S. Irene Virbila for The Times
November 30, 2013
This is a terrific Montsant from the husband-and-wife team of Sara Perez and René Barbier. Their parents, who have Mas Martinet and Clos Mogador, pioneered the Priorat region. Now the children are striking out on their own in the less known Montsant region adjoining the Priorat in Catalonia.
November 23, 2013
It's the holidays. The relatives are here, and you're tired of cooking and cleaning and then doing it all over again the next day. You need to get them out of the house — for brunch. Please, not a buffet. No mob scenes. You need a restaurant with a chef who has really thought about the meal that bridges breakfast and lunch. How about salmon slow-smoked over foraged "rabbit tobacco" or a sumptuous octopus hash with smashed fingerling potatoes? Maybe a classic omelet or shirred eggs? To start the meal, of course, you'll have a strong cup of coffee from a micro-roaster or perhaps a mimosa stained fuchsia with prickly pear fruit. Why not?
November 16, 2013
Everybody has decided to eat like a restaurant critic. And I'm here to say … stop. You'll get a better meal.
November 9, 2013
After eating at Asador Etxebarri, the extraordinary grill restaurant in the Spanish Basque country, last month, where chef-owner Victor Arguinzoniz works such magic cooking over charcoal that he makes himself, smoke is on my mind. I kept thinking about the different ways it can be used. It can be subtle or overpowering — or barely kissed with smoke, the way some of Arguinzoniz's dishes are. But it can also penetrate deep into a cut of beef, or illuminate the taste and texture of a fish.
November 2, 2013
Italian immigrants were instrumental in founding the California wine industry, yet when winemakers sought to upgrade the image of their wines in the mid-20th century, they followed the then-current fashion and went with French grapes — Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Though perhaps better suited to California's climate, Italian varietals didn't have much cachet at the time and were basically relegated to blends and low-cost jug wines.
October 26, 2013
Name me one person who doesn't occasionally long to wake up, slowly, and amble out to the kitchen for a pancake. But not all of us are blessed with a significant other with serious pancake-making skills. Fortunately, you can find some stellar examples at restaurants around town that are ready to welcome sleepy heads. Add a good cup of coffee and it's not so bad waking up to the world. American comfort food at its best.
October 5, 2013
In California, wine drinkers have the luxury of buying wine at supermarkets, wine retailers, big-box stores and wine bars, and online and directly from wine producers. Sure, you can walk into your local Ralphs or Trader Joe's and grab an inexpensive bottle for dinner. It may be drinkable, may even be good. Or maybe not.
September 28, 2013
At a new restaurant, I check out the bar not so much for the cocktails but to see what the menu is like and take in the scene from a bird's-eye perch. I actually love to eat at the bar, a great choice on the later side, or even the earlier. And it's especially good if you're dining alone. But it also works for two — and, at a push, three, as long as you can get a spot at the corner of the bar where it's easier to talk. You can start with a drink and then move on to a dish or two, whatever you feel like, no rules. At some restaurants, the bar menu is basically snacks. But others put some effort into the special menu, encouraging even regulars to drop in on nights when they're not ready for the commitment of a full tasting menu. Here are some worthy contenders.
September 21, 2013
Cider is having a moment. No longer a frumpy American Colonial beverage, it is becoming the surprise ingénue on the beverage scene.
September 14, 2013
At a late August dinner party, one of the dishes was sweet corn with fresh mint and lime. I could have eaten the whole bowl myself. And at home, we've been making corn chowder for supper. I know, I know. The season is almost over. Sweet corn ice cream just slipped off the menu at Sweet Rose Creamery. But chefs around town are still playing with their corn, at least for a couple more weeks. So if you haven't had your fill this summer, now's the time before it's really gone for the season.
September 7, 2013
Like cilantro or sea urchin, bottarga is a taste you either love or hate. I was hooked the first time I tasted spaghetti alla bottarga on the island of Sardinia in the Mediterranean. The al dente pasta dressed with fruity olive oil and dusted with amber-gold grated bottarga tasted like summer on a plate. And I loved the cured mullet roe's sharp, briny funk.
