Sotto Celebrates 7 ½ Years

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Sotto is happy to announce that we are celebrating our lucky number 7 ½ birthday by bringing back favorites from when we first opened in 2011! From September 4-9, join us at the little Southern Italian restaurant on Pico Blvd. for a taste down memory lane featuring Sotto’s beloved Blistered Little Gems, Marinated Trumpet Mushrooms, and Spicy Clams dishes. Also on the menu, Chef Craig Towe revives Sotto classics Fava e Cicoria and Ciccioli with new touches — only available during the Sotto 7 ½ year celebration.   

Thank you for breaking bread, sharing meals and glasses of wine with us at Sotto throughout the years, and cheers to many, many more to come! Celebrate with us! 

SLICE OF SOTTO {Bartender, Noe Garcia}

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Noe Garcia has been with Sotto from the beginning. He worked as a back server for the first six years, running the dining room with constant good humor. Today, you can find Noe behind the bar, where he has been shaking cocktails for the past year. 

Noe worked his way through a high pedigree of LA restaurants before finding his home at Sotto. He helped open Rivera and has worked at many other chef-driven concepts, such as Palate Food + Wine and Comme Ça. 

We sat down with Noe at the bar to talk hospitality, fishing and bartending, all while enjoying his aromatic Fuego Rosa cocktail, made with Vida Mezcal, Meletti Amaro, grapefruit bitters, and Cocchi Rosa vermouth.

How do you like bartending?

I really love it, I like being a bartender. I’m the kind of person who is very social. And I think to be a bartender gives me the opportunity to meet people and it makes me feel good to give good service to people. Makes me connect with the people and to help them have a good experience. 

How did you become a bartender?

For years I was trying to be a bartender. Sotto gave me the opportunity and they took me into the program. Brynn [Sotto’s bar director] was so excited to help me become a bartender.

Julian Cox was a bartender at Comme Ça when I was there and he was the bar manager at Rivera. So I had been around that and had known about the bar program for a long time.

What kind of cocktails do you like to drink?

I mainly like to drink stirred, aromatic cocktails.

Like the Fuego Rosa.

Yes. I was inspired to make the Fuego Rosa because I’m from Oaxaca, but I used to hate mezcal. But, after going through the bar training program, I realized I wanted to do something with mezcal. We’re a southern Italian restaurant where one of our more important liqueurs is Amaro. I connected with Amaro Meletti, so that’s how I got the inspiration for the Fuego Rosa.

What does the name Fuego Rosa mean?

Fuego Rosa means Pink Fire.

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What do you do when you’re not bartending?

On my days off, what I love to do is go to eat at restaurants, eat street tacos, and to deepen my experience and learn how to give good service to people. 

And I like to go fishing.

Where do you go fishing?

There’s no limit. I go everywhere.

What kind of fish do you catch?

What is fun for me is catching bass. That’s more of a challenge. Its a big challenge because I like to do casting. Or swordfish.

You go fishing for swordfish? Have you ever caught a swordfish?

Just one time. That happened in 2004 in Oaxaca.

Wow. You do catch and release, right?

Yes, all the time.

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What are your Street Taco recommendations?
 
Ave 26 Taco Stand in Lincoln Heights for $1 tacos, Oaxaca Town Cafe on Pico Blvd for “Taco de la Abuela” and Mayas Tacos Market in Echo Park for cochinita pibil

Very nice. Okay, before we go, can you tell me why you’re such a chingon?

(laughs) I think I’m not chingon! But I’ve been learning skills on how to work with people and my coworkers, and everyone, so I guess I’m chingon because I learned to answer “Absolutely.” All the time. 

You answer “absolutely” all the time? Is that what hospitality is? Being able to say “absolutely?”

Absolutely!

SLICE OF SOTTO {Summertime In Italy}

There are no two places on earth that epitomize summer more than Southern California and Southern Italy. Sun and surf, adventure and relaxation: from the clear skies to the blue oceans, Italy and California mirror each other in countless ways. And for both places, the season that brings them to life is summer.

At Sotto, we love the summer, so we made a list of our top five summertime experiences to have in Southern Italy and Southern California.

1. Taking a drive down the Pacific Coast Highway or along the Amalfi Coast. 
The Amalfi Coast winds and whirls alongside the cliffs and villages that stretch from Sorrento to Salerno. The Pacific Coast Highway meanders up the California Coast, from the iconic surf beaches of Malibu, past the startling cliffs of Big Sur, and connecting the cities of San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles. When the sun is out and the water is clear, these two road trips make for pristine summer adventures.

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2. Dining on fresh seafood
Is it just us or does fresh fish taste better in the summer? Linguine with clams, crispy octopus, and roasted Branzino are the perfect dishes for a summertime dinner with friends. Whether it’s fresh from the Mediterranean or right out of the Pacific Ocean, seafood is the cuisine of summer.

3. Wandering through the open-air produce markets in Apulia or the Santa Monica Farmers Market
Everyone knows that the best fruit comes from California, and everyone in Italy knows that the best produce comes from Puglia. The small farming villages that dot the Adriatic coast are famous for their tomatoes, olives, and zucchini. And, just like the Santa Monica Farmers Market, the open-air markets are more than just places to buy food: they are gathering places. When the sun is out and the air is fresh, taking a stroll through the colorful fruit stands of an open-air market is a must.

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4. Seasonal Gelato
Nothing cools you down on a hot day like ice-cold gelato. Italy is famous for its local gelatarias, serving up scoops of fior di latte, chocolate, or cherry gelato. Every day at Sotto, we make our own gelato from scratch. We think that a scoop of homemade salted caramel gelato or strawberry sorbetto is the best way to end a summertime dinner.

