It’s been a year and a half since Culina at the Four Seasons opened and even though it’s not the newest kid on the block, it’s still one of the hottest spots in town. Not just in the “I’m sitting next to a famous movie director and oh wow, that’s Emma Thompson walking by and dude, there goes Russell Brand and omg is that Larry Flynt (in his gold wheelchair) having his early bird dinner?!”* kind of way. That’s definitely part of the fun, but Culina maintains its momentum because everyone from chef Victor Casanova to general manager Sandro Coppola to every single staff member just won’t give it a rest. These guys are always on, making sure that the food, service and experience are as close to perfection as possible.
As chance would have it, I was invited to a fun girls’ night out to try Culina’s new fall menu. Making seasonal menu changes is nothing new, but Culina once again took it over the top with 28 new items for fall! Not only are a great deal of the dishes new (I would know since I’ve been eating here since it opened), but old favorites have also been given updated presentations–sort of like re-accessorizing your wardrobe. The tuna crudo was unrecognizable to me, wrapped in cucumber and rolled into mouth-cooling bite-sized barrels while my all-time favorite of sweet corn-brown butter-crispy sage ravioli has been transformed into tortelloni (pictured in the main image).
One of my new favorites: Cappesante ($14), the most ridiculously delicous toddler-sized morsels of scallop (ocean!), melon (sweet!), radish (bite!), tomato (juicy!) and mint (cool!). This flavor bomb of sweetness and saltiness tempted me to get all ghetto on my girlfriends and eat the entire plate, but I let courtesy prevail and shared, difficult as it was.
Another delish new fave: Pane Piatto. There it is. Right above this font. Just look at it. It’s a whole garden of color. A veritable party of edible pretty things. Like a happy work of food art. I just love it. I think I love looking at it even more than eating it. So what is it exactly? It’s an airy flatbread topped with prosciutto (which was easily removed to accommodate my non-pork eating ways), mozzarella, tomato pesto, wild arugula and Parmigiano Reggiano. The $15 dish is found on the Antipasti part of the menu not Le Pizze since technically it’s not pizza. Sandro said a guest is the one who came up with it and sure enough, after many requests, it’s now on the menu. See … these guys listen!
There were plenty of other dishes on the table: a duo of giant American Wagyu meatballs in marinara ($12); Panzanella salad ($14) made with heirloom tomatoes, watermelon cubes, crescent-shaped cucumbers, red onions, chunky homemade croutons and shredded ricotta; the famed spicy spaghetti alla chitarra ($17); branzino with caramelized shallots, beluga lentils and salsa verde ($31); and the stuffed-like-a-Thanksgiving-turkey squash blossoms ($14) just oozing with ricotta cheese and a hint of mint that you can really taste. Dipped in the marinara sauce–dang, they’re good!
Of course, we all complained about how full we were by the second course, but that didn’t stop us from eating all night and finishing everything off with practically the entire dessert menu. OMG. Out. Of. Control. I didn’t think anything could top the coconut budino (so subtly sweet and chunky and chewy and textural) with compressed summer melons and melon sorbet, but when I saw the table dressed in desserts, I couldn’t contain myself.
Okay, so this panna cotta. I love me some panna cotta. But this version is just beyond. It’s a visual feast that makes me think of some fabulous Oscar de la Renta or Carolina Herrera ensemble–sophisticated with a pop of color. But instead of ready to wear, it’s ready to eat.
This chocolate thingie you see above ended up being my BFF at the meal’s conclusion. On the dessert menu it’s called Tortino al Cioccolato e Amaretto (pretty easy to translate) and comes topped with salted caramel gelato. Again, it’s that whole salty-sweet thing. I just can’t stop my tastebuds from being infatuated with the dual experience. And why would I?
More info: www.culinarestaurant.com
*Yes, it is Larry Flynt. Yes, he is at Culina every single day. In fact, there’s even a salad named after him. You can have it for $27. Needless to say, it’s the most (and probably the only) tasteful Flynt-related item you’ll ever buy.