L.A. Times restaurant reviews
5:49 PM PST, December 26, 2013
The soup dumpling is practically endemic in the San Gabriel Valley, a fixture on the menu of every restaurant that even pretends to serve Shanghai-style cooking, and at a lot of restaurants that don't. Some Cantonese restaurants feature xiao long bao on their dim sum carts, often cradled in tiny aluminum cart tins as insurance against leakage. (Those XLBs are rarely worth eating.) Half of the other restaurants that serve them are rumored to buy pre-made ones from other kitchens. XLBs are notoriously hard to make well, and online message boards have bristled for decades about the flaws of one version or another. People tend to be passionate about these things.
December 14, 2013
If you dine regularly in Los Angeles' Italian restaurants, you have probably lived through the fresh-pasta wars, the head cheese skirmishes and the incursion of the massive T-bones. We have not yet quite climbed out of the charred rubble of the wood-fired pizza moment, where the mozzarella comes from buffaloes and the thermostat is always set to 800 degrees.
December 7, 2013
State Bird Provisions is probably the most influential restaurant to have opened in the United States last year, a smallish place in San Francisco's Western Addition that supplements the small plates issuing from its open kitchen with even smaller plates served from carts circulating the restaurant, kind of like dim sum. It keeps its customers off-guard — it is difficult to formulate an ordering strategy, so you end up with twice as much food as you had intended to get, which means that the restaurant makes money, its patrons are dazzled by their own spontaneity and everybody is happy. The food is very good.
November 30, 2013
Are we living in the golden age of the California taco? We may be — or at least it can seem as if we are when your tummy's full late on a Saturday night. Nobody finds it odd that Roy Choi, the local chef with the most international attention on him at the moment, became famous making Korean short rib tacos on a truck, nor that Walter Manzke, one of the half-dozen chefs in town capable of running a high-end French kitchen, opened the taquería Petty Cash. Wes Avila, who has cooked with Alain Ducasse, prepares diver scallops and Cook Pigs Ranch pork at his Guerrilla Tacos with the same care he took with those exalted ingredients at Le Comptoir.
November 16, 2013
When I worked at a local alternative weekly in the 1980s, one of the editors instituted an informal ban on the phrase "on acid" in reviews because the locution was clichéd and because it was so hard to figure out what a chocolate mousse on acid might really be like. The foggy psychedelia was far more likely to exist in your mind than it was on the plate.
November 9, 2013
We have talked before about the gentrification of deep downtown, the colorful area familiar from dystopian novels and Tom Waits lyrics that has become the most reliable destination in town for bespoke cocktails, vintage party dresses and monogrammed dog bowls. And among the incongruous and wonderful things to have opened near the newly scrubbed corner of 4th and Main, that former nexus of flophouses and all-night porn theaters, none may stick out more than Zo, the new downtown sister to the Westside's Sushi Zo, which serves $145 omakase tasting menus in a neighborhood that has not completely shrugged off its aura of loosies and cheap wine.
November 2, 2013
If you have spent much time in L.A.'s farmers markets, you have probably run into C.J., Chris Jacobson, an affable chef, tall enough to be an NBA power forward, who seems to know every farmer in town. He worked on the line for a while at the old Campanile, where everybody called him Stretch, and he ran the Yard, a small gastropub in Santa Monica known for its beer list and fish tacos but which he managed to nudge toward fine dining at the end.
October 19, 2013
New restaurants have been opening downtown in impressive numbers this year, important places, many of them, carved out of the grand Beaux-Arts spaces some of us forgot even existed in Los Angeles, fitted with elegant cocktail menus, equipped with culinary pedigrees. People have stopped complaining that all the good new restaurants are on the Westside and started complaining that all the good new restaurants are downtown — and a decade ago not even the most ardent advocate of Historic Core redevelopment could have predicted $150 omakase sushi on Main Street, or refined tasting-menu restaurants, or Italian kitchens finicky about the provenance of their buffalo mozzarella. Even with setbacks like the recent closing of the gastropub Parish, it is clear that valet parking is winning out over the SROs.
