Culina is Molto Bene

Four Seasons in Beverly Hills
Affogato - Vanilla gelato, cloud of spun sugar and espresso

After an hour of shopping on Robertson Blvd, I was looking forward to meeting a friend at Culina for a “ladies lunch.” Attached to the Four Seasons Beverly Hills with a separate entrance (no need to walk through the lobby doors), we opted to sit outside on the soothing patio decorated in lemon yellows, avocado greens, chocolate and black licorice colors.  It’s elegant, yet comfortable.

Thin Italian breadsticks are placed on the table, while a server roams the patio with a wooden tray of freshly made Foccacia bread and a bottle of Monini extra virgin olive oil from the Umbria region.  Having just returned from a holiday in Italy, I fondly remember all of the olive trees and rows of brilliant yellow sunflowers dotting in the fields and hillsides of Umbria. 

Known for its fresh Crudo (“raw” in Italian) bar, I first ordered the Crudo sampler. At Culina they prepare tender slices of Ahi tuna, Salmon and Yellowtail with extra virgin olive oil and salt.  They vary the flavor by infusing the sea salt with lemon, capers or blood orange. The oil is infused with grapefruit, chive and basil tomato.  Deliziosi ( “delicious” in Italian).

My friend ordered the Panzanella salad filled with heirloom tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, ricotta, large cubes of rustic Italian bread and watermelon.  In Italy, this bread and tomato salad is popular during the summer months.  At Culina, the Executive chef Victor Casanova creates traditional Italian meals with a modern twist. Since watermelon is still in season, he adds this bright red fruit to the salad to provide a sweet, crunchy and colorful combination.

I asked our server which of the seven pasta dishes is the most popular? She recommended the Bucatini Puttanesca

Italian with a Twist
Puttanesca - Sexy and Slightly Spicy sauce

with tomatoes, black olives, capers and anchovies served over thick spaghetti-like pasta with a hole running through the center. Its fragrant aroma proved to be pleasing to the palate.  She inquired if I knew the story of how Puttanesca was created? When I replied “no” she preceded to tell me two versions.  The first is that Puttanesca sauce originated by the “ladies of the evening” as a quick sauce that could be made in-between clients.  Another tale is that the ladies would make up a batch of this flavorful tomato sauce to lure and entice “clients” into their place of business with its fragrant aroma.  I was seduced into ordering a bowl of the sexy and slightly spicy dish.

Craving something sweet, I asked our server what she recommended for dessert.  Without hesitation she said the Affogato.  I’ve never seen anything like it before.  Vanilla bean gelato is scooped into an Italian water glass with an airy white cloud of spun sugar rising above. As our server poured a shot of espresso onto the white cotton candy cloud, we sat in silence watching the coffee melt the sugar and pool around the melting ice cream. I immediately reached for my spoon and scooped a generous amount into my mouth.  Wow, what a gorgeous flavor sensation.  The gelato sweetens the bitterness of the espresso and the caffeine energized me for the rest of the afternoon.  It’s served with two Pinole (pine nut) cookies that one can nibble or even dunk into this heavenly sweet treat.

Culina in Latin means “kitchen.” Victor Casanova and his culinary crew are taking hotel dining into an exciting new direction. Bravo!

300 S. Doheny Drive, (310)860-4000.

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