5. Watching the sunset while drinking an Aperol Spritz
Does the purple sky reflecting off the Mediterranean Sea make the spritz taste better, or does the cocktail make the sunset more beautiful? Either way, there’s no better way to watch the sun dip below the Pacific or Mediterranean than with a refreshing cocktail in hand.

SLICE OF SOTTO {Vinitaly Wine Festival}

I’ll admit it, I was nervous about the fair. Drinking Italian wine may be my favorite thing to do, but four jet-lagged days of wine tasting in a convention center outside of Verona sounded grueling. When I told people that this would be my first time attending Vinitaly, I was warned to take it slow, find comfy couches to nap in, and not to be afraid to skip a day. 

How wrong they all were. 

I had enough energy to have stayed for two weeks. I was at the fair every day from ten in the morning until five in the evening. Vinitaly is the world’s largest wine festival, featuring wines from over four thousand Italian wineries. The fair grounds were like an airport, with every hangar dedicated to a different region of Italy. I got to saunter through Sicily, tasting Etna Bianco and Cerasuolo di Vittoria, then stroll over to Campania and sip dozens of expressions of Taurasi. If you really want to understand a wine, a region, or a grape, you have to taste it over and over again. At Vinitaly, that’s exactly what you get to do. 

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Tasting through the different regions of Italy, one might expect to be blown away by how different all the wines from different places tasted, but in reality, one thing that really struck me were the similarities. High alcohol, overly extracted, fruity, oak bombs were as much a reality in wines from Puglia—known for bigger, fruitier wines—as they were in wines from regions typically known for making wines with finesse, like Sicily. This is all part of a decades-long trend of making wines that appeal to an “international palate,” that is, wines that taste like they were made in California. Big and fruity wines sell, so many winemakers have forgone their traditional techniques to cater to the international market. 

That’s what made it so refreshing to visit some of Sotto’s favorite producers and find that they stood out from the over-extracted crowd. Sotto has always featured wines that taste like the traditional wines from their region. Frappato from Sicily should be light and lithe, with notes of smokey strawberry and red flowers. Taurasi should have leather and tar, subtle black fruit, and bright acidity. While more and more wines are moving away from those traditional styles, there are plenty of winemakers keeping tradition alive, and I was thrilled to learn how many of those winemakers are on Sotto’s list. 

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Our wine director, Jeremy Parzen, has been featuring wholesome wines from day one. Wines that don’t use chemical fertilizers or pesticides, only use native yeasts, and don’t manipulate the winemaking process with the overuse of chemicals. Tasting Taurasi producers like Struzziero and Boccella, staples of the Sotto wine list, it becomes obvious that these wines are not pandering to the commercial trends of the decade. They are maintaining their integrity and creating wines in the same style as the previous generations. While the fickle trends of today move on to something new and shiny, there will still be stalwarts of tradition making classic wines that taste the way they ought to taste. 

Thank you to those winemakers who still hold on to the classic traditions, thank you to Sotto and Jeremy for fostering a place in L.A. to drink those wines, and thank you to Vinitaly for giving me an opportunity to taste the terroirs of Italy. 

Saluti!

Theo Greenly
Wine Manager | Sommelier 

SLICE OF SOTTO {Theo Greenly | Wine Manager & Sommelier}

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Theo Greenly got his first job delivering pizzas at an Orange County pizzeria when he was seventeen. Since then, he has worked his way through just about every position there is in a restaurant—from busboy and waiter to host and bartender. Surprisingly enough, he says that his favorite role was as a dishwasher.

But even as he was waiting tables and washing dishes through college, wine was the most exciting part of the service industry to him. “Everyone’s happy when you pour them a glass. It’s an easy way to make friends,” he jokes.

After graduating from the University of Colorado, Boulder with a Creative Writing degree, Theo moved back to Southern California and started bartending. “I’ve bartended all over L.A.,” he says, “but wherever I was, I would always try to pick the sommelier’s brain.” When he got to Sotto, Wine Director Jeremy Parzen gave him a list of books to read. “I think he was trying to get me off his back for a while,” Theo says, “but then I read them all in like a month. I think the only thing left for him to do was make me the Wine Manager.”

Theo loves working as the Sommelier and Wine Manager at Sotto. Being able to focus on Southern Italian food and wine, he gets to really dive into the culture of the region.

Drinking wine is a way to connect with the culture of a place; a way to travel without leaving home. And Italy is Theo’s favorite place to travel. “I’ve been there twice, and any time I take a trip somewhere that isn’t Italy, it’s like, hmm, that was nice, but next time let’s go to Italy.”

We caught up with Theo and asked him about his favorite food and wine pairings below:

Puttanesca Pizza & Gragnano
Gragnano is a slightly sweet, gently sparkling red wine from outside of Naples. We do Neopolitan pizza, and in Naples there are three things they pair with pizza: Coca-Cola, beer, or Gragnano. The Puttanesca Pizza with white anchovies, olives, and fried capers has a mix of bright and salty flavors, so the slight sweetness of the wine balances with it amazingly well. It’s like yin and yang, I’m obsessed with it.

Bistecca & Aglianico del Vulture
We do our own in-house butchery, and the Bistecca is the big boy. It's a 30-day dry-aged ribeye steak that's charred over white oak. You want a big and tannic wine that has enough structure and acidity to stand up to the richness and full flavors of the ribeye. I’d go for an Aglianico, which is the noble grape of Southern Italy. They grow it on an extinct volcano called Monte Vulture. The 2010 Cantine del Notaio is amazing, it has this deep nose of black cherries and wet soil, it was born for the Bistecca. Charred ribeye and volcano wine, are you kidding me?

