LONG BEACH, Calif. — Running back and forth between the kitchens of two restaurants–L’Opera and Alegria–comes easily to Walter Cotta since the executive chef actually runs 35 to 45 miles a week. The energetic native of El Salvador has worked at L’Opera Ristorante since 1991.
Before coming to Long Beach Cotta cooked in various Southern California restaurants including Barsac and La Loggia in Studio City and Sostanza in Santa Monica. He was hired as sous chef to original chef Stefano Colaiacomo.
Owner Enzo DeMuro opened Alegria in 1994 and Cotta was asked to develop the menu of tapas and Latin American lunch and dinner selections.
In 2001 he took the lead in both kitchens when Colaiacomo left.
Floor to ceiling windows, faux marble pillars, white tablecloths and Oversized flower arrangements set the tone at L’Opera for special occasion or business dinners. Its location in downtown Long Beach, just walking distance away from hotels and the convention center make it a convenient spot for out-of-town visitors. Valet parking for $4 is a reasonable and convenient option.
Alegria’s multi-hued tile floor, Mardi Gras inspired masks and colored lights represent the restaurant’s name. The Latin style food is just as happy as the interior. Owner Enzo DeMuro opened Alegria Cocina Latina in 1994 and Cotta was chosen to develop the menu of tapas and Latin American lunch and dinner selections.
Favorite ingredients? Salt, chilies, herbs, fresh fish, ginger. We eat candied ginger all the time in Latin countries.
Favorite tool? Food processor
Junk food preference? Burritos and hamburgers
What is the hardest thing to learn? Temperature of meat for doneness. You have to feel the meat, you can’t cut it open to see if it’s rare or medium.
Best advice ever received? Never complain about what you do. And if you make a mistake don’t stop.
Inspiration for new dishes? I see ingredients at the market. I just got yucca root and verdolagas. I may do yucca cakes or puree. Verdolagas (a green, leafy vegetable also known as purslane or Mexican parsley) is good sautéed with lemon and chili flakes.
I just made a watermelon carpaccio that we’ll run as a special. I reduced the watermelon juice with sugar and chile. I serve it over slices of watermelon layered with ahi tuna. It tastes really good!
Hobbies, free time? I’m here most of the time so I just want to be with the kids when I’m off. For this job you have to have a wife who understands. (Cotta has two children aged 14 and 18.)
Favorite book? The food dictionary. Every term is explained. They also give recipes and ideas.
Future plans? I would like to learn to run a hotel. It’s different, huge compared to a restaurant.
I get a job offer every three weeks or so. I would only change if it were something exceptional. Or to open my own place. They treat me good here and I have freedom.
L’Opera menu highlights:
Trittico di cose $14
Ahi tuna sashimi, buffalo mozzarella and crostini topped with beef tartar
Tartara Mediterranea $13
Layers of Italian flatbread with ahi tuna tart, white bean hummus, olives, fennel and harissa aioli (see recipe)
Capppellacci de zucca $18
Homemade pasta filled with butternut squash and ricotta, served over marinara sauce, finished with brown butter sage sauce (see recipe)
Agnello Siciliano $35
Grilled mint pesto crusted lamb chops set over cous-cous and cumin scented yogurt, finished with mint pesto
Alegria menu highlights
Ropita vieja $7
Crispy mini tortillas topped with braised shredded beef, served with feta cheese, arugula lettuce and pinto beans
Humitas Chilenas $9
Sweet corn tamale, topped with sautéed diced shrimp (see recipe)
Pollo en Mole $15
Roasted chicken in traditional Oaxaca mole (made with 18 different spices)
Tender fillet mignon topped with red wine cinnamon mushroom sauce, served with potato cakes and sautéed spinach
101 Pine Ave.
Long Beach, CA 90802
Linda Mensinga was editor of Culinary Trends for 15 years, now a contributing writer. If you have a great restaurant, recipe or food you’d like to share please send an email. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or Linda@culinarytrends.net. Read more Culinary Quest at The Washington Times Communities.
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