Monday, August 21, 2017

Where to Eat: Traditional Southern Italian Cuisine @ Franco on Melrose

The Eats: The hearty cuisine of Campana in Southern Italy

The Location: Melrose District

The Vibes: Intimate, airy, discreet

Good for: Alone, dates, small groups

When-To-Go: Daily, for dinner only

The $$ Factor: Starters, $11 - $23; Entrées $16 - $35

The Names behind the scenes: Owner / Chef Franco De Dominicis

The 4-1-1: There's also a room that holds about 25 people if you want to have a private gathering

Parking Situation: Metered and free street parking

I’ll Be Back…:
For the Ravioli Zucca!

Blink too fast and you just might miss it. 

Wedged between two buildings on the bustling Melrose Ave., just slightly east of La Cienega Blvd., you'll find Franco on Melrose, a restaurant dedicated to showcasing cuisine from the Campana region of Southern Italy.

Upon entering Franco, you’re standing smack in the middle of its kitchen. Yes, that might cause some confusion, but no, you didn’t go through the wrong entrance. A few short steps forward, and you’ll see that you’ve come to the right place — a tiny one-room seating area with a bar, lots of foliage and tables decked out in white linens. Vine-covered and muted steel blue walls soar high towards the open ceiling, which casts the entire space in soft, natural lighting, with strings of circular lights adding a festive touch.

For the past five years, Owner / Chef Franco De Dominicis has been bringing the flavors of his hometown Campana (total population, slightly over 2,000) to Los Angeles. Open for dinner only, the quaint — yet still uber-chic — restaurant changes its menus seasonally, but never strays far from old-school cooking traditions and styles.

Earlier this summer, I had the opportunity to get an exclusive tasting from Franco himself, sampling bits of everything, from piatti piccolo (small dishes) and antipasti (appetizers), to pastas, seafood and the star of the house, meat dishes.

Franco started me off with petite versions of five of the most selected small dishes and appetizers. 

The Carciofi Salad, pictured above, is tossed with artichokes and arugula, and a tart dressing comprising lemon and extra virgin olive oil. A thin slab of Parmiggiano, a.k.a. Parmesan cheese, balances carefully on top of the salad and helps cut the tart taste.

I typically don’t eat beef or cheese, but I wasn’t passing up the chance to try the Polpette Di Carne, pictured below — pork and beef meatballs topped with melted Mozzarella. With hints of tomato and basil, they oozed with flavor and were nice and plump and juicy!

Other starters included the Burrata Caprese, pictured below, the Olive Marinate, which is basically like a handful of olives, and a very interesting dish, the Zucchini Blossom, which is fried squash filled with herb ricotta cheese and spices. In total, there are 20 different piatti pccolo and antipasti to nibble on.

Obviously, pastas are quite a big deal in Italian cuisine, so it only made sense to try a few. From vegetarian to meat and seafood — and ravioli, linguine and spaghetti — Franco has practically every type covered. Plus, all pastas are made fresh, right in an upstairs room at the restaurant.

Hands down, my favorite pasta for the night was the Ravioli Zucca. Butternut squashed is roasted to the point where it’s actually surprisingly sweet and then stuffed into thin ravioli, which is lathered in a creamy, buttery sage sauce and topped with Parmiggiano. I’ve never had squash cooked that way!

Seafood lovers shouldn’t skip out on the Pestana, pictured below, which includes linguine tossed in a medley of clams, mussels, shrimp and calamari and a savory wine / tomato broth.

The Fusilli “Franco’s Mom” is one of the signature dishes. Comprising both pork sausage and beef meat Ragu, it’s a meat lover’s dream come true and extremely filling.

And speaking of signature dishes and meats, the Brasato di Manzo is one of the most popular entrées. It has such a rustic countryside feel, with a large chunk of short rib accompanied by sautéed spinach and other earthy veggies like carrots and potatoes.

All in all, the menu is remarkably diverse; from small to large options, vegetarian-friendly to carnivore-appealing dishes, there’s surely something to pleasure everyone and every appetite size. Most importantly, it’s incredibly tasty and inspires me to book a trip to Italy, ASAP.

So the next time you're looking for a quiet but still classy and authentic Italian dinner — perhaps with the fam or for a romantic rendezvous — I recommend heading on over to Franco on Melrose. Ambience is charming, the food delicious and the Italian wines nicely pair with the entrees.

See you there soon!

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  1. Traditional Southern Italian Cuisine at Franco on Melrose serves the best Italian food with great presentations. I just love the environment and the services they offer.