If you want more food and wine recommendations, you can email Theo at theo@sottorestaurant.com. Or, better yet, come on in and say “hi!”

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SLICE OF SOTTO {A Season of Sicilian Wine at Sotto}

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Above: Sicily, where the desert meets the sea.

Happy new year everyone! Buon anno a tutti!

It's been nearly seven years since Sotto first opened its door and we first launched our southern Italian wine list there.

So much more southern Italian wine is now available in California than when we pulled our first cork way back when. And now more than ever, we're seeing more and more great wines — red and white— finding their way to the west coast from what was once called the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

Another trend that we've been noticing is how much great wine is coming out of Sicilly these days. The island has always been a source of great winemaking and great wine. But over the last two years, it seems, more and more small producers are finding channels to get their labels to America.

We believe it's because more and more American importers are looking to Sicily for undiscovered gems of Italian viticulture. And to borrow a phrase, the last two years have a marked a true Gold Rush in Sicilian wine.

This is why we've decided to make the spring our "Season of Sicilian Wine" at Sotto. We're going to feature producers from our favorite appellations and even some off-the-radar wines that some of our guests may have never run across.

But we are also going to look to some of the unsung classics of Sicilian grape growing and winemaking, like Feudo Montoni, a winery that has been producing some of Italy's greatest wines for generations now.

And we're not going to be afraid to turn to some of the bigger producers either. There's a tendency among wine professionals today to avoid anything that people already know. If it's not a hipster wine, they won't even look at it let alone taste it. That doesn't mean the wines don't deserve our attention. Nor does it mean that they aren't lip-smackingly delicious.

So stay tuned: We'll be launching our new spring list in early February. Evviva la Sicilia!

Jeremy Parzen

wine director

SLICE OF SOTTO {Taste with Bruno de Conciliis January 25 at Sotto.}

Taste with Bruno de Conciliis January 25 at Sotto
Presented by wine director Jeremy Parzen.
5 wines and light bites by Chef Craig Towe

Thursday, January 25
6:30 p.m.
$35 per person

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There’s really nothing conventional about Bruno De Conciliis and the extraordinary wines that he produces.

He grows grapes and makes wine in inland Cilento in Campania, about two hours south of Naples (for those of you not familiar with Italian geography, Campania forms the “shin” of Italy’s boot).

Still a very wild and woodsy, mountainous region, Bruno is virtually the only one who raises fine wine there and he is widely credited with putting the area on the map as a producer of fine wines.

He is an organic winemaker in an Italian region where chemically based farming has been the status quo since the end of the Second World War. Again, he is widely considered a pioneer in bringing organic and biodynamic farming practices to his corner of Italy.

And beyond organic growing and winemaking practices, he is also renowned for his “holistic” approach to fine wine production in one of Italy’s most depressed areas. He speaks openly and proudly of his efforts to pay his workers a fair wage (where many use underpaid migrants) and offer them year-round employment (in an industry that often sends workers home after the grape harvest).

To walk among his beautiful vineyards on the volcanic-rich hillsides of Cilento is to see the Campanian countryside in its most natural state. And his wines have an electric vibrancy and rich character that many ascribe to his unique, isolated growing sites which lie on land where there has never been any commercial, chemically based agriculture.

He focuses primarily on growing and vinifying Campania’s most noble grape varieties, Fiano and Aglianico. And his wines are almost universally admired for their high quality and originality.

When you taste these unique, unforgettable expressions of Campania viticulture, you are also tasting the heart and soul of one of Italy’s most beloved and venerated winemakers.

Jeremy Parzen

Sotto wine director

 

 

SLICE OF SOTTO {Does pizza belong to humankind (or only to Neapolitans)? }

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Last week, when I read about a new petition in Italy to make pizza a UNESCO-protected dish, (click here for the story in Food & Wine), I couldn't help but think of this frozen pizza that I saw last month in a super market in Italy. I was in the country to teach at the University of Gastronomic Sciences (the Slow Food university) in Piedmont but I stopped in Franciacorta in Lombardy on my way to campus to visit one of my best friends. He and I went grocery shopping on a Saturday evening at his local mall. When we walked past the bin filled with "pizza American style," I had to laugh and I had to stop and take a picture.

"It's actually pretty good," said my friend Giovanni, who's traveled a lot in the U.S. and knows what America pizza tastes like. Evidently he's tried it.

When you consider that there are literally hundreds of "authentic Neapolitan pizza" scattered across the U.S. and not just in the major markets like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, it seems only fair that the Italians should be able to copy our style of pizza (albeit frozen pizza!) just as we are able to borrow their style.

One of the things I'm most proud about when it comes to my work with Sotto as its wine director is how good and how authentic the pizza we make is. Time and time again, winemakers and friends from Italy tell me how much they enjoy the pizza at Sotto. Even some of my friends and colleagues from Naples!

Some of the "Neapolitan" pizza made in the U.S. may be more authentic than others. But all things considered, we make some pretty damned-good pizza here at Sotto and across America.

Have we stolen this style of pizza from Naples and the Neapolitans? I believe that we have. But in doing so, we've also celebrated the greatness of Neapolitan traditional foodways. Have we corrupted this supreme dish? At Sotto, we stick closely to the traditional preparation, including the right ingredients and the correct techniques.

Not every "Neapolitan" pizzeria in America is as diligent as we are. But the bottom line is that pizza — whether Neapolitan or American, like the one above — is a dish that brings nearly all citizens of the world together. And that can only be a good thing in my view.

Thanks for all your support in 2017 here at Sotto! We have exciting things planned for our wine program in 2018. Stay tuned and have a great holiday season!

