Dear Mr. Gold:
Where can I have a good risotto? Half of the time I've had it in L.A., it has been sticky and overcooked.
–Lorenzo Rossi, via Facebook
Dear Mr. Rossi:
Unless you happen to be in Milan or the rice lands around Vercelli, in my opinion it is always better to eat risotto at home. To make risotto properly is not difficult, but the most important ingredient is patience — few restaurants are going to devote a precious burner and 25 minutes of a chef's time to a single dish. And although chefs will tell you that it's OK to parcook risotto, that there is little difference between rice stirred from grain to finished dish and rice merely finished to order, it's not quite true, although it is possible to mask the gumminess with vast amounts of butter and cheese. If the risotto comes with large amounts of seafood, it is almost guaranteed to be overcooked.
But while restaurant risotto will rarely develop the exquisite creaminess and slight chewiness of the best home-cooked risotto, there are exceptions. If the waiter is suggesting risotto with fresh white truffles, the less-than-pungent shavings may not be worth the $75 supplement, but the risotto probably will be made with care. I've had good risotto with sweetbreads at Vincenti, and the porcini risotto at Madeo is solid. Drago Centro's artichoke risotto enriched with quail egg is delicious. And risotto is almost a specialty at Il Pastaio in Beverly Hills, whose half-dozen versions include risotti blackened with squid ink, turned green with pureed spinach and stained with Barolo wine. I like the one with the goat cheese and beets.