October 12, 2013
It is possible to reserve a table at Fishing With Dynamite, I have heard, to make a phone call or to get lucky on Open Table, or to walk into the 33-seat restaurant directly from an afternoon at the beach. You might even catch a sliver of sunset from the not-quite-ocean-view restaurant. If a developer could include a guaranteed seat at the oyster bar in the price of a new beach condo, he or she could probably tack an extra hundred grand onto the price. A glass of Sancerre, a half-dozen Naked Cowboys and blasting Bob Seger may be why you move to Manhattan Beach, or so I dream. The rest of us will have to settle for leaving our names at the door, grabbing a pale ale down the block and sauntering back when the magic hour grows near. There are worse ways to spend a warm Friday evening.
October 5, 2013
Is it fair to judge a new restaurant by one dish? Because as much as I would like to concentrate on the fried cauliflower or delicious crab crostino with lardo at Bucato, the new restaurant from Evan Funke, whom you may remember from his term at Rustic Canyon, I am finding it difficult to move beyond the idea of his version of cacio e pepe, a Roman standard that is nothing more than spaghetti tossed with sheep cheese and a lot of cracked pepper. Cacio e pepe may be both the simplest and most difficult pasta in the Italian repertoire, and from it you can learn almost everything about a cook. I've cooked the dish a hundred times at home, and I think I've gotten it right maybe three or four times.
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
If you follow the restaurant scene in Los Angeles, you have known about Govind Armstrong for years, possibly since he was a teenage cooking prodigy whose mom drove him to stints on the line at the original Spago the way that other moms drive their kids to Little League practice. Or perhaps you know him from his long collaboration with locavore Ben Ford, or from his solo gigs at Table 8 and 8 Oz. Burger Bar. You may have followed Armstrong's short-lived adventure in New York, which wasn't well-received, and his appearances on "Top Chef" and on the list of People magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People.
September 14, 2013
There is the line at Marugame Monzo, curling into the somewhat longer line outside the ramen shop Daikokuya a few feet away. There is cold Asahi on tap and a stunningly good appetizer of tempura-fried chicken skin. The raw, sliced Hokkaido scallops with tiny flying fish roe are delicious. The grilled chicken breast with buttery grated ginger is among the better chicken dishes in Little Tokyo.
September 7, 2013
How do you know you're in a serious restaurant at the moment — a place where the chef ferments his own turnips, keeps a copy of "Modernist Cuisine" by his bedside and dreams of visiting Spain's Mugaritz restaurant?There will probably be a seaweed or two on any given plate, for the color, the crunch and the occasional spark of brininess, and bits of citrus zest will make it into places where you have never tasted citrus before. You will see at least one slow-poached egg, cooked to a perfect near-runniness at 63 degrees Celsius; top-shelf boutique greens that disappear long before you straggle into the farmers market on Wednesday morning; and a couple of flavors snagged from the bartender's cache.
August 3, 2013
If you follow the peregrinations of local Chinese kitchens, you've probably been hearing a bit about Chengdu Taste lately, a new restaurant specializing in the dishes of its namesake city that was pretty much acclaimed as the best Sichuan restaurant in town from the first days of its opening.
August 17, 2013
Michael Cimarusti is the chef of Providence, the modernist French-Asian restaurant that is often considered the finest kitchen in L.A. He can do things with sea urchin, Santa Barbara spot prawns and Japanese sea bream that occasionally cause reactions I probably can't describe in a family newspaper. So it is important to note that Connie and Ted's, already one of the toughest reservations in town, is neither a chefly interpretation of a Rhode Island clam shack nor a fantasia on the theme of New England seafood.
July 27, 2013
The taco is a perfect expression of time and place, varying in method and composition from region to region of not just Mexico but also Los Angeles, delicious in even mediocre incarnations, cheap enough for everybody to enjoy but violently flavored enough to feel a bit transgressive.
July 20, 2013
Paiche are enormous. Paiche have teeth on their tongues. Paiche, living fossils barely evolved since the Miocene epoch, have lungs and breathe air, which is pretty unusual for fish. Paiche are also easy to catch, a problem even in the sparsely populated Upper Amazon, where, despite laws against commercial fishing, they are becoming rare.
