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Culina: Indulging Your Inner Italian Sophisticate

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There is no better time to indulge and drink in the drama of Culina than at dinnertime.

The sumptuous restaurant inside the recently-renovated Four Seasons in Beverly Hills is a must-add to any list of special occasion dining destinations, and is also worth checking out for their bar specials and smaller-scale indulgence. Plus, they can now boast being one of Angeleno Magazine's 10 Best New Restaurants in the city.

Culina is earning praise for good reason. Modern Italian cuisine is served up in the elegant dining room with panache, from table-side preparation of certain dishes to the stunning decor and dynamic layout. Here, a meal is a feast for the palate as well as for the eyes.

While there's a lovely lunch to be had at Culina, we were invited to come at nighttime to experience the elegant ambiance and to eat from Chef de Cuisine Victor Casanova's expansive menu.

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From the almost-shimmying slivers of crudo emboldened by sprinkles of spices and oils (the Yellowtail has star anise oil and orange sea salt, the sea urchin just a hint of lemon and olive oil to accent its briny, custard texture and taste) to a seasonal celebration of flavors in the form of a Panzanella (bread salad with heirloom tomotoes, cucumbers, watermelon--all from Santa Monica Farmer's Market--ricotta cheese and day old rustic bread) tossed table-side, the colors and flavors of the opening courses dazzle.

A pizza topped with artichoke and squash blossoms took center stage and we made short work as a table-team of its thin-crust slices and melted, salted cheese. The potato gnocchi are tender pillows bathed in a light sauce and tossed with pea shoots and sensuous chunks of perfectly-cooked lobster, bewtiching the palate with its interplay of richness and lightness.

Heartier fare includes the individual serving of Lasagne Della Nonna, (with Sausage Ragu, Mozzarella) and the Lombatina Capricciosa (Pounded Bone-In Veal Chop, Arugula, Sweet One-Hundred Tomatoes, Parmigiano-Reggiano), both of which are house specialties that are easily (if not by necessity) shared among two or more diners. Though we had but one heart-warming bite of the lasagne, the veal was our main focus; the drama evident in its imposing plate-filling position, bone askew and protruding from the pliant meat and almost delicate breading that sighed with the addition of a squeeze of fresh lemon and beckoned from beneath its mass of peppery arugula, nutty shaved cheese and sweet cherry tomatoes.

Dessert will send you away with sweet memories and off to sweet dreams, thanks to the work of Pastry Chef Federico Fernandez. Favorites include the Bomboloni (a ball-like donut pastry with honey ricotta and citrus marmalade), Canoli filled with supple olive oil gelato, and a decadent chocolate-hazelnut cake (torta) with blood orange granita.

Have you put Culina on your Excel spreadsheet of restaurants to try? (What, you don't all do that, too?) File it under: Anniversary, Birthday, Parents in town and want to treat, Got a huge raise, or Business dinner with a big wig.

But then consider this: Culina has several options for spending time but not lots of money there, and still getting a taste of the best of what they have to offer. Their Festa Del Vino (Sunday through Thursday, 5 - 7 pm) is their answer to happy hour, where you can get select glasses of wine for $6 and complimentary antipasti (varies seasonally) at the Culina bar & communal tables only.

Or, bring the family in on Sunday nights for Tutti in Famiglia to try their three-course, Italian family-style menu for $30 per person; parties of two or more will be able to choose two dishes per course from a rustic yet modern menu of dishes meant to be shared. And if you've still got World Cup fever, you can watch the games in the bar and order up a margherita pizza and cold beer for $15 (through July 11).