BJ’s

Photo credit: Michael C. on Yelp

Came here last Sunday after our basketball game, because we wanted to go somewhere nearby (we were in Covina) that was showing NFL games, since so many of us are avid fantasy football managers. I remember going to BJ’s quite often when I was at UCLA, and thought that it was decent. In fact, it was usually the go-to place for when we went out to dinner in Westwood in a big group. They have a variety of Chicago deep-dish pizzas, burgers, sandwiches, and other basic American classics, as well as a selection of microbrews to go along with the food.

Four of us decided to split a pizza. We got it half BJ’s Favorite and half Great White. The pizza is pretty greasy and salty, but tasted decent, and brought back a lot of college memories. I really don’t have any authentic knowledge of deep dish pizzas, but with regards to pizzas in general, the ones at BJ’s are at the very least a notch above the ones at Pizza Hut, Domino’s and Papa John’s (although I also do have a soft spot for Papa John’s). As long as you know you’re eating at a chain restaurant, and not expecting Pizzeria Mozza-esque pizzas, then I think BJ’s is a solid option.

Great White – rich and creamy Alfredo sauce with mushrooms, garlic, seasoned tomatoes, Parmesan cheese and grilled chicken breast

BJ’s Favorite – oven-baked meatballs, pepperoni, Italian sausage, mushrooms, green peppers, black olives, white onions and seasoned tomatoes

Chris Hei grade: B-

BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse
2917 Eastland Center Dr
West Covina, CA 91791
(626) 858-0054

BJ's Restaurant Brewhouse on Urbanspoon

Sotto

9/23/11

I’ve heard great things about Sotto, the Italian restaurant located directly below Picca. The Italian food here isn’t the typical spaghetti and meatball-type that Americans have come to become familiar with, but rather more from the southern region of Italy, specifically Sicilian and Sardinian. It’s very hard for me to get excited about Italian food, but I was moderately excited for this dinner because it was something different that we’re used to with regards to Italian food. Also, there’s a pizza oven built in-house by Stefano Ferrara, arguably the world’s most famous pizza oven builder.

Photo

I was meeting Ben, Danno, Eugenia, Linh-Nam, and Paul at the restaurant. Since my work is about 1.5 miles away, I was able to walk over and still be the first one. I decided to get a cocktail at the bar and marvel at the oven. Not usually one to order drinks, I had the bartender surprise me, which resulted in the Paloma Italiana. Tasted like a grapefruit soda. Pretty awesome. I later had the Use Your Illusion, which was similar to the Paloma Italiana, but stronger.

Photo

Paloma Italiana ($12) – Blanca tequila, fresh grapefruit, Campari, agave nectar, San Pellegrino Aranciata, salt

Photo

Use your Illusion ($12) – Rye whiskey, Amaro Nonnino, fresh lime, Velvet Falernum, grapefruit essence, Peychaud’s bitters

The six of us decided to split a few pizzas (all the varieties except marinara) and pastas, since that is what they’re specializing in, as well as the pork porterhouse due to my insistence. I’ll go into detail about each dish below, but here’s my general feelings about the pizza and pasta: I thought the leoparding on the pizza was great. Most people might find the pizza to be burnt, but I was told that Neapolitan pizza should have the slightly charred crust. However, I wished the crust was a little more crispy. I felt that it was on the softer side, which give it a heavier doughy consistency. Also, the dough wasn’t nearly as good as what I had at Pizzeria Mozza.

As for the pasta, I was unfortunately underwhelmed. I had heard that the pastas at Sotto were hit-or-miss, but the descriptions on the menu sounded very promising. The various pastas are handmade in-house, which I appreciated. I also appreciated that the pastas were unfamiliar to the average person, especially for an uninspired Italian food novice such as myself. However, the consistency of each strand was from a perfect al dente to very mushy. And not all of the pasta combinations worked.