Jeremy Parzen

wine director

Sotto

 

 

SLICE OF SOTTO {Sotto's New Fall Wine List!}

A note from our wine director Jeremy Parzen.

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Above: Prince Alessandrojacopo Boncompagni Ludovisi, owner and winemaker at the Fiorano estate outside of Rome, one of the new wines on our list this fall.

We are so thrilled to announce the launch of our new fall wine list at Sotto.

Over the more than six years that Sotto's been open, we've seen more and more southern Italian wine finding its way to the southern Californian market.

That wasn't always the case. When we first opened the doors of the restaurant, there were so many wines that we had to source "creatively" from east coast importers and distributors. And in many cases, the wines that we wanted for our program simply weren't available in the U.S.

There was another challenge as well. When the restaurant first opened, we'd often hear our guests say things like "I don't drink southern Italian wine" or "I only drink Italian wine from Tuscany and Piedmont."

"Where are the Super Tuscans?" a lot of our guests would ask us.

Today, I'm happy to report that we are living in a renaissance of southern Italian wine in California and across the U.S.

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It's not thanks solely to us and to you. But we are proud to have taken part in the new wave of southern Italian wine to reach our shores. And we are eternally thankful to our guests for tagging along and believing in our mission to bring southern Italian wine to Los Angeles.

Southern Italian wine represents some of the greatest value and quality in the world of wine today. Beyond our "core" list of producers that will never disappear from our program, I've added some wonderful wines from Sicily, like the Marabino Nero d'Avola and the Marabino Chardonnay. Both wines are organically farmed and spontaneously yeasted. And if you're surprised that I've added an international grape variety like Chardonnay, please come in and taste this gorgeous, lean, vibrant wine. I was so impressed by its freshness and "transparency of fruit" that I broke my own rule of not including international grape varieties on our list.

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And speaking of international grape varieties, we've also just added a Cabernet Sauvignon by Fiorano from outside Rome. It's one of the most coveted wines in Italy today by one of the pioneers of natural winemaking there. Where Cabernet from Tuscany has always left me underwhelmed, these wines have really impressed me over the years with their minerality and layers and layers of nuanced fruit and umami flavors. Not only are we pouring Fiorano's "Fioranello" by the glass, but we also have the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon by the bottle. At 10 years out, this wine is just now coming into its prime.

We're looking forward to sharing all of our new discoveries with you. And not to worry: all of our favorite classics are still here.

Jeremy Parzen

wine director

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SLICE OF SOTTO {A note on the wines for the Magic of Salento dinner (October 17)}

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We are so thrilled to be welcoming winemaker Paolo Cantele from Puglia and pasta-maker Francesco Allegro from Rossoblu for our Magic of Salento dinner on Tuesday, October 17, when we'll be pairing Paolo's family's wines with classic pastas from Salento. 

We'll be pouring 4 of Cantele's wines that night. 

The first is one of our all-time favorite wines here at Sotto. The Cantele Rosato from Negroamaro appeared on our opening wine list more than six years ago! And it's always played a starring role in our wine program. There couldn't be a more classic wine from Salento: Bright rosé with vibrant fruit flavors of wild berry and just a touch of eastern spice. 

The next wine in our flight is the Cantele Primitivo. Many of our guests know Puglia's Primitivo grape already: It's genetically the same as California's Zinfandel. The difference is that Salento winemakers like Paolo's family tend to make it in a fresher style, with restrained alcohol content and healthy acidity — the way we like it at Sotto, where we favor food-friendly wines like this.  

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The third wine is the winery's flagship: The Cantele 2013 Salice Salentino, the classic wine from Salento and one of my favorite wines. Negroamaro is a thick-skinned red grape that delivers deeply colored wines with rich dark fruit flavors that are balanced by the grape's natural acidity and liveliness. This is a stunning wine that works brilliantly with a wide variety of foods. (Not that we care about points but Monica Larner, the Italian wine reviewer for Roberto Parker, gave this wine a score of 90). 

Lastly, we'll taste Cantele's Amativo, an experimental wine the created a few years back. It's a blend of Primitivo and Negroamaro, vinified in an opulent style that many Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon fans are sure to appreciate. This is the wine we'll pair with Francesco and Chef Craig's orecchiette with polpettine, the only traditional Italian dish that marries pasta and meatballs (polpettine).  

We couldn't be more thrilled about the wines and the menu and Paolo and Francesco will both be visiting tableside with our guests, as will I, to trade tasting notes and answer questions.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

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SLICE OF SOTTO {Magic of Salento Dinner}

Magic of Salento Dinner
with Pugliese pasta-maker Francesco Allegro
and Pugliese winemaker Paolo Cantele
an event celebrating the magic of a land where sea, sun, and earth come together to create some of Italy's most cherished gastronomic treasures.

Presented by Sotto wine director Jeremy Parzen
Special collaboration of menu with Sotto's Chef de Cuisine Craig Towe

Tuesday, October 17
7:00 p.m. 
$90 per person, plus tax & gratuity
Please email info@sottorestaurant.com

There's a saying in Puglia, the region that forms the heel of Italy's boot: When a son learns how to make orecchiette (the famous "ear-shaped" pasta of Pugliese gastronomy), it's time for him to leave home. 

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On Tuesday, October 17 at Sotto, we will be celebrating two of Puglia's native sons, pasta-maker Francesco Allegro, Rossoblu's resident sfoglino, and winemaker Paolo Cantele, whose family-owned winery (Cantele) makes some of our favorite expressions of Pugliese viticulture. Sotto's chef de cuisine Craig Towe will be creating a special menu featuring Pugliese dishes for the occasion. And Sotto wine director Jeremy Parzen will present our guests from Italy. It's sure to be a magical evening of classic artisanal Pugliese pastas paired with native grape varieties grown in Salento, the hub of Puglia's wheat, olive oil, and wine production. 

