During my early years in L.A., the Avalon Hotel was one of the hottest spots on the Westside to grab a drink, complete with poolside cabanas and funky retro décor courtesy of a designer I’d later learn was Kelly Wearstler. 10 years is a long time in the hospitality industry, and since Brad Korzen launched the Avalon in 1999, Beverly Hills has gained plenty of competition. To stay fresh, Korzen and wife Wearstler recently revamped the Avalon with an aqua geometric-chic décor and a new Italian restaurant called Oliverio, headed by Mirko Paderno. The chef has combined greatest hits from previous posts like All’ Angelo with some new dishes to re-establish (or establish) the Avalon as a destination for food lovers, and not just scene chasers.
Oliverio hosted a group of local food writers for dinner, including me. We began in one of the poolside cabanas on a warm SoCal night. By the time I arrived, my tablemates had already vanquished a number of Paderno pizzas. The consensus seemed to be that the pizza with potato flour, goat cheese and truffles reigned supreme. Thankfully, there was still some extra Fritto Misto, one of the best I’ve had, with supple sheets of calamari, crispy tentacles, plump jumbo shrimp and crispy sage leaves. The plate came with a dish of zesty marinara dipping sauce.
Paderno’s Octopus Carpaccio was more satisfying at All’ Angelo in 2007. The thin-shaved sheets of octopus were still tender, but they could have used more moisture from additional olive oil. Also, salsa verde and frisee were more satisfying accompaniments than the arugula and candied tomato.
Tortelli was another winner, featuring house-made pasta, an intensely flavorful filling of braised lamb shoulder, a pool of jus and a dice of tomatoes and black olives. Yes, we received another candied tomato, and the acidity may have helped cut the dish’s richness.
The Cannelloni were probably even more satisfying due to the textural contrast. The pasta rolls were loaded with savory escarole and ricotta filling, topped with blistered ricotta and plated with a julienne of cooked seasonal vegetables, including eggplant, peppers and zucchini.
Unfortunately, our entrees were both underwhelming. SALMONE SCOZZESE “ACQUA PAZZA” consisted of a dry Scottish salmon fillet plated with zucchini and yet another candied tomato in “crazy water,” a broth that wasn’t as maniacal as expected.
The lemon polenta cake with lemon sabayon and a base of passion fruit sauce was also successful, but not quite as good as the devastating version at All’ Angelo, which packed more moisture and more lemon tartness.
My initial Oliverio foray was generally positive, and the experience is bound to improve as Paderno becomes more acclimated to his new environs. There isn’t a single entree on the menu under $25, and that wasn’t a strength, so next time, I’ll sit poolside and stick with the pastas, antipasto and of course more desserts.