If you have been following Los Angeles restaurants for a while, you may be as familiar with Celestino Drago’s cooking as you are with your own. The original Celestino was renowned for its fresh pasta in the 1980s, and his Il Pastaio brought beet risotto and squid ink into the everyday cooking of the city. His short-lived l’Arancino introduced high-quality Sicilian wine and cuisine to L.A. — it is still the best Sicilian restaurant ever to have opened in the United States — and he helped to define the new breed of Italian steak houses at Celestino Steak. Enoteca Drago is still one of the best wine bars in town. And his Drago in Santa Monica is constantly rated among the better Italian restaurants in California.
Now comes the spectacular Drago Centro, blown out into a sprawling former bank space in a downtown office plaza, skyscrapers blazing outside the big windows, wine towers reaching to the sky, a grand restaurant opening at a time when a splendid populist gesture seems to be exactly what downtown needs. Drago has always been ace with pasta, and his fresh pappardelle with pheasant and morels, ricotta cavatelli with venison sauce, and paccheri with spot prawns are as glamorous as Fred and Ginger dancing on a penthouse terrace. The all-Italian wine list is deep in rare, expensive bottles, some of them with considerable age, but also in delicious, relatively inexpensive wines from emerging regions, and there are 100 wines available by the glass. The veal chop is beyond free-range, the chicken crusted with truffles, the stuffed pigeon incomparably deep in flavor, even if it is cooked beyond the bloody, bawdy rare you might expect. The vegetable sides include an irresistible if salt-intensive dish of creamy fingerling potatoes roasted with chunks of house-cured guanciale. And while Drago Centro isn’t precisely inexpensive — pastas run around $16 at dinner; main courses from $25 to $35 — prices are less than at many restaurants far less ambitious and accomplished. The bar menu is almost reasonable. 525 S. Flower St., downtown, (213) 228-8998 or www.dragocentro.com. Open Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and Mon.-Sat., 5:30-10:30 p.m. Full bar. Evening valet parking on Figueroa between 5th and 6th streets, includes free shuttle to Staples Center, Music Center or Nokia Theater. AMEX, Diners Club, Discover, MC, V. $$$