Photo

Estiva ($16) – tiny tomatoes, Castelvetrano olives, anchovy, ricotta, arugula

Didn’t see this on the online menu or any of the food bloggers’ posts on Sotto. I liked it though. But eating this last, the pizza got a little soggy.

Photo

Guanciale ($16) – house-cured pork cheek, ricotta, scallions, fennel pollen

The pizza I was looking forward to the most. It was good, but I wished there was more guanciale though, as all I could really taste on the pizza were the ricotta and scallions. Like a poor man’s version of Mozza’s fennel sausage pizza.

Photo

Campagnola ($16) – sunchokes, fennel, mozzarella, marjoram, house-cured lardo

At first I thought there were potatoes on the pizza, but later I found out that they were sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes, which have a similar taste and texture to potatoes). This might have been my favorite of the night.

Photo

Salsiccia e friarielli ($14) – sausage, rapini, mozzarella, chilies

Very conventional pizza, but rather effective. Didn’t amaze me though, obviously.

Photo

Margherita ($13) – tomato, mozzarella, basil, EVOO

Of course, one has to order the margherita to gauge the quality of a restaurant’s pizza. The tomato sauce was more tart than I expected, but what is most evident was the wood-fired taste from the oven. I thought this was a good, but not great pizza.

Photo

Spaghetti ($16) – sardines, wild fennel, sultanas, pinenuts

Not your usual spaghetti and meatballs with tomato sauce. This one was a dry preparation with a heavy sardine flavor. This was actually my favorite pasta of the night.

Photo

Buckwheat cavati ($16) – pig’s head ragu, beet greens, cacao

Ben chose this pasta, which was one of the specials. Had a nice, earthy flavor, but rather mild given the ingredients.

Photo

Squid ink fusilli lunghi ($16) – pistachios, bottarga, mint

I’ve read mixed reviews about this pasta, but it just sounded so intriguing. The strands of fusilli were really inconsistent in this. As for the flavor, all I tasted was the pistachios and mint. Probably wouldn’t order this one again :(

Photo

Fennel-crusted Devil’s Gulch pork porterhouse ($35) – roasted carrots, green beans

While this was actually pretty simple in preparation, I really liked it. The meat was cooked very well – not overdone at all. The result was a juicy piece of pork that absorbed the fennel flavor well.

Photo

Cannoli Siciliani ($6) – ricotta, orange marmalade, pistachios, chocolate

Onto the desserts. We obviously ordered all three that were available on the menu (since Eugenia was there). The cannoli had a nice crunchy exterior, and a creamy ricotta filling that was sweetened with the orange marmalade.

Photo

Bittersweet chocolate crostata ($8) – hazelnuts, salted rosemary caramel

I thought I would love this, but I guess I just like it. The salted rosemary caramel was more rosemary than salted caramel, and the crostata was a rather one-note dark chocolate. Still pretty good though. The hazelnuts were a nice touch.

Photo

Sheep’s milk yogurt panna cotta ($7) – thyme, honey, almond amaretti

This was arguably my favorite of the trio, and arguably one of the best panna cottas I’ve had. It had a nice tart flavor which was balanced by the sweet honey, and the amaretti provided a nice crunchy contrast.

I unfortunately came to Sotto with some pretty high expectations, but the dinner still ended up being a good one. However, the dishes served were kind of hit-or-miss, particularly with the pastas. The pizzas were good, but they are nowhere near Mozza’s at this point. But don’t let my slight disappointment deter you from trying Sotto. I still think it’s a worthwhile restaurant. Next time I think I’ll try some of the non-pizza and pasta dishes, as well as some of the pastas to give it another shot. Remember, this restaurant is still fairly new (it opened in March I believe), so I think Sotto still has a lot of potential to develop into a fine restaurant. For now, I might have to give it some time for that development to happen.

Chris Hei grade: B

Sotto
9575 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035
(310) 277-0210

Sotto on Urbanspoon