The Stars come out at Ago

Ago, 8478 Melrose Avenue, West Hollywood, CA 90069

When a new restaurant opens up especially in Hollywood, a celebrity chef and celebrity owners help launch the place, but it is still no guarantee that the doors will stay open. There is always a new hot spot for the big spenders and hot babes that frequent these kind of places to go to. But Ago in West Hollywood continues to pull in the crowds with it's Tuscan cuisine. The regions of Ligurio and Emilio Romano also play an influence on the menu. A recent visit on a midweek just before the 4th of July was in fact a quiet night for the trendy eatery, as everyone was keen to point out several times. An abundance of valet's, waiters, bus boys and cooks indicates a place not shy on spending the bucks, and things are going so well for Ago, that new outlets are being planned for Miami Beach and New York by the end of the year. An abundance of Italian accents is also a good sign in an Italian restaurant, and Ago has plenty of them.

The bar is real small and friendly enough, although it would be nice if they could provide a bowl of peanuts while you are waiting for your guest.

The owners include Robert de Niro, acclaimed directors Tony and Ridley Scott, and Miramax Pictures head honcho Harvey Weinstein. These guys know about good living, and to make sure everything goes smoothly in the kitchen, they put chef Agostino Sciandri (also a part owner) in charge. Agostini developed the Tuscan menus at Toscana, Terraza Toscana in Brentwood and Rosti. He was born in the village of Aulla in northern Tuscany, and graduated at Italy's School of Hotel and Catering.

After stints at the Savoy in London and back in Italy, he arrived in Beverly Hills in 1985 and has stuck around. His strength is in the preparation of "sauces", which was quite apparent in some of the creations I tried. The portions are big at Ago, but I was able to convince the waiter to let me try smaller portions in a taster menu. The restaurant may not thank me for mentioning this, but since management is so flexible, they would probably allow the same for anyone with very little persuasion.

Agostini was not cooking the night I went, but a young Milanese chef Mirko Paderno was in charge, prior to his taking over in Miami. The house specialties are Grilled polenta, a Salt Cod in a light, spicy tomato sauce, Black Angus T-Bone Steak with cannelloni beans & rosemary potatoes, mixed fried fish, and a Tuscany-styled chicken cooked in herbs. He is clearly a name you are going to hear a lot about in the future, handsome, articulate and young enough for us to expect to see gracing numerous food magazine covers.

Appetizers started with the Calamari at $11 and Caprese, mozzarella cheese with tomatoes and basil for $10. Both dishes were tasty enough but I had a problem with the calamari because it was way too salty, and the mozzarella was not quite as fresh as it could have been because it probably had been in an open container for a couple of days. Much better was the Beef carpaccio with baby artichokes and parmesan cheese for $13.50.

The minor problems continued with the pasta, with the Angel Hair pasta slightly undercooked and a little too firm. The seafood risotto however was excellent, something chefs from Milan rarely get wrong. A John Dory fish prepared in a delicious marinade seasoning of lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper was a real winner, and a lamb dish with balsamic vinegar featured six month old baby lamb - very tender and another winner. Every night features specials, so it always pays to check these out, especially at places like Ago that have the pick of the crop each day.

Nothing beats a decent Chianti with Italian food, and a very mellow Quarchetto Chianti wine complemented the main courses. This is a menu with several gems dotted amongst the standard Italian fare available almost anywhere, but like most popular restaurants, Ago stands out for a variety of factors, not just the food.

A word also about the Maitr'd Stefano Carella who is paid to know not only the celebrity guests, but also the movers and shakers behind the scene in Hollywood. It is his job not to upset any of these types, who think nothing of spending $5,000 on a bottle of wine. Sounds like an easy job, but I don't think so.

Tel: 323-655-6333
Fax: 323-655-6640
Opening Hours:
Lunch Monday-Friday 11:30 am to 3:00 pm
Dinner Monday-Saturday 6:00 pm to 12:00 am
Sunday 5:00 pm to 10:30 pm
Mike Hepworth, July 2002

home page