August 31, 2013
At this point, it's hard to imagine Californian and Mediterranean cuisines without tomatoes. But that was the case until the tomato plant was discovered in Mexico by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century, and from there it disseminated to the rest of the Americas and the Mediterranean. In some climates, New Jersey, say, the tomato season is short. Not so in Southern California. We'll be enjoying our heirlooms and beefsteaks well into November. Right now, the season is at its height, and tomatoes play star roles on menus, from the BLT to haute cuisine.
August 24, 2013
When the thermometer goes up, it's time for crisp summer whites to step out.
August 10, 2013
No matter the occasion, my friend Rafael inevitably shows up with a platter of prosciutto di San Daniele, the sweeter cousin of Parma ham, that he's purchased at Roma Deli in Pasadena. It's always perfectly sliced, the way they do it in Italy, so thin the ham almost melts on the tongue and you can taste every bit of its salty-sweet goodness.
June 29, 2013
Richard Geoffroy has been the chef de cave for the prestige French Champagne Dom Pérignon for more than two decades. But he's far from the sedate cellar master you'd expect, especially when it comes to matching the famous wine with food. Instead of waxing poetic over caviar or black truffles, his tastes run to black mole as well as Japanese kaiseki and Chinese regional cuisine.
3:45 PM PDT, May 29, 2013
June 1, 2013
Give me a wine list, I know what to do. But confronted with a list of unfamiliar craft beers, whether I ask for advice or just randomly pick for myself, too often I end up with something too fruity or too hoppy or over-the-top. That's because, in terms of beer, I'm a novice, unfamiliar even with the vocabulary used to describe the brews and unable to convincingly convey what it is I do like.
May 18, 2013
Périgord, France, many years ago:
April 6, 2013
Ever since I picked up my first Elizabeth David book, I've been enamored of her prose recipe style. And by that I mean recipes written in a minimalist way, not in numbered steps, almost as a narrative. No long reel of ingredients. A few sentences or paragraphs. That's it.
April 20, 2013
Who wouldn't say yes? When the dean of the professional cooking school where I'd enrolled many years ago as a special student in wine realized he wouldn't have the time to tutor me, he proposed something else: studying in Paris. "There's a professional program given through the French Restaurant Union for junior sommeliers already working in Michelin-starred restaurants," he told me. "You speak French, right? I'll transfer your tuition money there. It starts in two months."
March 23, 2013
How did Jeff Morgan morph from a nice Jewish boy from New York into a sax player and bandleader in sequined tuxedo, then into one of the leading wine journalists in the United States, and finally into a kosher wine maker in the Napa Valley? And one who makes not just any kosher wines but a Cabernet Sauvignon that garners big points and can easily hold its own against the big boys' Napa Valley Cabs?
February 9, 2013
In L.A., grocery shopping is an extreme sport. Weekly, I threaten my husband that I'm going to start keeping a log detailing how many miles and how much time I spend shopping. I can tell you right now the carbon footprint is not pretty.
January 12, 2013
I'm not one to make a gazillion New Year's resolutions. I've faltered too many times. Exercise every day? Up at 5:30 every morning to write or swim? Less time in front of the computer? Probably not going to happen. But it always takes a while for reality to kick in.
December 15, 2012
You can use your iPhone or iPad to watch movies, listen to music, text and surf the Internet. But special, surprisingly inexpensive apps make them nifty environments for learning or upgrading cooking skills.
November 3, 2012
Here's the problem: "I'm a wine lover," says Hans Reisetbauer, spreading his hands for emphasis. But he was unlucky enough to be raised in upper Austria, too far north to grow grapes. The son of a farmer, at school he studied agriculture, but normal farming, like wheat or corn, didn't interest him much. So when Reisetbauer took over the family farm, he thought he'd try planting some old varieties of apple trees and selling the fruit. Bad timing: In 1993, his first harvest, the apple crop in Austria was huge and prices were paltry.
September 22, 2012
Don't ask me how it happened. I can't tell you. But certainly these elements came into play: planning too far ahead, not writing things down, friends finally getting back to us with the one possible date they could come for dinner in months, visitors in town for just one night.
