The former head chef of Osteria Mozza, David Almany hits all the right spot with his first independent Italian-American restaurant
My companion and I were a little hesitant to step into Angeleno the day before New Year’s Eve – as the only diners at 8pm, the smattering of diners at Luke’s Oyster Bar & Chop House next door seemed rambunctious in comparison. Having opened for just two weeks, it’s not surprising as word has hardly gotten out. But I’d gander that by the time Valentine’s rolls around, the restaurant would be positively packed.
The Italian-American restaurant is executive chef David Almany’s first independent foray, made possible with partner Travis Masiero (of Luke’s) and named after the denonym of Almany’s hometown of California. It’s a daring enterprise by the former head chef of Osteria Mozza – prices are slightly steeper than usual and Angeleno is a drop in the ocean of Italian restaurants in Singapore.
But judging by the starters alone, I soon found out what makes Angeleno work. There’s no bread service, but I’m grateful for it – portions are exceedingly generous; each dish feeds two comfortably. As recommended by Almany, I order the Hand-pulled Mozzarella ($34) and Chicory Salad ($29). The former is prepared à la minute by pastry chef Ariana Flores, also from California. It’s delightfully light, a perfect foil to peppery and crisp Capezzana olive oil (specially imported from Tuscany at over $70 a bottle!) and tomato-smeared focaccia.
Impressively, the salad called to mind Massimo Bottura’s famed take on Caesar salad – a symphony of contrasting flavours. I’m warned that the chicory leaves can come across bitter, but it plays off so beautifully with sweet fuyu persimmon, candied pecans, pomegranate seeds, raisin toast and crumbly and buttery gorgonzola that I’m not quite willing to share. Almany enthusiastically explains that much of his fresh produce comes from California, staying true to the restaurant’s name.
Angeleno’s Meatballs ($22) is simple but another textbook perfect winner – my companion gushes about “the smoothest polenta ever”, while I’m enamoured by how the ‘red sauce’ of Neapolitan and Sicilian roots ties together juicy and chunky ground beef, shredded basil and the silky cornmeal. And try as we might, no fault was found in the house-made pastas. In the Saffron Linguine ($31), littleneck clams from New Zealand with distinctive green-hued shells contributed a mouthwatering saltiness and sweetness to zucchini strips and egg noodles lightly coated in a faintly piquant white wine sauce. Flawlessly al dente Winter Squash & Goat Cheese Ravioli ($31) pouches, on a bed of finely chopped roasted mushrooms, yielded a pleasantly firm bite that ‘popped’ to reveal creamy gourd purée, with brown butter helping to adequately season the mild-flavoured dish.
It was probably due to the outstanding build-up that I found the main of Signature Veal Chop Parmigiana ($75) too rich (but I must admit that I’m partial to more delicate and balanced flavours). Mouthwateringly succulent and fragrant, my companion eagerly polished off the breaded meat slathered in tomato sauce and mozzarella, which I would likely find more agreeable with an emptier belly.
Returning for lunch just a week later, seats were almost all filled. Daily specials and lunch plates were no less impressive despite the increase in covers. Warm Veal Tongue ($18) was firm, bouncy and had wonderful depth when complemented with salasa verde, beans and rocket leaves. Grilled Market Fish ($42) – grouper for the day – similarly nailed it with fork-tender flesh lightly crusted with salt and pepper. Fennel fronds, browned Romanesco cauliflower and lime pulp were the cherry on top.
Skip the Cannoli ($15) – though the velvety ricotta filling was addictive, we were less inclined towards the thick pastry dough shells. Instead, alleviate the heavy meal with Flores’ Meyer Lemon Semifreddo ($15), with baked meringue pops, candied lemon and sliced almonds providing much-needed textural dimension. Pineapple Cake ($15), though not quite as affecting, also satisfies with toasted coconut shavings atop coconut sorbet, blueberries and a spongey cake.
Some would complain that the interiors are plain, but I decided, after a beat, that the unadorned dark forest green walls didn’t need the frescos, frames and warm incandescent lighting of traditional Italian ristorantes. It’s a reflection of what Almany offers at Angeleno – quality food that doesn’t require embellishments or fancy plating to impress, and none of the snootiness we’ve come to expect of upscale establishments to boot. 20 Gemmill Lane. Tel: 6221 6986
Average dinner/lunch bill for two, without drinks: $200
Must-tries: chicory salad, saffron linguine, and warm veal tongue.
*All reviews are done anonymous and epicure paid for its own meal