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Trois Mec, Orsa & Winston, Alma and Chi Spacca make best new restaurant list

(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

Can you feel the food world listing?

We’re in the season of rankings, ratings and awards. Tuesday brought the International Assn. of Culinary Professionals cookbook nominations, Wednesday the website Daily Meal’s list of 101 best restaurants in the U.S. and – coincidentally – the James Beard Foundation’s first round of nominations for its restaurant awards.

Not to be left out, on Thursday up pops GQ magazine restaurant critic Alan Richman’s list of the 25 best new restaurants in the U.S., and Los Angeles is well-represented.

In fact, No. 2 on the list (behind only Paul Qui’s eponymous restaurant in Austin), is Trois Mec, the joint effort of pop-up king Ludo Lefebvre and the Animal guys, Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook.

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“Trois Mec is the toughest ticket in a town where a lot of places are that way,” Richman writes. “It seems like a pop-up, which Lefebvre knows how to do better than anybody else, but inside, the place promises permanence.”

What to eat? “Nothing you will eat tastes conventional: The “snacks,” which would be called amuse-bouches in a fancier place, are shockingly intense, a wake-up for the meal ahead. The buckwheat popcorn with rice-vinegar powder quickly got my attention, convincing me that the struggle to get in was worth the effort. Later dishes are more delicate — tweezers and squeeze bottles are in sight — but there’s also that grill, where you’ll watch cabbage go up in flames for a dish that includes bone-marrow flan, cured egg, and smoked-almond-milk crème anglaise. His version of raw beef layered with caramelized eggplant and smoky yogurt is really just an extreme play on beef tartare. The end of the meal heralds the arrival of remarkable petits fours, the magic one a mini éclair with hazelnut buttercream and candied chestnut.”

Also in the Top 10, at No. 8, is downtown’s Orsa & Winston. “The wonderfully versatile Josef Centeno, who also operates the sensational Bäco Mercat, offers whatever you might wish — a five-course menu, a nine-course menu, an omakase menu (that word has jumped the language barrier), and what is today the rarest of all dining options, genuine bigness in his family-style meal,” writes Richman.

“He understands how to play with flavors, textures, and contrasts, resulting in masterfully complicated comfort food. Imagine squid-ink spaghettini with Dungeness crab, uni butter, and charred kumquats, a shocking combination, unexpectedly right.”

Another member of downtown’s new wave of great restaurants, Alma, is No. 14. You might remember it was also hailed as the best new restaurant in the country by Bon Appetit in August. Opinions, horse races, etc.

“Taymor, a young chef with all the courage in the world and considerable talent to back it up, serves an idiosyncratic tasting menu, the kind that will both puzzle and thrill you,” Richman continues. “He’s particularly adept with salads and vegetables, my favorite consisting of compressed beets and apples, crushed hazelnuts and malted crème fraiche.”

And at No. 20 comes Chi Spacca, the meat-centric sibling in the sprawling Mozza-plex. “There’s meat here, heaps of it, served in primitive portions by chef Chad Colby, who apparently likes people to eat suicidally,” Richman writes. “Even when you think a dish might be light, like the focaccia, you end up with Focaccia di Recco, which is made with soft stracchino and turns out to be less like bread and more like a whole cheese pizza.

“Everything is beyond normal. The Tomahawk pork chop, all 42 ounces including the best rib bones ever conceived, could have fed our entire table and might have, had I not hogged the bones. The beef and bone marrow pie has an unexpectedly flaky crust, a herd of braised beef, and a marrow bone the size of a smokestack sticking out.”

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