Tony Fasulo, owner of Old Brea Chop House in downtown Brea, makes being a restaurateur look like an artform. His connection with guests and executive chef, Masa Ose, seems poetic. His wife calls him “the mind reader.” It’s a talent that includes being able to look at restaurant guests, and without exchanging words, know what they want.
Old Brea Chop House opened in late 2019 and quickly garnered praise for its authentic New York steakhouse-inspired atmosphere and execution of classic steakhouse and seafood classics, dishes with subtle modern twists. Within the restaurant’s first year, Old Brea Chop House was recognized named one of Orange Coast’s Best New Restaurants.
With more than 35 years in the restaurant industry, Fasulo spent two decades working with Morton’s Steakhouse, opening Morton’s locations across the U.S. as well as the chain’s first restaurant in Latin America.
He lives in San Juan Capistrano, with his wife and daughters, 10 and 12. He says that his girls love to join him in their home kitchen to make meatballs.
In my kitchen, Fasulo and Ose showed how to prepare Old Brea Chop House’s Ricotta Gnocchi with Wild Mushroom Sauce. It’s an irresistible mix of luscious ricotta “clouds” napped with a creamy sauce that is finished with truffle butter. Check out the video to see the specifics of gnocchi prep.
I asked about whether those luscious bundles of flour, eggs, and ricotta could be dubbed “nudi,” the term I learned long ago in an Italian kitchen, a term used for gnocchi-likes bundles that showcase ricotta cheese. Fasulo and Ose agreed that they might well be called nudi.
Guests might better recognize the term gnocchi on a menu, nomenclature to minimize confusion. That, and nudi might sound a little scandalous.
Sold at Sixteen: My first restaurant job was as a fry cook at Bob’s Big Boy. That was all it took. I fell in love with turning chaos into poetry.
Favorite Restaurant: My go-to splurge is Daniel in Manhattan. It’s everything I love about a restaurant—simplicity painted in its most perfect form and flawlessly executed.
Always in My Pantry: Good first-press Italian olive oil. I’m not label driven. At first, I look at color and viscosity.
Something Few Know: I love escamoles (edible larvae and pupae of ants). I lived in Mexico City for four years, and families took me out and ordered escamoles served with handmade tortillas and avocado.
Drink of Choice: Any type of Amaro or a great Brunello.
Collections: I collect shoes.
Dream Project: To take my concepts to NASDAQ
Yield: 60 to 75, recipe can be halved
- 30 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese, drain off any liquid at top of container
- 4 large eggs
- 2 1/2 cups Pecorino cheese, grated
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups all-purpose flour, divided use
- Kosher salt, black pepper to taste
- Mix ricotta, eggs, and pecorino together. Sprinkle with 1 1/3 cups flour and mix until dough doesn’t stick to bowl, adding a little more flour if needed. Dough will be very moist. Stir in salt and pepper.
- On a generously floured surface, roll gnocchi mixture back and forth in a loaf shape, adding more flour as you proceed. Dough shouldn’t be dry, but it should hold together. Roll into three or four logs, about 3/4-inch in diameter. Cut into 1-inch pieces. The texture should be like “soft little clouds.” If not using right away, place gnocchi in single layer on sheet pan lined with parchment paper and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate up to three days.
Old Brea’s Ricotta Gnocchi with Wild Mushroom Sauce
Yield: 1 to 2 servings
- 6 ounces Ricotta Gnocchi (see recipe above), about 12 to 14 gnocchi
- 2 tablespoons oil, a blend of olive oil and canola oil, divided use
- 2 ounces wild mushrooms, such as cremini, hen of the woods, oyster, shimeji. Shiitake, maitake, enoki (if large, cut into manageable pieces)
- 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon minced shallots
- 1 ounce dry white wine
- 1 ounce truffle butter – sold online and in some upscale supermarkets (Old Brea Chop House makes it from scratch)
- 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh parsley
- Blanch gnocchi in rapidly boiling with a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of olive oil. (It is crucial that the water is rapidly boiling). Place a bowl filled with ice and water next to stove. Cook until gnocchi float, about 3 to 4 minutes. Scoop gnocchi with slotted spoon and place in ice water. Drain on plate lined with paper towels.
- In deep skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil and sear the mushrooms (reserve one nice looking mushroom to use for garnish) on medium-high heat. When golden brown on one side, flip, add a little more oil, and the gnocchi; sear until both sides are golden.
- Once the gnocchi are golden brown, add the garlic and shallots and cook until the shallots are softened, about 1 to 2 minutes. Deglaze with white wine and reduce by half in volume, and then add cream; bring to low boil. Add butter then season with salt and pepper; cook until reduced to thicken it. Toss with parsley, or sprinkle it on top of each serving.
Old Brea Chop House, 180 South Brea Blvd., Brea (oldbreachophouse.com)
Cathy Thomas is an award-winning food writer and has authored three cookbooks: “50 Best Plants on the Planet,” “Melissa’s Great Book of Produce,” and “Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce.” For more than 30 years, she has written about cooking, chefs, and food trends.