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Both Francesco and Paolo hail from the Salento region of the Pugliese peninsula (and the two of them both attended university in the city of Lecce, where they first met). Salento is a long, narrow stretch of sun-kissed land, bordered by the Mediterranean on either side (it takes about 30 minutes to drive from one coast to the other). It's limestone-rich soils, constant sea breeze, and sunny climate make it the ideal place to grow wheat for Puglia's celebrated breads and pastas, olives for Puglia's famed oils, and grapes for its legendary wines. 

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On Tuesday, October 17, two of its native sons will share some of the magic of this enchanted land by pairing classic handmade pastas and other culinary delights inspired by Salento foodways with wines raised side-by-side with the region's wheat fields and olive groves. A marriage made not in heaven… but in Salento. 

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SLICE OF SOTTO {Our New Chef de Cuisine, Craig Towe}

 

A note from Chef Steve:
I had been looking for the right chef to take the lead at Sotto while I focused on Rossoblu for a while. Craig Towe proved to be the right person for the job. After working with him in Sotto's kitchen and then traveling together throughout Italy, I was able to immediately appreciate his passion for cooking, his experience with Italian food, and his commitment to family. More so, after more time in the kitchen, he showed a rare maturity and quiet leadership. These have always been core to Sotto’s values. I feel extremely lucky that Craig has joined the family to stay the course and help us grow.

How long have you been cooking professionally?

I've been cooking for 11 years

You've been making Italian dishes for a long time. What drew you to this particular type of cuisine?

When I began cooking, I had no idea what type of food I wanted to cook. I just wanted to work at the best restaurants where I could to learn as much as possible. The third restaurant that I worked at (Vespaio Ristorante in Austin, TX), was the first time that I had cooked Italian food. It really embraced the Italian spirit and using the ingredients that were available at the market. We were a very seasonal Italian restaurant, so I was learning how to handle each ingredient, and exactly what I could do with them. Vespaio worked closely with a few farmers, so we would get a whole hog every Monday, and would routinely receive lamb, ducks, chickens, goats, etc. It was my time at Vespaio that made me fall in love with Italian cuisine.

Prior to studying at the Le Cordon Bleu in Austin, TX you had a 9-5. What was the moment you realized that that kind of life wasn't made for you?

Oh, I knew right away that 9-5 life wasn't for me. I had worked in restaurants since I was 16, but had always been a server. I didn't know how to cook, or really even start learning until college. I wanted to finish up my marketing degree and try to get a job with it, but I knew deep down that I wouldn't last long in that line of work.

Many people switch careers throughout life. Do you have any regrets of getting a BA in Marketing from Texas State University? Has what you learned in college helped you become a better chef?

I don't necessarily regret getting my bachelor's degree, as it taught me to be disciplined, how to prioritize and multi-task, but I have thought about it from time to time. I would have had a few more years experience cooking, and possibly have been able to cook abroad if I had started younger.

A highly skilled chef makes cooking and plating look effortless, you are one of those chefs. Can you share a moment, from any of the restaurants you worked at, where things got a little too hot in the kitchen?

Well, as I said, I've been cooking for 11 years, with 7 of those being in NYC. There have been many times when things have gotten "hot" in the kitchen. I've seen plates thrown across the room, been yelled at and belittled in front of peers, and have seen quite a few people brought to tears. I've seen 2 girls fight and try to choke each other, and some really gnarly burns and cuts. It all comes with the job. There are many times when things get intense in the kitchen, but these are also many of the same reasons that people like me love it so much. You just don't get that if you're not in the industry.

You worked at some amazing restaurants such as A Voce, Marea, Ristorante Morini and Osteria Morin. Now you are here at Sotto! Before coming here, which restaurant was your favorite to work in and why?

Well, this is somewhat of a catch 22. Working at A Voce, under Chefs Missy Robbins and Hillary Sterling, was the toughest kitchen that I've ever worked in. Every day was crazy intense and stressful. Many of the things I mentioned above happened in that kitchen. For about the first 6 weeks that I was working there, I was planning on walking in and quitting every single day. It was just so intense, and mentally exhausting. But, we were a family. We all pushed ourselves and were striving for a common goal. Most of us worked doubles Monday through Friday, and then were dinner only on Saturday. We were closed on Sundays, so we all went out every Saturday night to celebrate the end of the work week. It was just such a great crew of line cooks, all with tons of ambition, and as much as our chef's pushed us, we pushed them to be better and teach us more as well. Most of the cooks that I worked with at A Voce are all running their own kitchens today. So, while it was the toughest kitchen and the most mentally & physically challenging job I've ever had, it was also the kitchen that taught me how to be a chef and hold yourself accountable for your own work. They taught me how to push yourself and how to accept nothing but the best. If you don't have standards, you simply will not be successful.

You've moved around a lot in your career. From Texas to Philly to NYC. You moved to Philly to help open a restaurant, but why did you decide to move to NYC?

The restaurant that I helped a friend open in Philly was my first departure from cooking Italian food in a few years. We were doing the whole "modernist" approach to food, and it just felt very robotic to me. I wasn't cooking with any soul, or love involved. I was only there six months and was really just missing cooking Italian food. Being in Philly, I was already so close to NYC, and from the moment I made up my mind to move there, I was determined to work at the best Italian restaurants the city had to offer.

You left NYC to study the history and techniques of pasta at world renowned La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese in Bologna. That is a big jump! What prompted such a major decision? How are you applying those techniques at Sotto?