September 1, 2012
I remember the stories -- L.A. chefs renting fast cars and and doing a Michelin three-star restaurant blitz through France. Ten restaurants in five days. Wallowing in foie gras, truffles, baby lamb, Brittany lobsters and newborn vegetables. Not to mention the phenomenal wines that the merry bunch put away at considerable expense. It was indulgence and luxe all the way. Posh country hotels and on occasion the Ritz.
April 21, 2012
"Grammel schmalz," says our waiter, setting down a small bowl of pristine whipped white pork fat sprinkled with bits of pork crackling. I lift up the napkin wrapped around the bread and pull out a glossy brown braided pretzel. Breaking off a piece, I spread the bread with the lard. I take a bite and the warm, comforting taste of pure pig fat floods my mouth.
May 19, 2012
At Water Grill, the raw bar rules. Always has. And in downtown Los Angeles, Water Grill is an institution on the order of Tadich Grill in San Francisco (though not nearly as old). I don't know what it is about being away from home, but it seems to bring out a craving for seafood. Conventioneers and tourists staying in hotels downtown zero in on this long-established restaurant to slurp oysters, crack crab legs and generally make merry.
January 26, 2012
The sign is easily visible as you drive north on Fairfax toward 3rd Street and the original Farmers Market, the name Short Order spelled out in cheerful green neon. Great name, great concept: a burger joint with frills, including a full bar, fresh-baked cookies, a retro soundtrack and, upstairs, a sweet little outdoor terrace.
May 5, 2012
It's been years since Alto Palato closed, yet I can't drive down La Cienega past STK steakhouse without remembering the late Mauro Vincenti's last restaurant. I still see Vincenti in a cashmere golf sweater fussing over details. Danilo Terribili choosing the wines and running the dining room. Fredy Escobar in the kitchen. And Gino Rindone (now a manager at Angelini Osteria) manning the espresso machine and turning out authentic gelato.
June 16, 2012
No reservations. Loud. A gastropub from the Counter owner Jeff Weinstein and a consulting chef known for his vegetarian cooking. In theory, Freddy Smalls didn't sound all that appealing. Plus, it is small, making it almost a guarantee that you're going to have to wait, except on an especially slow night. And my dining crew is generally more impatient than I am.
March 10, 2012
With the new Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air, the Austrian chef who, along with Alice Waters, begat California cuisine, has finally achieved a quintessentially Californian restaurant, one with a legendary outdoor terrace in a verdant setting with swans gliding through ponds and enormous old trees overhanging walkways and tumbling streams.
February 23, 2012
When food lovers head to Paris these days, the savvier bypass the Michelin-starred restaurants entirely and seek out the small, sometimes funky bistros where passionate young cooks are turning out wonderful food at affordable prices. Spaces — and kitchens — are often tiny, menus small and changeable. And the wine list may simply be a collection of bottles lined up on shelves. Many come from small or obscure producers who believe in natural (biodynamic, organic) winemaking. A copy of Alice Feiring's "Naked Wine" translated into French might be propped against a bottle of Chinon or Burgundy.
December 8, 2011
The women — in twos and threes and sixes — are on a mission. Spot Michael Voltaggio, the famously tattooed winner of Season 6 of Bravo's "Top Chef." They linger at the door, waiting, hoping for a seat or a table.
February 9, 2012
Navigating downtown is — there's no getting around it — tough. Even though I work there, I can never remember which one-way streets go which way. You can turn a corner and suddenly find yourself in the middle of Downtown Art Walk, with sidewalks teeming with thousands of pedestrians, or just as easily find yourself on a deserted avenue, shops closed up tight. The scene switches moods — active, lonely, thriving, haunted — from block to block and street to street.
June 23, 2011
Third Street is on its way to becoming the latest restaurant row with a slew of openings slated for the next few months. Already open, a second restaurant from Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo of Animal in the old Cynthia's space just east of Orlando Avenue. It's called Son of a Gun and like Animal, their meat-centric first restaurant, you're not going to forget the name or wonder how to spell it.
