Culina's Italian Swagger
Apr 09, 2019 03:00PM
● By Dawn Garcia
Beverly Hills is home to some of Los Angeles’ greatest hotels, and among them is the beautiful Four Seasons Los Angeles. With a modest location and streamlined elegant appeal, it’s no surprise Michelin Italian chef Luca Moriconi is at the culinary helm. Sharing cuisine inspired by his childhood in the Tuscan province of Lucca, Italy, Moriconi brings heart, love, refinement, and sheer perfection to Four Seasons’ Culina restaurant.
Moriconi has constructed a menu that has every element of rustic Italy, and his devotion to always presenting ingredients that bring out the best in one another makes every dish absolute culinary divinity. Culina is a restaurant concept that embodies a sense of warmth, with flavors that span the Italian region and a subtlety of flavors that derive from Moriconi’s childhood. The food he creates emits a sentimentality of home, and the results have you diving into plates that are anything but modest in portion size, with Moriconi’s Italian roots evident in every single bite.
Culina serves a multitude of menus from breakfast, lunch, and dinner, to dessert menus that are the creation of executive pastry chef Federico Fernandez. Fernandez creates desserts made with decadence and a delicate nature that pair seamlessly with Moriconi’s creations. Together, they have curated something every savvy gourmand craves: passion on a plate.
The breakfast menu showcases dishes such as challah French toast, avocado dream, matcha waffles, and an Italian skillet, while lunch offers pastas made in-house. Lunch features an intrinsically Italian lineup offering prosciutto e melone antipasta, tonno scottato insalate, lasagnetta vegana, and chef’s famous papparadelle al cingiale made with braised wild boar sugo. Chef’s dinner menu is far more indepth. Serving up dishes with my favorite funghi truffle dinner is full of elation. Chef hasn’t foraged for truffles in California, but he grew up foraging in Italy, and they are instrumental in Italian cuisine, which is why they’re a component in the dishes he creates.
Having the pleasure of dining with chef and hearing stories of his youth made each dish he brought out abundant in authenticity. As his creations came out of the kitchen and to the table, I asked chef a few questions about his life in Lucca, the menu, and more.
With a charming Italian accent and a truly warm demeanor, chef Moriconi though he prefers you call him Luca describes the dishes he had growing up and how they inspired his Culina menu. “On Sundays in Lucca, all the family would be together and I remember helping my mom build the lasagna di grazia. Or tasting wild boar stew (cinghiale in umido) with polenta or pappardelle pasta.” He has fond memories of cooking with his mother and being surrounded by relatives, sharing those memories together. “Lucca is a beautiful city; quiet and very proud of its own recipes,” he continues. “Like the new spring garmugia soup, Lucca is the inspiration behind it. Another ingredient is melons. Melon is served on most Tuscan menus, and I use it in the beef carpaccio, and I’m so happy I can source those from our local farms.”
Curating a feast of antipasti, chef’s menu includes the vellutata di zucca made with butternut squash purée, pumpkin seeds, and mascarpone cheese; zuppa ribollita a stew made of Tuscan vegetables, borlotti beans, and roasted ciabatta that tastes like something you’d enjoy in your grandmother’s kitchen; and the insalata rustichella served with Tuscan and baby kale, bresaola, oven-dried tomato, pecorino cheese, and bean sprouts. For refreshing the palate, the tonno e rapini is a lovely version of tuna tartare. What raises the bar is the inclusion of pickled garlic, red onion, and the Calabrian chile oil. The added element of fire showcases the tuna beautifully. Another starter you definitely should add to your tasting experience is polpo grigliato, charred octopus that has elements of both salt and smoke served alongside green beans, watercress, smoked potatoes, and cauliflower purée frisée. The dish offers a careful balance of earth, water, fire, and air.
For the main course, you can’t afford to pass up the risotto piave zucca. I haven’t had a risotto that tasted like this. The dish has a dance of flavors, but the delight begins when chef comes out with a round of Piave Vecchio cheese artfully hand-carved into what looks like a royal crown, and sitting inside is the freshly made risotto with butternut squash and rosemary woven into it. Chef gently stirs the risotto, and as the cheese melts into it, he then dishes it into a rustic bowl and tops it with drizzles of Villa Manodori balsamic vinegar.
While there is an amplitude of main courses to choose from including the Branzino alla martina ara, salmone in casseruola, and pollo al marsala, it’s the mind-altering braised wild boar served as the star of the cinghiale numido con polenta plate that steals my heart and appetite. There is an old Italian saying, “Mangiare per vivere e non vivere per mangiere,” which means eat to live, not live to eat. In Italy, the joy of food is more about soulful sustenance and togetherness than it is about gorging, and that mindset lends to the thoughtful menu Moriconi has curated.
For a sweet finish, Chef tells me about the dolci Fernandez has put together to pair with his menu. “The millefoglie is one of my favorites that he makes. The fresh seasonal truffle shaved at the table in front of the guest enhances the guest experience. The culmination of ideas between truffle and honey gelato and the millefoglie has all the right combination of flavors and textures. The difference of ingredients pique the interest of our guests that may never have had truffles on their desert.” The dolci is as extensive as the lunch and dinner menus, and the on-site vinoteca and cocktail bar sends your experience over the top.
Wine is a special part of Moriconi’s Italian roots. “The wine for me is special because it reminds me of harvest. During harvest, all the family would come to help my father make the wine. The smells of making wine are seared in my memories. The wines from Lucca are hearty and full bodied, and the character and right amount of tannins pair flawlessly with meat dishes and hearty soup like our zuppa ribollita.” Culina’s selection of unique wines exceed expectation. Some wines you absolutely must try are the 2016 Vorbeg 2016, 2016 Palistorti, 2016 Di Valgiana, the Montenidoli Fiore, and Vernaccia Di San Gimignano. This is a restaurant I highly recommend experiencing. You’ll leave with a belly full of Italian comfort and passion.