I had been cooking Italian food for nearly 8 years, and had never been to Italy. Working under really talented chef's and cooking Italian food is one thing, but going over there and just immersing yourself in the Italian culture is something completely different. It's something that I should have made time to do a lot sooner, but I guess I'll just have to start going every year or two. I met up with chef Steve and some of the Rosso Blu crew in Bologna, and we traveled around Emilia-Romagna eating and drinking until we couldn't anymore. It was an amazing experience, and I think I probably gained 10 lbs. I stayed behind in Bologna for another week after they left and studied the art of handmade pasta at La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese. It was a great learning experience and something that I had really wanted to do. I learned some really invaluable tricks and techniques.

When you returned from Bologna you came to Sotto. Why did you choose Sotto out of all the other Italian restaurants in Los Angeles?

Chef Craig: When my wife Melody & I moved to LA from NYC, we signed a short-term lease b/c I didn't know where I was going to be working. We happened to live off Pico, about 5 minutes from Sotto. We had eaten there a few times and really liked it. Obviously the food was amazing, but I was also really drawn to the room. It felt like a restaurant should feel, and with the dark wood, I just really loved it. I happened have worked with a friend at Marea, in NYC, who is involved with Rosso Blu, and I asked him to pass my resume along to Chef Steve. I think it was meant to be.

What is the difference between Southern Italian cooking and Northern Italian cooking?

There are many differences between Southern & Northern Italian cuisines, and between regions all across the country, but these are some general differences.

Sauces: Southern: tomato-based
Northern: Pesto, or cream-based

Pasta: Southern: almost exclusively made without egg. Only water and semolina, maybe a little olive oil. Usually dried and have more chew.
Northern: prefer egg noodles, and generally fresh pasta

Olive Oil vs. Butter: the South is a poorer region than the North, so you will see olive oil used here, whereas you will see more butter and cream used in the north.

Spice: Northerner's don't have a fond liking of spice, whereas in the Southern regions you will find copious use of chili's.

SLICE OF SOTTO {Great Pizza Outside of Naples? Once a Blasphemy, Now a Reality}

 

Yesterday, I did the unthinkable: I ate a pizza in Italy somewhere other than Naples and its environs.

Most Americans — even the savvy travelers among us — think that pizza is the same all over Italy. But it's not. In fact, most of the pizza you eat outside of Campania (the region that is home to Naples, its cultural capital) has little resemblance to the classic pizza you eat in the dish's ancestral and spiritual home. In a lot of ways, the pizza that you eat in, say, Rome or Venice, may be very tasting and wholesome but it's more of a focaccia — a short bread topped with something savory — than a true pizza.

But yesterday when I arrived in Piedmont where I'll be teaching at the Slow Food University (the University of Gastronomic Sciences) this week, I was told that a new Neapolitan pizzeria had opened and that it was run by one of Naples' most famous pizzaioli families, the Picariellos.

I have to say, it was one of the best pizzas I have ever eaten outside of Naples and it fired on all cylinders: Burnt outer crust, soggy middle, wholesome and authentic and utterly delicious toppings (in this case a Napoletana pizza, with salt-cured anchovies and capers).

Reading up on the Gennaro Esposito pizzeria website, the Picariellos write about how their patriarch Walter came to the Slow Food offices many years ago to deliver a seminar on authentic pizza-making. And it was because of this legacy and the family's fondness for the Slow Food movement that they decided to open an outpost here.

It's pretty unusual to see something like this: An authentic Neapolitan pizzeria in Piedmont, a region fiercely proud of its culinary traditions. I've never seen anything like it in the 30 years plus that I have been coming to Italy.

As I enjoyed every last bite of my pie, paired with a great bottle of Fiano d'Avellino (another blasphemy: Neapolitan wine in Piedmont, the home of Barolo and Barbaresco), I thought about what Pugliese winemaker Paolo Cantele once said to me.

"You're more like to find great, authentic Neapolitan pizza in LA and New York than in Italy," he told me, "unless you go to Naples."

Add Bra, Piedmont (the home of the university) to that list.

Jeremy Parzen

Sotto wine director (and adjunct professor at UniSG)

SIP OF SOTTO {The Unlikely Rise of Pizza as an American Favorite}

Last November, after my friend Marina Alaimo, a Neapolitan sommelier and publicist, took me for dinner at Haccademia, an excellent pizzeria on Mt. Vesuvius that she represents, she shared a short bio of pizzaiolo Aniello Falanga and a short history of his restaurant.

I was struck by what Aniello wrote at the end of the piece and I have translated it here.

"Without a doubt," he notes, "pizza has covered a lot of ground. It's gone from being a humble, inexpensive street food to becoming a symbol of good eating and hospitality throughout the world. This continues to amaze us. But it also inspires us."

It's remarkable to contemplate: in the arc of my own adolescence and adulthood, pizza in the U.S. has been transformed from the pedestrian New York slice and the post-soccer-practice weeknight meal for American parents who don't feel like cooking to a fetishized and cultish sine qua non of haute Italian dining.

What mid-sized American city today doesn't have a genuine Neapolitan wood-fired pizza oven crafted by a bona fide Neapolitan mason? By the time I arrived in Texas in 2008, the state already had classic Neapolitan ovens in San Antonio and Austin. Today, just eight years later, Neapolitan-style pizzerias and pizzaioli are practically ubiquitous.

When I was a kid growing up in San Diego, the pizzeria de rigueur was Pernicano's, where a Venetian gondola graced venue's nave and Mr. Pernicano manned an electric organ and serenaded the guests with pseudo-Italian classics. Today, from San Diego to New York, from Seattle to Miami, pizza-lovers ride on the wave and wake of the so-called "pizza wars" of the 2000s, when classic Neapolitan pizza ovens and handfuls of sawdust became the tanks and bullets for an army of self-determined pseudo-Neapolitan pizzaioli.

