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Would it be blasphemous to bleat that D.O.C.G. might be as good or better than Scarpetta, its sister restaurant next door? It’s certainly less formal, noisier, and simpler in focus and form. The menu breaks down into short sections — from salumeria to secondi (main) courses — and none of them overwhelm you with anything other than how friggin’ good everything tastes.

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The thing that struck us about Drago CentroCelestino Drago’s new, northern Italian eatery smack in the middle of downtown Los Angeles — besides the other-worldly pastas, the spot-on food and wine pairings of sommelier Michael Shearin, the packed house, cool design, and the smart move of having Matteo Ferdinandi (formerly of Spago Las Vegas) as Owner/Manager — was how inexpensive it was.

Appetizers ran $12-$20, pastas about the same, i.e., less than $20 a serving, mains were almost all well under $30, and the porter house for two (a steak that Las Vegans get routinely gouged for in excess of a hundred buckeroonies) was $75. And did we mention the place is on the ground floor of a fancy office building in downtown L.A.?

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GIORGIO RISTORANTE…and Piero Selvaggio

When Piero Selvaggio first opened Valentino in Santa Monica in 1972, he will tell you he knew very little about Italian food and absolutely nothing about Italian wine. By the time he and Chef Luciano Pellegrini opened Valentino in The Venetian nine years ago, ELV (and many others) will tell you he was widely considered the best Italian restaurateur in America, and that probably no one, outside of Italy, knows more about Italian wine.

Selvaggio’s personal and professional pilgrimage began on the southeastern coast of Sicily. He and his family moved to Brooklyn in 1963, and six years later, he was a very young man with a lot of ambition and no prospects. So where did he head? Well, to Las Vegas of course! Yes, even in 1969 it seems Vegas was the land of plenty for expatriates and nomads looking to make their mark on the world. As the French would say: plus la change, plus la meme chose (the more things change, the more they stay the same).

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