July 13, 2013
Critics of California kitchens, usually East Coast guys trained in the complexities of classic French cuisine, have been known to describe what local chefs do as more assemblage than cooking, as nothing more than arranging superb local produce in Instagram-friendly arrays. Momofuku's David Chang once joked that San Francisco cuisine was a fig on a plate. Bay Area chef David Tanis once wrote a cookbook — a great cookbook — actually called "A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes." And to some extent, the stereotype is true: When a chef can get something like a Weiser melon or a bunch of Coleman arugula at the farmers market, his or her first duty is to get it to the table without messing it up too much.
2:27 PM PDT, July 5, 2013
If you were obsessed with the Kimchi Spam Bowl, and dismayed when the original Chego, the one in Palms, closed a few months ago, then you were probably all over the news that the new Chego 2.0, Roy Choi's rice bowl joint, has been transplanted into a faded walking mall, behind Ocean Seafood in downtown's Chinatown. Chego is all blasting reggae, sticky picnic tables in the courtyard, and frothing seas of Sriracha sauce that leave few dishes, including desserts, unscathed. A Chego banner, big as any Communist-era wall banner, is draped down the side of the building.
June 22, 2013
Michael Pollan may have spent a zillion pages examining the smoked whole hogs at North Carolina's creaky Skylight Inn in "Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation," and the legend of Kansas City's Arthur Bryant's is eternal, but the real story in barbecue in the last several years has been the gentrification of the genre: spareribs and long-smoked brisket repositioned as totems of the artisanal food movement. Before, barbecue's visionaries were the cranky old dudes poking logs at 4 a.m. At the moment, they tend to be youngish bearded guys with Twitter accounts and a taste for craft beer, carving their reputations out of pork shoulder and clod.
June 15, 2013
Protip: You can tell a lot about a dude from the way he eats buckwheat "popcorn," the crunchy fried grain that tends to show up before the meal at Trois Mec, the new restaurant from Ludovic Lefebvre. The more primitive members of the species worm their fingers into the tiny cup like apes hunting for grubs in a rotten log, scooping out a grain or two and licking them off of their salty fingertips. More advanced specimens pick up the vessel and tap out a few at a time to chew in contemplation. The most impulsive pour them all into their palms and shotgun them in a buttery, vinegary, ultra-crunchy mouthful, intense enough to overpower the dribble of delicately fig-scented Lillet that has been set down as an aperitif.
June 1, 2013
When the first AOC opened a decade ago, nobody quite knew what to make of the place, a wine bar near the original Farmers Market that seemed to specialize in cured meats, salads and lots of tiny dishes that reflected the flavors of coastal Italy and Provence, but also Spain and North Africa. We were younger then, and as much as we respected chef Suzanne Goin, who was moonlighting from her restaurant Lucques, neither harissa nor the herby marinade chermoula were quite in our vocabularies yet.
May 11, 2013
Angelini Osteria is almost everyone's favorite Italian restaurant in midtown: an informal room with well-designed trattoria cooking, a place to settle into for a plate of bombolotti or a Sunday saltimbocca, where whatever diet you happen to be on at the time will be accommodated without a fuss. Some nights, it feels as if everybody in the room knows one another, but you're in on the party too. You drink well, you eat well and you go home. A lot of chefs have come out of that kitchen, including Ori Menashe of Bestia.
April 20, 2013
"Corazón y miel," your waitress wants it to be known, is the signature dish of Corazón y Miel. Corazón y miel, hearts and honey, is a small bowl of warm, seared chicken hearts in a sweet, honeyed vinaigrette, tossed with a few slivers of onion, like a chicken heart escabeche. The grayish hearts look a little gnarly, organy, probably more than you want to be dealing with before your third margarita.
March 16, 2013
Counter Intelligence: Jonathan Gold | L.A. restaurant review: Littlefork takes a big-eats turn north
Across the street from the Hollywood post office, a few short blocks from the 1930s complex that calls itself Crossroads of the World, Littlefork is an improbably rustic roadhouse in the middle of old Hollywood — a spare tavern, a slash of neon scrawl and a slender apron of parking lot you could imagine filling up with Packards instead of Lexus hybrids.
March 9, 2013
When you tell somebody about a Hunan restaurant, always begin with the steamed fish head. The fish head will be large, probably from an enormous carp or similar freshwater species, thus comical, and it will be frosted with the chopped blend of dried, fresh and fermented chiles that give Hunanese cooking its reputation for head-snapping heat.