One thing we don't have here in the U.S. is genuine Vesuvian tomatoes, like those in the photo above. The Pomodorino del Piennolo del Vesuvio or Vesuvian pendulum cherry tomato can only be found on the slope of the volcano, where it is grown in the volcanic subsoils of 18 townships piennolo is Neapolitan dialect for pendulum, a name derived from the unique shape of the nightshades; click this link for the pronunciation on YouTube. The Vesuvian pendulum remains the gold red standard for its unmistakable balance of sweetness and acidity. It's one of the world's greatest examples and expressions of the concept of terroir.

Jeremy Parzen

Sotto Wine Director

 

SIP OF SOTTO: {Beyond the Volcano: THE WILD WINES OF CAMPANIA WINE TASTING}

BEYOND THE VOLCANO: THE WILD WINES OF CAMPANIA WINE TASTING

WHEN: May 23, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.

COST: $55

BUY TICKETS HERE!

When we called our May 23 food and wine event "Beyond the Volcano," we had a very specific volcano in mind: Mt. Vesuvius, a still active volcano that looks over the city and bay of Naples. When it comes to the classic wines of Campania (the region that claims Naples as its capital and cultural center), many people believe mistakenly that the wines are grown in and around the ancient city, in vineyards that lie near the sea and that bask in the hot Mediterranean sun. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

Yes, it's true that easy-drinking grapes like Piedirosso (red) and Biancolella (white) are grown a stone's throw from the sea, often in sun-drenched coastal towns in chic Amalfi. And since most tourists and culinary travelers only make it to the coastal areas, it's only natural that they assume that Campania's wine country is limited to these jaw-droppingly scenic areas, where chic crowds enjoy some of Campania's best food and foodways.

But if you head north along the coast, past Naples, and then make a hard right on the freeway that leads up into the mountains, you soon find yourself on the other side of the volcano, where few tourists venture, party because there isn't much there to see and there's virtually no tourist infrastructure.

Beyond Mt. Vesuvius lies a plateau in the sky bordered by volcanic mountain chains on every side, although Vesuvius is the only currently active one. Here you have all the elements that you need to grow fine wine grapes and make fine wines with enormous character and nuance: Volcanic subsoils (nutrient poor and excellent for creating vines with vigor), cooler temperatures thanks to elevation, and a continuously flowing breeze that provides the ventilation you need for freshness and purity in flavor.

It's an unforgotten and wild country where there is no other industry than the wine trade. Ancient medieval villages dot the landscape here and there but in between there is only vineland. And it is here that a handful of courageous and brilliant winemakers produce Greco di Tufo (my personal favorite), Fiano d'Avellino, and Taurasi — some of Italy's best wines.

If I had an old lira note for every time someone told me these are "hot weather wines" grown at the beach, I'd be a rich man today.

Jeremy Parzen

Wine Director

SIP OF SOTTO: {Sotto's Wine Program: "back to the roots" of the Southern Italian Renaissance}

Jeremy Parzen is a food and wine historian, Italian translator, rock musician, Ph.D, and— as if it wasn’t enough— author of “Do Bianchi,” a highly regarded wine blog offering readers a humanistic perspective into the world of Italian wine and food. He also happens to be our Wine Director here at Sotto. Through his writing on Do Bianchi, Parzen’s mission is to offer non-Italian speakers otherwise inaccessible insights into Italian gastronomic culture. Consider it a success; Parzen’s blog is held as a leading resource for information on Italian food and wine in the US in addition to being featured in numerous literary works, scholarly essays, and magazines such as Wine & Sprits MagazineGastronomicaMen’s Vogue, and La Cucina Italiana, among many others. Parzen was also named last year's “Master of Place” by Wine & Spirits magazine and is currently in the running for the Corriere della Sera “Best Wine and Spirit’s Blog” award for 2017.

As fellow Italiophiles, we are incredibly lucky and gracious to be partnering with Parzen for our monthly wine blog series. Read below for the first many thoughtful posts with unique insight, and a cogent historical perspective into cultural value of Italian wine and food

When we first opened, the availability of Southern Italian wines in California was extremely limited. Today, six years later, we are proud to have had a hand in the "new wave" of these delicious and value-driven labels.

In the years that followed the Second World War, Italy was literally in ruins and had to be rebuilt from the ground up. And so was the once vibrant Italian wine industry. In the late 19th century, as phylloxera aphids decimated the vineyards of France (the Great French Wine Blight), Italy and southern Italy in particular had become Europe's fine wine growers. But the war changed all that: Nearly all wine production, save for farmers who made their own wine for personal consumption, was halted by the international conflict.

During the rebuilding of the wine trade and the replanting of the vineyards, a generation of growers followed the advice offered by French enologists and opted to go the "international" route by repopulating their vineyards with French grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but also Malbec and Chardonnay.

But a handful of courageous winemakers in the late 50s and early 1960s decided instead to replant using indigenous grape varieties of southern Italy: Aglianico, Casavecchia, Greco, Fiano, Pallagrello, Negroamaro, Primitivo, Nerello, Nero d'Avola, Frappato, etc. Another generation would have to adolesce before wine lovers began to take note of these wonderful varieties and the gorgeous wines they deliver. But even after the "renaissance" of Southern Italian wine began to take shape, few in the U.S. took note and even fewer appreciated the caliber and quality of these excellent wines.

When we first opened Sotto six years ago, we had guests who were nonplussed by our wine list.

