A near-perfect taste of Italy
Insalata di Mare, a mixed seafood salad served at Briganti Restaurant in South Pasadena on Friday, September 30, 2011. (Tim Berger/Staff Photographer)
Once you step inside, the decor becomes a bit more charming. But go a few steps farther to the outdoor courtyard with its soaring roof, try to score a table by the large window that opens onto the tree-lined street, and suddenly you’re in a refined trattoria in southern Italy.
Chef Ignazio “Nanni” Mastromatteo and partner Armando Pucci bring culinary authenticity and innovation to the table by way of their native Italy as well as via their previous endeavor, West Hollywood’s Il Piccolino.
At Briganti, each sauce is homemade. Many of the pastas are too. Flavors are well-balanced and intriguing. The ingredients taste not just fresh but of the highest quality. This was clear from my first bite of their outstanding Carpaccio Cipriani ($12.50). Raw beef, sliced thin enough to read the menu through, encircles an arugula salad. Like Rapunzel’s mother in the classic fairy tale, I frequently crave arugula (known as rampion in her day), so I know my peppery green. This arugula was unusually fresh, springy and flavorful. Wrapping it up in the pliant sushi-grade beef and adding the accompanying capers and Parmesan was a little bit of heaven.
The scrumptious Carciofe e Parmigiano ($12.50) features baby artichoke hearts so fresh they’re still beating, candied walnuts and Parmesan shavings in a beautiful lemon-olive oil dressing.
Three of the pastas are made in-house: the ravioli, pappardelle and tagliolini. We sampled the Ravioli Pomodoro e Basilico ($14) with its spinach-ricotta filling and pink sauce. While I was surprised at the depth of flavor in the ricotta, I found this dish too sweet. It was a delicate sweetness from ripe tomatoes and egg-y pasta, but the whole experience paled in comparison to the gutsy Tagiolini al Curry ($17). This was an awakening. The delicate noodles, blackened with the ink of squid, take on the cognac and curry cream sauce with reckless abandon. Succulent shrimp and velvety scallops frolic in the sauce. You can practically hear the sea gulls crying overhead and feel the spray of the sea.
After such an amazing meal, I was astonished to taste the feeble cappuccino ($3.95). But they were redeemed by their wonderful cannoli ($8) — sweet, crispy tubes filled with marmalade-scented ricotta and flecks of orange zest.
Points must be given for some nice details. The house wines are respectable and the glasses are filled to capacity for a mere $7. The bread basket is replenished (upon request) with aromatic, fresh-baked Italian flat bread. The wait staff is gracious, knowledgeable and speedy with the crushed red pepper.
After adding in the tasty thin-crust Margherita Pizze ($11.50) that we took home to the kids, dinner for two at Briganti set us back $140. The food is worth the price, as is the service, and with the right table, the ambience is, too.
LISA DUPUY has been reviewing area restaurants since 2008. She welcomes comments at LDupuy@aol.com.
Where: 1423 Mission St., South Pasadena
Hours: Open daily: lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; dinner 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Prices: Antipasti, salads and soups $6 to $13.50; pizza and panini $10.50 to $15; entrees $10.50 to $17 (primi), $13.50 to $27 (secondi).
Contact: (626) 441-4663, www.brigantisouthpas.com