March 2, 2013
Hinoki is a fragrant cypress most Japanese associate with extremely expensive bathtubs, popular with the wealthy because the wood is used to build the soaking tubs at onsen, Japanese hot springs. Hinoki wood is also used to build the counters of the most prestigious sushi bars; long, smooth planks that are sanded every day and given weekly baths of milk.
February 23, 2013
The first thing anybody is going to tell you about the Hart & the Hunter, the restaurant in the new Fairfax District Palihotel, is that you should get the biscuits, which come four to an order and are served on a board. And you should get the biscuits, which are really pretty extraordinary, as light and delicate as the angel biscuits you sometimes find in the best Southern households, but also flaky at the extremities, and layered — they naturally separate into two or three finger-burning strata, which you are going to need if you want to butter them properly.
February 16, 2013
California rarely feels more like California than it does from a window seat at the new Hostaria del Piccolo in Venice, where life's great pageant rolls by. Graying tax attorneys cruise by on Rollerblades, women toss yoga mats into the back of their Porsches and handsome young families roll by on their bicycles as serenely as if they were ducks. As you regard the glass of wine in front of you, you may contemplate a Westside drinking game, doing shots of on-tap Merlot every time you spot a dude with interesting facial hair, a knit cap, tie-dye and a skateboard; hear a distant drum circle; or smell a clove cigarette.
February 9, 2013
Le Ka is one of those difficult places to figure out, not because the cooking isn't good — it is, very — but because in the narrative of Le Ka, food seems like such a secondary thing. To get to the restaurant, you leave your car with a valet in an underground garage, hike back up the ramp (the elevator goes nowhere near where you want to be) and walk around the corner, passing two or three false entrances you may try to access, finally ending up in a dim vestibule that is far grander than you may imagine it to be.
January 26, 2013
What you think about Cortez is going to depend in large part on what you think about crowds, and noise, and screechy jazz, about well-meaning servers who are slightly impatient with the idea of service, and about spending most of an hour leaning up against a shoe box-narrow windowsill waiting for a seat to open up.
January 19, 2013
When you talk to Texas expatriates about the food they miss most from home, after a few grumbly sentences about Los Angeles chili, and barbecue, and coffee-shop chicken-fried steak, it comes down to the queso every time. I am not one of those writers who harps on authenticity, and when I have a shot or two of tequila in me, I can even admit the merits of Tex-Mex as a regional Mexican cuisine. Migas, the spicy Tex-Mex equivalent of chilaquiles, are among the greatest breakfast foods ever invented. My favorite cooking video ever is the clip of Texas director Robert Rodriguez making his breakfast tacos: "Get those flour tortillas, the ones you usually find at the store … and throw them in the trash."
January 12, 2013
If you want to understand Bestia, you should probably take a look at the cassoeula, a version of a traditional cabbage stew popular in Milan.
December 29, 2012
Have you ever had the bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich at the new Storefront Deli in Los Feliz? Because that sandwich, less made from scratch than reverse-engineered from a meat lover's fondest late-summer daydreams, is at the heart of one of the strongest culinary movements in the country at the moment: the radical reinvention of everyday dishes by deconstructing them and rebuilding them to the tiniest detail.
December 22, 2012
The first responsibility of any great restaurant is to keep you in the bubble, the soft-serve cocoon of illusion where you forget the world exists for anything but your pleasure. And the newly redesigned Spago, from the moment you toss your keys to the valet to the moment you stagger back out again, gives good bubble.
December 8, 2012
If you had asked an observer a few years ago whether the future of dining in Los Angeles was more likely to be influenced by its mobile restaurants or its pop-ups, the money would have been on the trucks. Food trucks seemed to draw from everything about L.A. in 2010 — mobility, multiculturalism, social-media compulsion and the ceaseless drive toward novelty. The food truck culture rewards the short attention span. It rewards it with kimchi cheesesteaks.
December 1, 2012
Let's say that a correspondent has asked if you have been to the new Wuhan restaurant in San Gabriel, and let's say that you answer him, to save face, with the Internet equivalent of a smile and a nod. It is easy enough to find this restaurant — a quick Google search turns up a Facebook page, a post on a friend's blog and a Chowhound post by your correspondent, the San Gabriel Valley spicy-food maven Jim Thurman, whom I suspect has been the first customer at more than one Rosemead dan dan mian establishment. It is easy enough to find the restaurant, Tasty Dining, which is in a strip mall you have been frequenting since the 1990s, in a space you remember as a boba parlor.