"Where are your Tuscan wines? Your Chianti?" they would say. "Where's your Barolo? I don't drink Southern Italian wine."

It took some time and some patient hand-holding. But it didn't take long before diners started to appreciate these excellent value-driven wines, red and white.

Although the wine program at Sotto was initially devoted exclusively to Southern Italy when we first opened, we've strayed from that formula over the years. Notable "featured" regions have included Friuli, Liguria, and most recently, Piedmont "Anything but Barolo and Barbaresco," a focus on wines beyond the region's most famous.

As we head into our sixth year, we've decided to return to our original mission of sharing the joy and value of Southern Italian wines with our guests. When we first opened, many of the wines on our list today weren't available in California. And we are proud to have had a hand in bringing some of our most exciting labels to the state for the first time. Now, more than ever, Southern Italian wines are enjoying a renaissance among wine lovers throughout the U.S. We're thrilled to have been part of that movement and we're eager to get back to our roots.

Jeremy Parzen

Wine director

 

SLICE OF SOTTO {Our Oven}

When we decided to open Sotto in 2011, it was never a question that we were going to focus on Neapolitan pizza. Since Naples is located in Southern Italy, we decided to focus on true Neapolitan pizza and celebrate the regions of Campania, Puglia, Sicily, Sardinia, Basilicata, and Calabria.

At the time, we were proud to have one of the first Neapolitan wood-burning pizza ovens in Los Angeles. Also, our oven was one of only ten ovens built by Stefano Ferrara onsite in the United States.

In honor of National Pizza Month, here is a look back at how our 15,000-pound oven made it into our little underground space on Pico Blvd.

Chef Steve Samson with Stefano Ferrara (and his wife Francesca) in his studio.

And on the 7th Day...

Yes, it took Stefano Ferrara 7 days to build Sotto's pizza oven. That's not including the two-day wait to replace broken pieces that had to be overnighted on a Fed-Ex plane. Here’s a recap of how it all went down:

Day 1: 15,000 pounds of equipment and supplies from Naples were imported into Los Angeles. We could barely watch as the truck almost tipped over.

Day 2: Stefano and his apprentice, Enzo, worked non-stop. This was taken at 2:10am.

day2.jpg

Day 3:  Stefano worked in a cramped space with low ceilings. His back was killing him but he stayed on task.

Day 4: Because of our low ceilings, Stefano had to build a custom external dome which makes the Sotto oven a real original. 

Day 7: Ready to burn. We started treating the oven by burning it every day for a month. The week we opened, the oven was still sweating from all the moisture still held within it's walls.

Here we are five and a half years later, so lucky to continue to burn our oven every single night. 

 

SLICE OF SOTTO {Dishwasher, Laureano}

Laureano was working in a theater in Santa Monica five years ago when his friend, Anna, called him to come work at a new restaurant in Beverly Hills, Sotto. He has been the resident dishwasher at Sotto ever since.

He was born in Oaxaca, Mexico and loves Salvadorian food... he says the best Salvadorian food in Los Angeles is at Los Molcajetes (located at Hoover and 7th). He also enjoys going to Alahambra to eat a lot of Chinese food. 

He has a tattoo on his arm of a flower and the word "Margarita"... which was for an ex girlfriend in La Paz! 

Laureano is constantly snacking on crickets and brings them into Sotto for the rest of the team to snack on. 

He loves Winchells Coffee and when he goes he will bring home chocolate doughnuts for his two little grandsons to eat. 

SLICE OF SOTTO {Bar Director, Brynn}

Born and raised in a small rural town in Washington state alongside little farm animals and a half acre garden, Brynn was around nature and beautiful produce her whole life. As a kid she used to experiment with making natural perfumes and concoctions, which she now realizes was her own form of mixology. Luckily, Brynn has brought her talents to the big city, where she enjoys cooking, bad reality TV and A LOT of Britney Spears... Just to give you an idea, Brynn has seen Britney in concert 14 times "and counting!" She also has a pretty awesome Bartending blog, check it out here

Q: HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INTO MIXOLOGY?

"I got into mixology by responding to a Craigslist ad when I was unemployed that read "Want to learn exciting and new bar techniques and work for a growing restaurant group?". The next thing I knew I was at Rivera with all the best bartenders in the city one being Julian Cox and the rest is history! I really enjoyed the showmanship and fancynessof the way the bar veterans bartended. I had never seen it before!"

Q: WHAT COCKTAIL CREATIONS ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?

 "I am proud of all my cocktails... it is like saying one of your kids is your favorite! That being said, I do like a nice Tequila aromatic and always love making delicious dessert cocktails"

Q: WHAT IS THE MOST UNDERRATED SPIRIT AT THE SOTTO BAR?

"Definitely Amari. It is a personal goal of mine to teach people how amazing and special amaro can be. I am very inspired by the different flavors in every different amaro, it is endless inspiration. I make it a point to put them in a lot of my cocktails so that I can teach my guests about it and so they can really enjoy and be transported to what Italy tastes and feels like. Well at least that is my goal!"

Q: IF YOU WERE A COCKTAIL, WHAT WOULD YOU BE?

"If I was a cocktail I would be a Spritz! Something like the Bitter Bubbly on my recent cocktail list... easy going, bubbly, complex, refreshing with a touch of bitterness. Ha!"

Q: WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING IF YOU WEREN'T BARTENDING?

"If I weren't a bartender I would be so sad! I really like making drinks, hosting people and making sure that they have a great, one of a kind experience that they will remember forever! I would probably still be auditioning and struggling as an actor so I am really lucky that I found my calling. I love that mixology gives me the opportunity to be creative and I am kind of putting on a private show for my guests. I can still be somewhat of a ham!"