loving friends have been when faced with the prospect of driving down the 405 or 710 freeways to grab a meal. Yes, Long Beach has a thriving Cambodian community that produces some unique specialties, and Tracht’s delivers comfort food classics, but it wasn’t until recently that Long Beach cultivated destination dining. Michael Dene opened his eponymous Italian restaurant on Naples Island on December 27, 2007, and once he hired 25-year-old wunderkind Matthew Poley last May, the restaurant became worth the drive.
Poley is a chef who should be well on his way to becoming a household name in L.A. County. The Detroit native attended Le Cordon Bleu in Scottsdale and drove to Los Angeles on weekends to work for Gino Angelini at Angelini Osteria. He started washing dishes, but quickly ascended to sous chef at Angelini’s other restaurant – La Terza. In his spare time, Poley runs Heirloom LA catering with Tara Maxey, a talented pastry chef and his girlfriend.
We all submitted completely to Poley and his kitchen staff, who delivered a memorable tasting menu. Based on three prior experiences with Poley at Silverlake Wine, we expected to eat incredibly well. We did, and most of the dishes are on the regular menu, so you can easily recreate the experience.
We began with crostini topped with a luscious John Dory fillet capped with house-made pickle and strips of Peppadew pepper. The grilled bread had just the right amount of give and came with roasted tomato and an emulsion made using the Dory oil.
Next up: Carpaccio di Polipo – translucent octopus carpaccio topped with lightly dressed dandelion greens, baby artichokes, fingerling potatoes, more sweet Peppadew peppers and supple Manila clams. We scraped the mineral-rich octopus off the plate, loaded on some accoutrements and devoured the cephalopod.
The three of us each received a different salad, took a bite and passed to the left. My favorite: Insalata Di Barbabietole – baby beets with mixed greens, pomegranate seeds, Concord grapes, white balsamic vinaigrette and tiny tufts of homemade Ricotta di Capra (goat cheese).
Insalata Parmese featured crisp butter lettuce leaves topped with strips of Tuscan salami, aged Provolone, fagiolini (haricot vert) and onions, all tossed with crème fraîche, buttermilk and tiny black garbanzo beans.
Insalata Tricolore combined wild rocket, radicchio, endive, and parmesan cheese with lemon and extra virgin olive oil. This was the least interesting salad.
Oxtail cavatelli were incredible, tossed with a sticky red wine-braised ragout that clung to the pasta, pine nuts, Porcini mushrooms and thin slices of salty Tuscan Pecorino.
Gnocchi were nearly as successful, tossed with a zesty ragu combining nuggets of baby lamb, explosively flavored San Marzano tomatoes, olive oil and pine nuts.
Borsette were a show-stopper, homemade squid ink pasta purses filled with lobster, crab and roasted eggplant, coated with Manila clams, fennel and acidic cherry tomatoes, served on slightly mustard-tinged, herb-flecked lobster broth.
We each received a slice of juicy, crisp-skinned chicken roulade with sausage-cornbread stuffing, plated with cavolo nero, red wine reduction and cauliflower puree.
For our final course, we each received a bowl of saffron risotto with veal osso buco and pistachio gremolata. It’s similar to a lamb shank dish that I remember from La Terza, but since Poley used a baby animal, it was more delicious. The risotto itself featured perfect bite, but the saffron flavor was a little overpowering.
We didn’t have dessert, but we shared a bottle of Saarloos & Sons Ring Effie Unk. It’s a Santa Ynez Valley wine that includes 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc. Throughout the meal, the wine developed more spice, but was never overpowering. I’ll leave the analysis to Matthew Kaner, our table’s wine expert, who eloquently described the wine this week. Kaner brought the bottle from Silverlake Wine, the only shop that carries Ring Effie Unk in Los Angeles.
After our meal, we got another bottle of wine and walked upstairs to sit around the fire-side lounge. It’s an elaborate rooftop patio with a retractable roof, view of the starts and lit palm trees. With wine glasses in hand, it was a classic Southern California moment that served as the perfect cap to a terrific meal.
Note: Matthew Poley and Matthew Kaner are close friends. As a result, at the end of the meal, I expected the check to arrive and it never did.