November 24, 2012
We are second to none in our admiration for pie, which, at its best, marries homeyness with elegance. It is the great American dessert. But we don't make it athomenearly as often as we should, because the crust, at least the right crust, is kind of a pain. This is why we love ordering pie in restaurants — somebody else has done the rolling and the chilling, worried about the correct shortening and performed the rituals of blind baking that too often leave us with burnt or shrunken dough.
November 10, 2012
Meet Kang Ho-dong. Kang Ho-dong is a South Korean celebrity, a former wrestler turned TV personality whose ubiquity on Korean television approaches what you might get if you added Ryan Seacrest's TV appearances to those of Charlie Sheen's. Last year, before his career was briefly interrupted by accusations of tax evasion, since tossed out of court, Kang starred in four prime-time shows: three variety hours, plus a reality show that combined travelogue with aspects of "Celebrity Rehab."
November 3, 2012
It is 10 in the evening, West Hollywood has just begun to ramp up into the night and three dozen people are lined up outside Laurel Hardware, the fashionable restaurant of the moment. It is the weekend before Halloween, which means bits of the usual sorts of costumes are on the boulevard: size 13 heels and ragged scraps of lace, kitten ears and satin bow ties. A woman saunters up to the restaurant, bouffant freshly blond, wrapped in what looks like a replica of a Mead three-ring notebook. A few paces closer to the door is a redhead also wearing Staples' finest. The blond glares. The redhead shrugs. A moment later they are together in the line, two binders full of women talking and giggling.
October 27, 2012
Have you been to Tom Bergin's Tavern lately? No — not Molly Malone's, the pub with the bands; the other one on Fairfax, a few blocks south, with the Irish coffee and the old Bing Crosby vibe. Bergin's has been a fascinating place since Brandon Boudet took it over last summer, partly because you're unsure whether you have fallen prey to an elaborate put-on or whether you really have stepped back into Raymond Chandler's L.A., whether the names of the paper shamrocks still stapled to the ceiling are of authentic provenance and whether the dinginess of the barroom is real.
October 20, 2012
When I am trying to explain the concept of modernist cooking to a friend who has experienced neither encapsulated olives nor edible menus printed with organic ink, I sometimes bring up the burgers concocted by Nathan Myhrvold, a software pioneer who has lately diversified into maximum-tech cooking, among other things. His recipe, which appears in his 2,400-page opus, "Modernist Cuisine," involves sous-vide, liquid nitrogen, a deep-fat fryer and homemade processed cheese, and is not much less complex, I suspect, than the directions for rebuilding a Porsche.
October 13, 2012
Are you a connoisseur of agony? Then drop by Starry Kitchen for a bite some evening, somewhere around 9 p.m. if you can swing it, and listen to the customers who have been denied a shot at the Singaporean chili crab. They will be muttering imprecations when they think the staff is out of listening range, grinding teeth, staring up at the glittering pastels of the high ceiling as if they expect a unicorn to flutter down from the rafters with a sackful of British Columbia's finest culinary export.
October 6, 2012
If you were to invent a restaurant whose specialties include a cauliflower T-bone, you probably couldn't do any better than Superba Snack Bar. It occupies what looks like a corrugated shoe box sliced open at one end, a giant version of the dioramas you may have constructed for social studies in fourth grade. Superba is at the heart of its Rose Avenue neighborhood in a stretch of Venice Beach where the fixed-gear bicycles outnumber cars some afternoons and even the elderly seem acquainted with kombucha and Lululemon.
September 22, 2012
In Los Angeles, your next great meal could be anywhere, from a pop-up installed in an art gallery to the truck parked outside the place where you get coffee in the morning. If you've been here awhile, you almost expect your bliss to come from that place in the mini-mall next to the dry cleaners.
September 8, 2012
Sang Yoon started the no-substitutions or modifications trope at Father's Office, I think, where he refused to serve his notorious hamburger without blue cheese or countenance ketchup on his fries. Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook turned it into an aesthetic at Animal; you ate their pig's ears and oxtail loco moco their way or you didn't eat it at all. The chefs at sushi bars like Nozawa and Hiko famously threw patrons out of their restaurants when they asked for spicy tuna rolls, and I have no idea what Jordan Kahn at Red Medicine might do if a table asked for the sauce on the side.
