We generally haven’t written much about restaurants we enjoy, but Sotto, in Los Angeles, rates an exception to the rule. Not only is Sotto [web site] one of the few Italian restaurants in Los Angeles where Joe is impressed enough not to keep saying, “I could make this better at home,” (which gets annoying and means we seldom try Italian restaurants outside Italy), but its wine list is one of the most interesting in town. And it provided a welcome reality check for me: it was a wine list I found intriguing and special long before I learned that it is curated by Jeremy Parzen, whose Do Bianchi blog [link] focuses on Italian wine in an energetic, witty, creative way.
Sotto’s building looks like a Brooklyn brownstone that has been dropped like Dorothy’s house onto an unsuspecting strip of Pico Boulevard just south of Beverly Hills. It even has a old-fashioned brownstone stoop, and Sotto is a few steps down from the sidewalk in the lower level (there is a Peruvian restaurant upstairs that we haven’t tried but have heard is good). We avoid “scene” restaurants (as in, they’re more about seeing and being seen than food or wine), but it turns out that Sotto has quite a hip following and is always busy. It might be partly the unassuming, straightforward atmosphere, but it’s got to be mostly that people have caught on to what amazing, unpretentious but delicious, interesting and incredibly well-prepared food is on offer here. It could also have something to do with Sotto’s pizza being named the best in Los Angeles by LA Weekly!
But it’s not just the food. Steve, a co-founder of Sotto, was a college friend of Jeremy Parzen, and asked him to curate the wine list for the restaurant he was opening. Stroke of genius! Jeremy is constantly traveling and knows Italy especially well, having lived there for several years. Through connections, boundless energy, and his unquenchable curiosity Jeremy is always finding amazing Italian wines, and being given free rein for Sotto’s list, his goal was to put together a list of unexpected but wonderful options. The Murgo VSQ Metodo Classico Brut, for instance, struck me as a great balance between prosecco and Champagne, but turns out to be from — of all places — Sicily! Unexpected selection, but delicious. Similarly the 2011 Musto Carmelitano Maschitano Rosso from Basilicata—not a region on many wine lists—is rich, subtle, and sophisticated, while a 2009 Alois Settimo from Campania is a perfect accompaniment to the bigger, bolder tastes the menu offers. Finally, I always judge a wine list partly on its dessert options, and here—while my favorite, moscato, was missing—I found perhaps the biggest and most pleasant surprise of the night: an incredibly refined, smooth, complex, amazing 1999 Martignana Passito di Pantelleria (the other end of the spectrum from the “cheap and cheerful” passito I wrote about awhile back). Sublime!
These are only a few of the fascinating selections on the Sotto wine list: lots of interesting options from regions outside the typical selections from Piedmont and Tuscany. Sotto’s wine list also validated my own wine preferences, with an emphasis on wines that are the opposite of over-the-top, high-alcohol, jammy fruit bombs. They are selected to play nicely with the food, to be sophisticated, subtle, and delicious. Also, to be a bit unexpected, without abandoning taste and food pairing above all. It’s terrific to find a wine list like this, but it’s very consistent with the fascinating mix of authenticity and creativity that Sotto brings to Italian food.