Hello, Donna’s in Los Angeles, California

A few days ago, I joined some friends for a meal at a high-demand Italian res­tau­rant called Donna’s in Los Angeles, California.

Our first appetizer was fried calamari. It was very typical of what you’d expect from calamari. I wasn’t a big fan of the marinara sauce (and I personally think it doesn’t really belong on calamari), but the squid ink aioli was great.

Next was the sourdough garlic bread with oregano. It came out as a small, partially-cut loaf of bread covered in cheese. The inside of the bread was soft, but the bottom was ex­ces­sively burnt—not just charred for flavor, but actually burnt to the point where the bitterness overwhelmed the remainder of the bread. The outside of the bread was essentially saturated with oil and made a huge mess on my fingers with even the lightest touch.

The Caesar salad came out next. It was covered in so much cheese that I wondered whether it was a salad with cheese on top, or cheese with some lettuce below it. The dressing was so thick, creamy, and greasy that it didn’t really taste like a salad.

People often wonder why, when they cook vegetables at home, they aren’t that delicious, but when they go to a restaurant, the vegetables are the best vegetables they’ve ever tasted in their life. The reason is because restaurants will cook vegetables in massive amounts of butter. Donna’s salad had a sim­i­lar premise where the preparation of the salad made it such that it completely defeated the purpose of getting a salad for the health benefit. Sure, the salad tasted good, but it was because it was drenched in saturated fats.

We also got a small bowl of olives. I had one and was not a fan. I believe we collectively ended up eating only about half of the bowl of olives.

Our first main entrée was lasagna rollatini with pork and beef bolognese, parmesan fanduta, and pomodoro. This was the heaviest, thickest, greasiest, oil­iest lasagna I’ve ever had. Typical of Italian restaurants, it was also unbearably salty. The dish did not let any of its core ingredients’ flavors shine through. In fact, this probably could’ve been made out of bugs and I wouldn’t have noticed because of how fatty and salty it tasted.

Our third appetizer was patata with potatoes, Calabrian chili aioli, shallots, fennel pollen, and rosemary. What I could tell of the flavor of the sauce was ac­tu­al­ly decent, but again, it was masked by its excessive creaminess and fattiness. I could hardly distinguish the flavor of the potatoes because they were e­gre­gious­ly oversalted.

Our second entrée was fusilli alla vodka with ricotto, chili oil, and pecorino romano. The pasta was cooked to near perfection, but there was about three times more sauce than was needed. Again, the sauce was excessively creamy, fatty, and heavy, so it severely detracted from what could have been a great dish had it just been prepared in moderation.

The third entrée we ordered was mushroom risotto with mixed mushrooms, thyme, parmigiano, wine, and herbs. I think the other dishes could’ve been made better had they been prepared with less salt and fat, but I think this dish was beyond repair. It just tasted like I was eating mushy mushrooms and citrusy porridge. The best way I can describe it is that it felt like I was eating two separate incomplete dishes mixed into one, rather than one single co­he­sive dish.

The last plate of the meal was a side dish. We ordered Tuscan black kale, but instead we received broccolini with parmigiano, herbed breadcrumbs, and anchovy. As you’d probably expect by now, this was also way too greasy and did not have the clean taste you’d expect from vegetables. I also think they completely left out the anchovies.

Our first dessert was three cannolis—fior di latte, candied orange and pistachio, and chocolate. I liked the candied orange and pistachio cannoli. The other two were passable but a bit underwhelming—the fior di latte was weak in flavor, and the chocolate didn’t meet my personal preference.

Our second dessert was Tuscan carrot cake with almond carrot tarte and orange mascarpone. The texture of the inside of the carrot cake was unique, but the outside was too bitter.

Along with the check, we each got a small complementary glass of non-alcoholic limoncello. It basically just tasted like lemonade, but with four times more sugar than the recipe called for.

This is what the interior of the restaurant looked like:

To put things simply, this restaurant catered their food for biological dopamine hits. What I mean is, back in the cavemen era of food scarcity, humans really liked salt and fat because they were critical for survival, so they would chase the fattiest foods with the greatest caloric density. This is why fatty, greasy foods with lots of butter are so carnally delicious to us—they trigger our primal, instinctual cravings for food that minimizes our chances of star­va­tion.

True elevated fine dining goes beyond treating their patrons as cavemen. The best restaurants will avoid using an excess of basic condiments and sea­son­ings so that the core ingredients can speak for themselves, telling an intricate and elegant story of flavors (as opposed to completely ambushing the taste buds with extremes).

Donna’s completely missed the mark on fine dining, yet still charges fine dining prices. Not only did the food quality fall short, but the service was also lacking.

The wait staff seemed to just be wearing aprons draped over random black shirts as opposed to a uniform or other formal attire. On a few oc­ca­sions, we had dishes taken away from us before we were finished, without them asking first. When rotating in fresh utensils, we did not receive a full set of utensils each time, so we had to eat some dishes without knives. When giving us spoons for dessert, the waitress placed our spoons on the table side­ways and on the opposite side of each person’s eating area, away from our bodies.

Sure, these things may not seem like a big deal individually, but when the restaurant suffers miss after miss after miss, it adds up.

I’m not sure why this restaurant is in such high demand for reservations. If you want to go to a spot that seems quirky with this particular kind of vibe, then I guess it’s worth considering. However, at this price point and based on my personal experience dining on this particular day, I cannot really rec­om­mend Donna’s to anyone.