Critics have sung the praises of Drago Centro since its opening: Jonathan Gold says it’s a “Perino’s for 2010 and beyond,” with the “most glamorous urban view in the city;” the L.A. Times says the Italian menu is “inspired” and the restaurant is downtown’s “best kept secret.” Last Friday I had the pleasure of dining there, and more importantly for Thirsty In LA, the chance to sample Vincenzo Marianella’s Italian-inspired cocktail menu.

An Italian classic: the Negroni.

An Italian classic: the Negroni.

Drago Centro is handsomely designed, filled with sophisticated guests in an urban setting worth every penny of the $7 million spent on its creation. The most striking feature is the double height glass wine tower, which announces Drago’s wine focus as well as separates the bar area from the main dining room. I thought the banquettes were set a bit too close together, and the wall/graffiti art somewhat odd, but that’s just nitpicking the otherwise glamorous, modern interior. The service was top notch, on point without being intrusive.

The short cocktail list is hidden on the last page of the voluminous wine menu, and it’s divided into Italian classics and Nuovi Classici. We decided to go with one from each section: I ordered a Negroni, the classic apéritif made with gin, Campari, and vermouth; my dining companion got a Viale del Tramonto (“Sunset Blvd”), made with bourbon, Amaretto Disaronno and organic apple juice. The Negroni was fine, but she thought the Viale was overpoweringly sweet; this coming from someone with a legendary sweet tooth. I tasted it and, while I agreed it was too sweet, was not against trying to work on it later.

The Viale del Tramonto.

The Viale del Tramonto.

For dinner I started with a venison carpaccio, an incredible dish featuring nearly translucent slices of venison offset by a few walnuts and greens, lightly dressed with a sherry vinaigrette. For my main course I had an excellent grilled veal, set on a bed of lentil ragout and topped with sweetbreads and okra. The veal was perfectly cooked and tender. To go with my entree our server suggested a Dolce Vita: a New Classic cocktail made with Altesino Grappa di Brunello, Monin Pomegranate syrup, black grapes and fresh lemon juice. Unfortunately, like the Viale it was another miss, cloyingly sweet and merely drinkable.

For dessert we had the ridiculously good i bomboloni, bite-sized doughnuts with strawberries, balsamic reduction, and mascarpone gelato. I made good on my promise to finish the Viale, and it turned out to be a decent accompaniment to our dessert.

La Dolce Vita.

La Dolce Vita.

While the food was amazing, I was disappointed in the cocktails as they were prepared that night. I’m a big fan of Vincenzo’s cocktails at Copa d’Oro, so I don’t know how to attribute the overly sweet cocktails. I’ll definitely be returning to Drago Centro to try the cocktails again, perhaps during their new weekday “Aperitif Time.” Here’s hoping they serve those doughnuts in the bar…

Drago Centro
525 S. Flower St., Suite 120
Los Angeles, CA
(213) 228-8998
www.dragocentro.com

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