This is the season for wild birds and boar, for elk and all manner of game. Some is flown in from Scotland or Texas or New Zealand. And not every chef or restaurant indulges, so when they do, be ready to take advantage. It's easy to see chefs' fascination with exotic birds and animals. Game's flavor is deep and true. It also takes real skill to cook without drying it out and a keen sense of what flavors to pair with it. And since the supply is sporadic and as certain game comes in out of season, chefs have to be flexible. Guests too. Call ahead to make sure anything you might fancy is on the menu that night.
At Josie Restaurant, French-trained Josie LeBalch grills quail wrapped in bacon over wood and serves the dainty birds with grilled radicchio sweetened with a splash of balsamic vinegar, along with escarole, golden raisins and toasted pine nuts. Texas wild boar comes with heirloom beans and fried rapini, pan-seared North American elk, which she ages herself, with wild rice and a winter fruit and frisée salad. Sometimes she gets in pheasant or even goose. And how can you resist a buffalo burger with Gruyère slipped into the middle and garnished with caramelized onions and mushrooms?
2424 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 581-9888, http://www.josierestaurant.com. Game dishes, $28 to $46.
For years, come game season, Joachim Splichal pulled out all the stops, making his long running Cal-French restaurant the place for winter's grand bouffe. Chef Charles Olalia continues the sumptuous tradition downtown at Disney Hall wood pigeon en crépinette with pig's head and
Walt Disney Concert Hall, 141 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 972-3331, http://www.patinarestaurant.com. Game dishes, $48 to $65.
Saddle Peak Lodge
This old stone and timber hunting lodge in the Santa Monica Mountains is the perfect setting to feast on the season's game. It's long been a specialty here. Chef Christopher Kufek gets into the spirit with seared venison carpaccio with horseradish aioli, avocado mousse and grilled ciabatta bread. He's got New Zealand elk tenderloin with brandied cherries and stuffed crimini mushrooms and a grilled buffalo New York with creamed kale and horseradish crème on the menu right now. And he's thinking, lately, about adding wild boar chili with brown butter corn bread.
419 Cold Canyon Road, Calabasas, (818) 222-3888, http://www.saddlepeaklodge.com. Game dishes, $17 to $54.