August 25, 2012
When you are standing in line to order at Sycamore Kitchen, the new breakfast-lunch place in the La Brea design corridor, you are going to be distracted by the bakery counter, which stretches on for yards. Because in addition to the chocolate croissants and gluten-free muffins you might expect at a cafe in this part of town, there are all kinds of French pastries that you don't often see around here: the almond-scented brioche slice called bostock, and the puckered Breton butter pastry kouign amann, the blueberry financier, and walnut galettes that shatter into powder if you so much as look at them harshly. Other bakeries have cinnamon rolls. Sycamore Kitchen has cinnamon babka, a pastry so compelling that a "Seinfeld" subplot was devoted to it.
August 19, 2012
My first restaurant column for The Times, written when I was still a music writer who answered his phone "Guns N' Rosesdesk," was about the concept of single-dish restaurants, places like Lawry's, Shiro and Philippe, whose menus may be as long as a remix of "November Rain" but which might as well serve just the one thing they are famous for. I was writing then about El Parian in the Pico-Union district, still the best place to go in Los Angeles for a bowl of Jalisco-style birria, but the single-dish principle is universal. As a waiter at the original Palm was once reported to have said, "Sure, I'll bring you a menu. But first, tell me how you'd like us to cook your steak."
August 4, 2012
To understand Red Hill, Jason Michaud and Trevor Rocco's newish place in a converted Chinese bakery just north of Sunset, you could do worse than to look at the bread-and-butter plate, a once-free nicety that has evolved into an item of competition in L.A.'s new surge of small-plates restaurants.
July 28, 2012
When friends tell you about Next Door by Josie, the first thing they mention is the popcorn. And the popcorn's pretty good — a small pail of caramelized crunch, lightly flavored with beer and bacon grease, neither as Cracker Jack-esque as the bacon popcorn at Tar & Roses nor as spicy as the cashews with caramelized bacon at Freddy Smalls.
July 21, 2012
Have you been to the new Mo-Chica? Ricardo Zarate's Peruvian restaurant seems to define the downtown thing at the moment: It's a high-style warren on 7th Street, down the block from Bottega Louie, where the scene is as important as the drinks, and the drinks are as vital as the food.
9:42 AM PDT, July 6, 2012
It is toward midnight at the Pikey, the lights are fairly low and the Kinks are playing so loudly that you swear you can hear Ray Davies scratching his ears. You are seated beneath one of Ben Watts' photographs of aging Teddy Boys — tattooed Robert Mitchum types in dark, bespoke suits, and you may be drinking something called a Divine Brown, a peculiar mixture of Ancient Age whiskey and Dr Pepper named for the hooker caught with Hugh Grant just a few blocks from here in Hollywood.
11:01 AM PDT, June 29, 2012
The Santa Monica farmers market is more exotic. The Hollywood market is bigger and the new Altadena market more devoted to tiny organic farms. But the most charming place to buy vegetables in Los Angeles may be the Sunday morning market in the Pacific Palisades, a village street lined with flower merchants and fruit growers and bakers of dense sourdough breads. It's just a bit politer, a bit spiffier than the markets tend to be in town — even the strawberries seem to be arranged into neat rows. A dog-rescue operation sits at one end of the market — children greet the animals almost as if they are at a petting zoo. A cafe on the street is called Mayberry. It is easy to see why it might be.
June 30, 2012
West Third Street used to have such a quirky charm for a neighborhood shopping district. For the past few years, though, glitzy boutiques and boites have displaced some of the old places as it gets a makeover as glamour puss. One welcome — and surprising — newcomer is Gusto, a terrific cozy Italian restaurant from a young chef with the unforgettable name of Victor Casanova.
2:10 PM PDT, June 1, 2012
I'm not sure if it was the influence of some carne asada fries during a recent trip to San Diego or a dinner at Guelaguetza accompanied by a particularly potent dose of mezcal, but I had a dream about mole fries a few weeks ago. It was a rather vivid one, where the potatoes crackled with hot life, tangles of melted cheese stretched into infinity and whorls of ink-black sauce carried with them intimations of the yawning void. It wasn't dinner on that plate — it was a cosmology summarized as a plate of drunk food. I awoke feeling still and small and a little scared.