December 22, 2011
Five years after Pizzeria Mozza opened on Highland Avenue and Melrose Boulevard, it's still one of the toughest reservations in town. And while the pace of new pizzeria openings, inspired by Mozza's success, has picked up, no other pizzeria so far has put it all together in such an alluring package.
October 20, 2011
Monday nights at Vincenti, the Brentwood Italian's chef (and now partner) Nicola Mastronardi turns out some terrific pizzas in addition to the regular menu. I remember some of his pies with great fondness. But Mastronardi has branched out to open the smart Pizzeria il Fico on Robertson Boulevard. That's good news for fans who now don't have to wait for Mondays but can slip in at any lunch or dinner for "La Diavola," spiked with spicy housemade pork sausage, or a pizza topped with grilled chopped vegetables.
November 24, 2011
The Strand House in Manhattan Beach commands an enviable position at the edge of the ocean-side town overlooking the pier. No accident, since owner Michael Zislis is already a big presence here with his Shade Hotel and a number of casual restaurants, including Mucho, Brewco and Rock 'n Fish.
June 16, 2011
On an early summer night, I'm enjoying sitting at a sidewalk table taking in the street action in front of the Spice Table, a 3-month-old Vietnamese-Singaporean restaurant in Little Tokyo. People are walking by, rushing past on their way inside or to some other spot in the neighborhood. A breeze ruffles the edge of the paper menu. Downtown's skyscrapers light up the sky. The vibe is relaxed and festive. How can it not be when spice, chile and fish sauce are calling?
October 6, 2011
At L'Epicerie Market in Culver City, the escargots arrive in a small heap on the plate, not served in the usual shells but napped in a silky white wine sauce with ribbons of ham and velvety leaves of sautéed spinach. The dish is escargots in the style of Périgord in southwest France, and the flavors just sing.
September 22, 2011
If you've ever enjoyed a baked potato or an order of French fries, you have Peru to thank. Of course, we all learned in school that the potato came from Peru and that people there enjoy a gazillion different varieties. Anything more about Peruvian cuisine, though, and most people would draw a blank.
September 8, 2011
In Venice, Italy, friends who've met in the street will go off to drink un ombra, slang for a small glass of wine. That's the name of a new Italian restaurant that opened quietly a few months ago in Studio City. Chef-owner Michael J. Young is crazy enough about wine that he's taken courses at UCLA to learn more about it. He also picked up a lot about Italian wine working as sous chef under Angelo Auriana at Valentino way back when and with Celestino Drago at Drago Santa Monica. He also worked in Parma, Italy, at one point, which must be where he picked up his pasta-making skills.
August 11, 2011
Beneath an old diving helmet straight out of Jules Verne, a couple seated at a corner of the raw bar feed each other oysters, clams, bites of lobster. They eat slowly, luxuriously, between sips of wine. He whispers in her ear. She laughs and pops a shrimp in her mouth. Behind the bar, a cook deftly shucks oysters, tucks a little more ice around a lipstick-red lobster and slides a plate of peel 'n' eat shrimp over to a guy at the other end of the bar.
June 30, 2011
The Test Kitchen — that temporary restaurant with a rotating roster of chefs — is no more, but in its place we get Sotto, a new Italian restaurant from Steve Samson and partner Zach Pollack. And it's ample compensation. The name means "under" or "beneath," and that's literally where it is, down a few steps from Pico Boulevard, in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, beneath Ricardo Zarate's even newer Picca.
May 26, 2011
On the plate, a wide-eyed Malcolm McDowell stares up at me from beneath his bowler. It's a bit disconcerting to find the violent figure from "A Clockwork Orange" sharing space with seared day-boat scallops at Playa. On another plate, squash blossom tempura is framed by another scene from the brilliant (and creepy) film.
May 5, 2011
It's usually the other way around. A high-end chef goes downscale for his or her flagship restaurant's spinoff. Think bistro, cafe or burger spot. But Sang Yoon, chef-owner of the phenomenally successful Father's Office, forges his own path. He's gone from a modest bar with food to an elegant but still casual Asian restaurant, possibly the most anticipated of the season's openings.
