According to my "Grande Enciclopedia Illustrata della Gastronomia," carpaccio is the "celebrated preparation based on raw beef sliced as finely as prosciutto di Parma and variously garnished," and was invented by Giuseppe Cipriani at Harry's Bar in Venice. A regular there, Contessa Amalia Nani Mocenigo (of Venice), was given a strict diet by her doctor. One of the few things she could eat was carne cruda — raw beef. To make her diet less monotonous, Cipriani presented her one day with a dish of finely sliced raw beef scribbled over with a mayonnaise spiked with mustard and a dash of Worcestershire. He named it "carpaccio" after the painter Vittore Carpaccio, whose paintings were showing in Venice at the time. Cipriani was particularly taken with his use of red.
Funny thing, carpaccio alla Cipriani may have varied the contessa's strict diet, but for contemporary restaurant-goers, the now-classic raw beef dish has become a sometimes sorry cliché. That's why chefs are inspired to riff on the idea, using scallops, octopus, smoked sturgeon and more in place of the beef.
John Sedlar has an artist's eye. He'll serve tamales on plates emblazoned with the Virgin of Guadalupe, press flower petals into tortillas and serve squash blossom tempura on an image from the film "A Clockwork Orange." Seated at the counter at Rivera downtown one night, I watched a chef assemble mushroom carpaccio, shaving king oyster, bluefoot and chanterelle mushrooms onto a square plate in a loose, eccentric design that could have come from Jackson Pollack. He finished it with dribbles of a fiery yellow chile sauce. The brilliant thing was that the carpaccio tasted just as enticing as it looked.
1050 S. Flower St., Los Angeles, (213) 749-1460, http://www.riverarestaurant.com. Mushroom carpaccio, $11.
At this vibrant new Italian restaurant, chef Ori Menashe made beef carpaccio once that was topped with a cured chicken egg, a squiggle of Parmigiano cream and some ruffles of wild arugula. But I'm told the kitchen doesn't plan to put it on the menu again. Go figure. Never mind. If you see octopus carpaccio on the menu, grab it (it changes every day.) The violet-edged creamy octopus carpaccio is garnished with lemon, wild arugula, pretty rose radishes, fennel and a spunky anchovy sauce. I can't think of a better way to start off a meal at this rollicking new restaurant in a glam brick warehouse deep downtown.
2121 7th Place, Los Angeles; (213) 514-5724; http://www.bestiala.com. Octopus carpaccio, $17.
The Hart & The Hunter
Hotel restaurants aren't what they used to be. Witness this snug, laid-back little restaurant inside the Palihotel in WeHo from pop-up veterans Kris Tominaga and Brian Dunsmoor. They're both chefs and owners, dishing up comfort food with a Mediterranean and Southern twist. Hey, they've got a pile of chicken skin cracklings with hot pepper vinegar to start you off, a killer Low Country shrimp boil and spice-rubbed Spanish mackerel with olive relish. So when it comes to carpaccio, of course, they're not sticking with the traditional. Theirs is venison, not beef, deep-flavored and subtly gamey, dressed up with a horseradish-spiked crème fraîche, zesty pickled garlic, fennel and a fragrant gremolata.
7950 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, (323) 424-3055, http://www.thehartandthehunter.com. Venison carpaccio, $15.