Franco on Melrose – A Restaurant Review
You always hear many great Italian restaurants described as “authentic”. When I think of authentic Italian, I imagine the culinary works of a chef raised in Italy, who’s expert culinary abilities and skills were borne out of a lifetime of exposure and hands-on experience handed down from generations of Italians chefs!
Chef Franco opened Franco on Melrose five years ago. As you enter Franco, you step down into a beautiful courtyard dining terrace, rustic and elegant at the same time, with every detail seen to, from the white linens on the tables to the tiny white lights and brass chandeliers in this ‘indoor-outdoor space. Just a cozy space with a cool vibe that feels like a best-kept secret… which it is.
Franco de Dominicis grew up in his family’s ancestral home country of Italy, in Paestum, the second largest agricultural valley in Italy, built in 603 A.D. Coming from a family of Italian chefs, he always had an inherent affinity for food.
Chef Franco – The Original Sustainable Chef
In his childhood Chef Franco “cultivated the land by hand, stripping the soil and planting trees such as lemons, figs, plums, oranges, peaches, as well as tomatoes, herbs, and more. He oversaw the canning and bottling the fruits of his labor for the summer and winter months.” This is the basis of Franco’s knowledge of sustainable produce used in his culinary creations at his restaurant, Franco, today. A real, basic understanding of food.
He then went on to culinary school in Italy. We asked Chef Franco about his journey from that point, to where he is now.
LATP: Did you go to culinary school or learn on the job?
Chef Franko: Life gets to the point where things happen. I decided to drop school and pursue cooking full time. Since I was 14, I started and worked inside a hotel with French chefs. Then I went from Italy to Germany to Spain to France and then the U.S. Overall I learned on the job and was fortunate to have great mentors who taught me many different cuisines.
LATP: We heard you cooked for Princess Diana…
Chef Franko: When I worked at the San Lorenzo in London, I cooked for Princess Diana there.
LATP: What types of cuisine have you learned throughout your career?
Chef Franko: Mainly French, Spanish, Indian, southern, and Italian. When I was in charge of catering at USC I learned southern cuisine as well as Indian food. For specific events each cultural group at USC required me to learn how to learn how the spices work in different areas. My French, Spanish, and Italian background came from many chefs who mentored me growing up and from my life long experience.
LATP: So when and how did you first arrive in the U.S.?
Chef Franko: I was here in 1994 on a vacation. I came here during Christmas where there wasn’t much going on. I had a chance to become friends with some people in the restaurant industry including the chef of Drago. I happened to eat there and met the owner and we became very good friends. I would work a couple of weeks in the restaurant to experience it.
In 1997 he called me up to see if I wanted to open up a restaurant with him and I came to America. I stayed for many years and was a chef in Santa Monica and switched mentality and way of working. I moved to downtown and became a chef at the Jonathan Club for a year and a half and went corporate. Then I was a chef at the Wilshire Grand Hotel, served as executive chef of the Biltmore hotel, then decided it was time to open up my own restaurant and the rest is history.”
The menu Franco has created is the reason you come to Franco. Those classic great Italian flavors that you crave. We enjoyed a sampling of items. Burrata Caprese is a great starter: generous chunks of burrata resting on thick slices of tomatoes, enhanced by roasted pepper paste and Genovese pesto.
The zucchini blossoms will send you to heaven… Lightly crisped on the outside and stuffed with creamy herb ricotta set on a rustic basil tomato sauce.
Ravioli with butternut squash more delicious and perfectly done than you can imagine with sublime flavors.
Franco’s mom’s pasta is close to his heart…and so tasty: Fusilli pasta in a delicious sausage and beef ragout sauce.
The grilled octopus at Franco is probably the most tender and flavorful you can find. It’s tricky to cook, but Franco does it right.
All pasta is hand made. Gluten-free are also available. Franco’s vegetarian lasagna will please vegetarians.
Choices for dessert include a flourless chocolate cake made with dark chocolate from Venezuela that melts in your mouth, served with berries and pistachio gelato. Other sweet offerings include tiramisu, panna cotta, gelati and sorbetti.
The great selection of wines on the menu are mainly from Italy, and beers are available from various countries.
A private room is available off the dining room as a personal space for guests with large parties.
Dining at Franco on Melrose is a lovely experience. The food and ambiance are great. And you might see a celebrity or two who are fans of Franco.
Franco on Melrose
6919 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90038