Saturday, June 04, 2005

Unfuhggedable: Frankie's On Melrose

OK, I admit it. I have watched too much TV in my lifetime. I also have an overactive imagination, thanks probably to all the TV watching. But there are some times when stuff you see on any given day looks just like you see it on TV. Well, sorta.

It all started on Friday night when a friend of ours asked us if we wanted to go have dinner with him. We, of course, accepted, and when we asked where we would be going, found out that we'd be going to an Italian restaurant on the Melrose strip called Frankie's. On Melrose? I thought, skeptically. You know, many times trendy location equals trendy restaurant equals so so food, but hey, I was basically going along for the ride, so what the heck.

We valeted, walked around its green-picket fenced exterior, then found the front door. Suddenly I felt I was transported to New York's Little Italy, or better yet, Vesuvio,
Artie Bucco's restaurant, on the Sopranos. Pictures of the Rat Pack flanked both sides of the entrance of the triangular dining room. Older, sharply dressed Italian-looking guys reminiscent of some of Tony Soprano's henchmen were everywhere, with some sort of lovely lady by their side. My mind was spinning with stories--the older lady-friends were the wives and the younger ones were the goomahs, the gangsters' mistresses. Some of the tables had larger gatherings of Capo-looking fellas with what looked like their families: wives, children, friends, etc. Then, interspersed amongst all the mob-ties were things I'm more used to seeing in my L.A.--rocker dudes, gay guys, hipster couples. We made our way back to the bar to have a drink while we waited for our table, and as I sipped on my stiff vodka tonic, our friend introduced us to Frankie, the man himself. It turns out that our friend is a friend of- a friend of- this friendly, portly, white haired restauranteur, formally known as Frank Competelli. Wow, I just met the boss.

Frankie made sure a table was quickly cleaned up for us, and shortly therafter, we were seated and made part of his dining family. Warm bread, crusty on the outside and fluffy on the inside, was brought out immediately; I quickly slathered some butter on a slice and chowed down as my vodka tonic (and the remnants of the martini I'd had at
happy hour earlier that evening) was starting to get to me (but in a good way...I have to pace myself, you know!) We all started with a Caesar salad which was nicely tart, and spicy with garlic and anchovies--a salad which did extremely well at wheting our appetites because when we were done, we were all starving for the main course. Perhaps the alcohol also helped intensify our hunger, but I was nonetheless impressed as I am usually full after an appetizer and can hardly touch the main course!

This Caesar Salad makes you wanna eat!

I learned a couple of things about Frankie on Friday night. It seems that Frankie has catered for his share of celebrity clientele such as
Don Rickles and the late Frank Sinatra (he even catered the after-funeral meal for the Ol' Blue Eyes' family) Apparently, Frankie used to be in the lobster business and has kept many of his connections, which is why lobster dishes (particularly the stuffed Maine lobster and lobster fra diavlo) remain popular at Frankie's. Because we were in the mood for mammal tonight and not crustacean, we decided to split the osso buco. Tender and falling off the bone, our veal shanks, braised in a sweet tomato and vegetable sauce and sitting on a bed of al dente linguine, were delicious. A few slivers of buttery soft fat were still attached, adding to the complexity of this wonderful, hearty dish.

Wonderful, tender osso buco

Our friends, seemingly, were in the mood for mammal as well, ordering veal parmigiana and grilled rack of lamb. This blog thing is always my excuse to sample others' dishes, so I was fortunate enough to try a little bit of both dishes. The three thinly pounded veal cutlets in the veal parmigiana had a delicate crispy breading on the outside and juicy meat on the inside, covered by a sweet but zesty tomato sauce and a nice gooey layer of mozzarella. On the side was a basic, but tasty linguine marinara. The grilled rack of lamb was incredible--beautiful as it was delicious. The rack of small chops were seared to form a golden crust on the outside, revealing succulent rare meat on the inside. The chops were also coated with a thin layer of a sauce of finely minced garlic, parsley,herbs and lemon juice. Obligatory grilled vegetables were served on the side--potatoes, yellow and zucchini squash, carrots--which was fine for this dish as not to detract from its beauty or taste.

Frankie knows how to make a mean veal parmigiana

Picture doesn't do it justice: succulent grilled rack of lamb

I looked around the room some more. Some of the old characters had left since we'd been seated. Perhaps they got a call from the boss telling them to go down to the dock and whack someone? As they left, other characters took their place, some other old guys with lovely ladies in tow, and even a younger character, reminiscent of Tony Soprano's nephew
Christopher, showing his date, a fabulously dressed young thing, a good time. OK, so maybe I have watched too much TV; what I saw tonight probably wasn't any sort of mob family thing. But for sure it was a Frankie family thing, as he treated all of his diners, whether they looked like Uncle Junior or not, like one of his own. He made his way to every single table tonight, making sure everyone's dining experience was top notch. We said goodbye after paying our bill, and he graciously thanked all of us for coming in, gave all the guys a handshake and me a kiss on the cheek. Oooh, a kiss from the boss--how exciting!

Frankie's On Melrose
7228 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90046
(323) 937-2801

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