June 2, 2012
First of all, Black Hogg, the name of the new Silver Lake gastropub, doesn't refer to a heritage pig or even a plain old hog or wild boar. According to the staff, it takes its name from the alternative definition of hogg, which the Oxford English Dictionary says refers to a young sheep, especially "one from the time it ceases to be a lamb until its first shearing"). And there that hogg is, ambiguous in neon outline at the very top of the restaurant's understated sign. A subliminal suggestion to order the buttery lamb burger?
12:23 PM PDT, May 25, 2012
San Sebastian's old town may be the most food-intensive neighborhood in the world, with street after street of pintxos bars and taverns and roaring restaurants, and hundreds of counters heaped with shellfish, hams and roasted meat — the answer to a tapas lover's sweatiest dream. You stumble down the crowded streets of this Basque city, stopping in one bar for its anchovies, another for its famous cuttlefish, another for the delicious spider crabs, washing each down with a glass of cider or thin, acidic Txakolina wine.
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.
12:31 PM PDT, May 11, 2012
Everyone knows that Langer's serves the best pastrami sandwich in town. Guidebooks say so. National magazines say so. The subway disgorges so many Langer's-bound fressers that it has sometimes been called the Pastrami Express. Many of us think Langer's serves the best pastrami sandwiches in the United States and consider any variance from its formula to be something close to heresy.
May 5, 2012
Any discussion of Tar & Roses must begin, as your dinner probably will, with what is probably its simplest appetizer, a concoction of popcorn tossed with brown sugar, lardons and chile, like a bowl of Cracker Jack with chewy cubes of bacon instead of peanuts. (Why can't there be chewy cubes of bacon and peanuts? That is an excellent question.) The popcorn falls solidly into a genre new in Los Angeles cooking, something we may call an elevated bar snack, a staple of the many, many gastropubs that have come to dominate casual dining here over the last couple of years.
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.
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.
April 14, 2012
The first thing you may notice about Rocio's Mole de los Dioses, an immodestly named restaurant not far from the Burbank airport, is the cactus. By this I don't mean that there are potted cactus plants around, or pictures of cactus on the walls, or a blinking neon cactus in the window, but that there is cactus on the plate almost everywhere it is possible for cactus to be. (The restaurant is somehow related to the cactus-intensive tortilleria Nopaltilla next door.)
April 7, 2012
I'm crazy for oysters, always have been. At Hog Island Oysters near Bodega Bay, I've been known to down three or four dozen at a time, all shucked, slowly, by me. Wherever I'm headed, you can be sure I've got the oyster bars mapped out ahead of time. So when news came that a new oyster bar was about to open across from LA Mill in Silver Lake, I was thrilled. Even sweeter, the partners in the new spot are Dustin Lancaster and Matthew Kaner, the duo that brought Los Feliz the quality wine bar Covell. That meant not only oysters, but also, in all likelihood, some seriously interesting wines to go with them.
March 31, 2012
Pininfarina designs Ferraris. Pininfarina designs Maseratis. But on a sleepy Wednesday afternoon in Westwood, the Pininfarina design that is attracting attention is a soda dispenser in the new pizzeria 800 Degrees. Teenagers approach the sleek, glistening slab like apes drawn to the monolith at the beginning of "2001: A Space Odyssey."
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
July 21, 2011
Come summer, mezze, those small dishes drawn from a vast Middle Eastern tradition, are just about the perfect food. The flavors are vivid. Many of them are served at room temperature. No rush. I love this way of eating, a bite here, a bite there, as the conversation ebbs and flows. Plenty of time to savor each bite and pick up the thread of talk, watch the light fade, feel the night. That's the strength of Mezze, the new Middle Eastern restaurant in the former Sona space on La Cienega Boulevard, just north of the Beverly Center.
July 14, 2011
Written on the mirror of the women's bathroom at Café Gratitude, a new raw and vegan restaurant, are the words, "I adore myself and everyone else." The sentiment is part of the positivity campaign that the restaurant has been waging since opening on Larchmont Boulevard and Melrose Avenue five months ago. Even the toilet seat covers are called "awesome covers."