June 9, 2011
Restaurants with a view usually come in two varieties: landscape or cityscape. The new Ray's and Stark Bar at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art have a view. But it's not the ocean or the city lights spread on a starry carpet below. Instead, the new museum restaurant revels in a wide, sweeping view of the Resnick Exhibition Pavilion designed by Renzo Piano. In other words, great architecture.
May 12, 2011
Every time I'm in London, I somehow manage to find an excuse to eat at St. John Bar & Restaurant. That's a wonderful rustic restaurant for die-hard carnivores in northwest London from Fergus Henderson, author of the quirky but important cookbook "Nose to Tail Eating." I didn't go there this time, but that was only because Henderson and business partner Trevor Gulliver had just opened St. John Hotel on Leicester Square in the West End and I wanted to eat there.
6:05 PM PDT, March 15, 2011
Inviting Italians who live here to come out to an Italian restaurant can be a daunting prospect, at least when we're talking those who can cook, and cook well. They have very specific ideas about how things should be done and don't suffer indifferent or lazy food easily. Believe me, you don't want your guests complaining that they would have eaten better at home.
April 14, 2011
I've been going back and forth with myself on this one: one star, half a star? How do you rate a restaurant where the service is as crisp and professional as it gets, where everybody is made to feel welcome and special, where the crowd is a dizzyingly weird mix of aging rockers, minor stars, industry moguls, leggy blonds and some genuine high-wattage figures? Where the retro setting feels like a cross between Musso & Frank and Dan Tana's, but more elegant. Where the room has a happy buzz and even on a weeknight, it feels like a big night in the city. But — and it's a very big but — the food is mostly mediocre.
June 2, 2011
Is there a more stunning hotel lobby than the one at the iconic Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel? With its heavy painted beams, chic leather daybeds and grand proportions, it exudes old Hollywood glamour. A stately hush hovers over the vast room, and most of the time it's quiet enough to talk, a perfect place to meet for a drink after a film at the American Cinematheque.
May 19, 2011
At the Lazy Ox Canteen on the edge of Little Tokyo, the happy clamor of downtown denizens tucking into chef Josef Centeno's Ox burgers, crispy pig's ears and brick-roasted mussels leaks out the door into the street. But Lazy Ox is no longer the only restaurant on the block. Next door is a second restaurant from Centeno's partner Michael Cardenas. By day, Cardenas is still an integral part of Innovative Dining Group (IDG), founders of Sushi Roku, BOA and more. By night, he's the force behind Aburiya Toranoko, the onetime Matsuhisa general manager's take on izakaya, or Japanese pub food, one with a distinctly urban, hip-hop vibe.
12:00 AM PST, March 3, 2011
Chefs seem to be caught playing musical chairs more than usual lately, so much so that it's hard to keep up on all the moves. In mid-November, Ben Bailly, the baby-faced French chef at Petrossian, grabbed the head chef job at Fraîche in Culver City, making way for Giselle Wellman to move from Bouchon to Petrossian. Meanwhile, Fraîche's original chef, the hardworking Jason Travi, has been gone for over a year. Right now he's over at Firefly tweaking the Studio City restaurant's menu (and feeding frequent diner, the great Lucinda Williams).
April 21, 2011
I used to know a guy who would drive up to Santa Barbara just for the afternoon to visit with an old man he respected. I couldn't believe it. In my mind's eye, the Central Coast city seemed much farther than a couple of hours away. Yet it's really not much farther than some unlucky souls' daily commute.
March 10, 2011
Keep the fat lady waiting in the wings. It's not over yet. Fine dining, I mean, and the new Royce at the Langham Huntington is proof.
March 31, 2011
A stone's throw from the mega-mall South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, a short ride down Bristol, you'll find the Camp, an "alternative" mall on the order of the nearby Lab. It's a quirky place, with buildings set askew along a winding footpath and even a petite silver Airstream wedged in there like something left over from a hippie encampment. A soundscape of chirping frogs, birds and running water emanates from concealed speakers among the rocks. To add to the corporate grooviness, fire pits, outdoor tables and hammocks are dotted about the property.
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