QUACK: Duck mousse agnolotti topped with crispy duck skin in a butter glaze. (photo by Drago Ristorante)

WILSHIRE BLVD — Chefs, like any artist, are continually searching for inspiration. For his latest menu, Drago Ristorante’s Evan Gotanda didn’t have to look very hard. His inspiration for a six-course “menu di anatra” came in the form of a Christmas present from Drago Central Chef and owner Celestino Drago.

The gift was baby ducklings, which Gotanda, a talented young chef who has spent time at Bastide and Paperfish, took home after a long shift and had sleep with him in his bedroom. He showed those duckling love before shipping them off to a friend’s mother’s home with plenty of land for them to roam.

Looking to shift from the wild game menu, Gotanda felt duck would make for a nice transition. He’s done a wonderful job of creating six appetizing dishes that showcase the richness and tenderness duck brings to the table while combining salty, sweet and tangy accents to get the taste buds quacking. Each dish is appealing to the eye and for $59 per person, the price is right.

Gotanda kicks off the menu with a creamy, rich foie gras torchon on a toasted brioche with a sherry reduction. On the side is a medley of pickled vegetables, which help offset the heaviness of the foie gras.

Next came my favorite dish, a duck egg cooked perfectly at 63 degrees for 45 minutes, resting on top of some buttery, but light, whipped potatoes with greens and pomme paille. The thick, fatty yoke of the duck egg with the crispy, saltiness of the pomme paille knocked me back. It was too delicious for words. My companion for the evening couldn’t get over the size of the egg and its texture, but I was screaming for seconds.

Another favorite of the night was the duck confit risotto with a port wine reduction that brought a salivating sweetness to the dish. Oftentimes restaurants overcook risotto, sending it out mushy. At Drago, Gotanda cooked it to al dente perfection with just enough body and resistance that it stuck to your molars. The Roman’s would have been proud.

Dessert was strange, but satisfying. Never before had I thought of eating a dessert with some form of duck represented, but here I was, inhaling the peanut butter foie gras with olive oil mousse, and strawberries sitting on top of candied crushed hazelnut, and, get this, black pepper gelato — spicy! It was served with a sweet — almost too much for my taste — dessert wine.

My one complaint was with the seared duck breast. I felt it could have used another minute or two in the pan. But overall, the food was delectable. The duck was most and tender, thanks to the special brine of salt, herbs and garlic. I cleaned all of my plates.

I highly recommend this experience for anyone who digs waterfowl. If you want to check it out, though, you better hurry. Drago plans to offer the duck tasting menu this month only so don’t lag.

kevinh@www.smdp.com

If You Go

Drago Ristorante

2628 Wilshire Blvd.

Santa Monica

(310) 828-1585

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