Combining French and Italian cuisine in a charming space, Napoleon & Josephine is a Corsican-style eatery offering a mixed menu that’s part French, part Italian – and 100% Corsican. Run by Corsican native, Chef Olympe Ricco and musician Cedric Savelli, the restaurant is a celebration of the vibrant cuisine that merges the two cultures.
Red booths, warm and glowing lamps, fresh flowers, and vintage lighting create a romantic Old World appearance. According to Savelli, he and his wife originally had a restaurant in Corsica itself. “My wife has always been in the restaurant business. It was our dream for a long time to come to Los Angeles, for me as a musician, and for my wife who was thrilled by the idea of opening a restaurant here. We first came on vacation, we loved it, and decided to move.” They chose their location on Melrose Ave. and created a menu similar to that of their Corsican restaurant.
The food at Napoleon & Josephine is rich and satisfying, a flavorful blend of Italian fare such as lasagna, and French recipes such as pot au feu, consisting of fragrant clear broth, beef, and fresh vegetables. The seasonal menu includes many choices difficult to find in L.A., including Corsican recipes such as annelloni aux brocciu cheese, and a rich, thick seafood cassoulette. The wine list is also extensive, including Corsica’s own D.O.C.
The antipasti that precedes every entree is a smorgasbord of small dishes from the region – hummus, pepper in olive oil, Kalmata olives, sliced beets, eggplant caviar, charcuterie, cornichon pickles, grilled vegetables, and other delicious choices. The antipasti is included in a prix fixe concept that also features a main course and dessert.
“It’s a concept we used in Corsica. For us, we enjoy having a glass of wine and some appetizers…small plates. We wanted to have that again here. People love to share, and here in America it is not something you are used to perhaps. But it was a good idea, people love that as a start of the meal,” Savelli says. “Then we suggest people choose from seven or eight entrees each week. The choices vary depending on the market and the season and the produce we can find at any particular time. It’s a way to show people that the ingredients are really fresh and that we care a lot about our guests.”
Some menu items change every week, with complete menu updates once a month.“Right now, the dishes include a black cod served in a cauliflower gratin with vegetables. We also have tender spinach and riccota malfatti, boiled in a pan with some tomato cream sauce and baked in the oven with freshly grated Parmesan cheese on top. People love that,” he attests.
Some popular dishes remain on the menu year ‘round.
“People ask us for the beef tagliata which is a steak with rosemary and garlic, served with sauteed potatoes. The sauce we use is a gribiche, made from homemade mayonnaise, boiled eggs, and pickles,” he says. This French egg sauce is made by emulsifying hard-boiled egg yolks with a neutral oil.
But it’s not all meat and potatoes here, even elegant French-Italian meat and potatoes. Seville says the restaurant prides itself on providing dishes that “taste great even with restrictions in the diet. On our appetizer platter, the dishes are 90% vegetarian, and on the main menu we always have something for vegetarians or vegans, and we can make that to order.”
Dessert choices are light and delightful, including homemade ice cream, a honey parfait that includes pistachios, chestnut flan, and Corsican lemon ricotta cake or Fiadone, made with brocciu, a fresh goat’s milk cheese.
The Italian-French mix works well, both countries are considerably at play in Corsican cuisine, and it translates beautifully here in the restaurant’s all-from-scratch dishes. The restaurant is designed to create a complete experience for guests: the somewhat quaint and charming interior design, the affable and informed waitstaff, and the recipes.
“The thought that went into the decor was to include antiques we grew up with from Corsica and France,” Savelli notes. “When we moved here we decided to replicate a French village bistro basically. It looks a lot like the restaurant we used to have in Corsica.”
The name of the restaurant was chosen, he says, for two reasons. “Napoleon was perhaps the most famous character from Corsica, so we thought it was a good way to make people think about it. But because we are a couple, we wanted to use the names of both the emperor and his wife,” he laughs.
From the delicious recipes to the charming setting, Napoleon & Josephine offers diners an appetizer to dessert experience that’s both well thought-out and quintessentially Corsican.