July 7, 2011
The chewy chips at Más Malo will ruin your appetite if you're not careful. Eat one and the blind flirtation of grease and salt on your tongue will cause you to reach for another, and then another. And before you know it you will become a mindless hand-to-basket-to-mouth machine, dipping these intentionally crunchless, deep-fried curiosities into the pillowy depths of the restaurant's housemade guacamole and through the fiery landscape of its five-part salsa flight.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
March 24, 2011
A carload of friends and I are heading west on Ventura Boulevard on the lookout for the Studio City restaurant and lounge Firefly. Where exactly is it? We're scanning the south side of the boulevard for the facade. (I could have found the address and cross street on Google Maps, but that would have been too easy.) It's just past a corner, a bit dark, no sign, I remind everyone. "Oh, you mean the the Chia Pet place?" Chia? I'm thinking a topiary or a lawn. But when we spot the telltale valet umbrella, sure enough, the building is entirely swathed in ivy.
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.
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 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).
February 24, 2011
Until recently, Beechwood on Washington Boulevard at the foot of Abbot Kinney had fallen right off the radar. The Venice restaurant made a splash when it debuted in 2005 with Brooke Williamson and the Brig's David Reiss as partners. As the former chef at Woodside in Brentwood, Williamson was then a hot property and one of the youngest chefs in town.
February 17, 2011
Weekend mornings, I'm usually happy to stay at home reading, listening to music and generally lolling around. No rushing, all the time in the world for simple pleasures. Toast with homemade jam. Freshly brewed coffee. Or there's breakfast with a friend at Petrossian in West Hollywood, where luxury can be as simple as perfect scrambled eggs garnished with caviar. The cappuccino is well made and strong. You can ease into the morning with a Bellini or a lavender mimosa — and also have the best bagel and smoked salmon in town.
February 10, 2011
After dinner, we slip out of the old post office — with its wall of cubbyholes stuffed with faded letters — into the Cornell night. The velvety black sky is spangled with the stars you never see in the city. The night smells of wood fire, pine and horses. It's as if we've slipped through time at the Old Place roadhouse in the folds of the Santa Monica Mountains between Agoura Hills and Malibu.
February 3, 2011
In late 2008, Roy Choi and his buddy and partner Mark Manguera dreamed up the Kogi Korean BBQ truck and harnessed Twitter to send out a block-by-block account of the truck's whereabouts. Kogi's short-rib tacos and kimchi quesadillas went viral, the truck's Korean-Mexican fare so popular that some rabid fans would pay others to wait in line for them.
January 27, 2011
Chaya Brasserie, the 27-year-old French-Japanese restaurant, closed for a week in November to freshen up the interior. And when the doors swung open again, it had a new menu and a new chef. Shigefumi Tachibe, corporate chef of the Chaya Group, which includes Chaya Venice, Chaya Downtown and Chaya San Francisco as well as M Cafe de Chaya, fiddles with the flagship restaurant's menu every few years. This time, though, it wasn't just a tweak but a major reinvention. With the kitchen performing better than ever, it's a good opportunity to rediscover this iconic and understated brasserie.
January 13, 2011
Snap. Snap. Snap. In my mind's eye, I see a layout for a design or architecture magazine. The salvaged wood boards, some silvery and weathered, a few whitewashed, used for the restaurant's exterior. The wide barn doors leading out to the courtyard in front. Rough timbered walls and a wood-clad high-pitched ceiling. Lampshades stitched from baker's linen. Industrial sewing lamps peering out from the walls over banquettes covered in a large-scale striped herringbone.
January 6, 2011
For a long time, Los Angeles chefs had the city to themselves. Outsiders might have turned up for a guest chef turn or two, but never much more than that. But then a couple of years ago that all changed, and Los Angeles was suddenly as attractive as Las Vegas to restaurateurs with satellite restaurants to shop. Fancy that.
December 23, 2010
At Salt's Cure, an endearing new WeHo restaurant, the server brings out a wooden board with a few of the cured and smoked items we've chosen from the day's short printed menu. There's a deep red, thinly sliced duck ham that seems to concentrate the rich slightly gamey taste of the duck breast, and a slab of nicely textured pork liver pâté. And some potted pork, a close relative of rillettes, to spread on house-made crackers.
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