Braise It: You Might Get the Meat Sweats at Mirko Paderno's Estrella in L.A.
A few weeks ago, chef Mirko Paderno was at the Los Angeles Food & Wine festival, doing what he does. This meant serving soul-warming gnocchetti with beef-cheek ragu out of a big, hollowed-out wheel of Pecorino.
Paderno, who recently took over the kitchen at Estrella on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, loves slow-cooked meats and grand presentations of classic Italian food.
"I don't sous-vide," he says. "I braise."
In the last month, Paderno has also served gnocchetti with lamb-shoulder ragu that was finished in a wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano at Estrella. Some nights, he has gnocchetti with lamb-neck ragu or gnocchetti with oxtail ragu.
This is a man who knows that the deep cuts can really groove.
"I think it's fun," he says. "I use shoulder. I use neck. I don't use tenderloin."
He likes the "labor" involved with slow-cooking. He'd rather make the effort to transform a piece of meat than rely on ultra-premium ingredients.
"It's easy to open a jar of caviar and put it on the table," says Paderno, who prefers having a restaurant where he takes his time to make things like a squab-and-quail ragu he'll probably start serving in the near future.
"Any meat I can braise, I braise," he says.
He picked up this philosophy growing up in Milan. As he points out, northern Italy and southern Italy are quite different.
People in southern Italy "have the Mediterranean diet, whatever you call it," Paderno says. "In the north, we don't. It's a lot of braised meats. I grew up with braised meat, osso buco, risotto. Milan has really cold winters."
Even during a summer heat wave in L.A., Paderno doesn't shy away from serving risotto Milanese with bone marrow. He doesn't think twice about offering a rich, meaty, fatty sauce over housemade pasta. He thinks a huge plate of culatello might be exactly what you want to eat before indulging in housemade ravioli filled with more charcuterie.
Even an off-menu cauliflower soufflé becomes an exercise in decadent richness, thanks to a creamy sauce with Castelmagno cheese. The truffle-topped soufflé with chanterelles, a version of a dish Paderno's been making since 1999 when he cooked at Piero Selvaggio's Primi, is also a reminder that Italian food can be the most umami of all foods.
And then there's Paderno's glorious rotisserie chicken with polenta.
"There's a lot of fat," Paderno says with a smile. "All the fat drips on the polenta."
This, he says, is how it's done in Milan, where all kinds of meat are cooked on a spit and liquid fat becomes the best type of sauce: "If you're going to do it, do it right."