Critic's Choice restaurants
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.
June 8, 2013
Come summer, I look forward to interleaving slices of mozzarella and basil leaves with slices of the first luscious red tomatoes to make a classic caprese. I'll sometimes toss hot spaghetti with diced mozzarella or bocconcini (those bite-sized balls) and raw chopped tomato for a hot-weather supper. I had a wonderful treat once in Naples, a bowl of bocconcini drizzled with gold green olive oil. I think you get the idea: Mozzarella spells summer, and some of our best Italian restaurants take advantage of imported and local varieties of the milky white cheese.
May 11, 2013
On these beautiful, lazy mornings of late spring, brunch beckons like the promised land. Bring a couple of good friends (or your mom), sit in the sunshine and catch up over a relaxed meal. We're not talking giant buffets but carefully prepared, seasonal dishes. I don't indulge often, but whenever I do, I leave with a feeling of well-being that leaves a glow on the rest of the day.
April 13, 2013
Funny how the chicken has become our most beloved bird. My neighbor is raising some exotic chicks, but even those of us who don't go to that extreme have our own favorite named chickens to buy — Rosie, Rocky, Mary or the more exotically named Jidori. Roast chicken is the go-to dish for every chef I can name. And chicken is a perennial favorite on most restaurant menus — fried, pan-fried, rotisserie-roasted, in tagine, salad, soup, pot pie, curry and every which way. Here are three of my favorite chicken dishes in L.A.
March 30, 2013
Pizza may be the best known and best loved flatbread in the world, but there are plenty more delicious additions to the flatbread canon. Just pick up a copy of Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Daguid's "Flatbreads & Flavors" to learn more. Or head into any Middle Eastern or international market to find an array of locally baked flatbreads, from hand-sized pita to examples easily 2 feet long. Those you have to garnish yourself. Or why not step out and try some fully realized versions at restaurants around town.
March 16, 2013
Remember when you couldn't go to a restaurant without coming across yet another flourless chocolate cake? And when that trend finally passed, the chocolate fashion became precious, over-elaborate tastings of this and that. I'm glad that's finally passé. When something is good, you want more than one bite, no?
March 2, 2013
Is ceviche poised to become as popular as sushi or sashimi in L.A.? It could happen. I'm thinking Ricardo Zarate is onto something as the Peruvian chef (Mo-Chica, Picca) gets ready to open a ceviche concept called Paiche. Raw seafood marinated in lime juice with chiles and cilantro and other elements suits a Southern California palate. It's cool and refreshing, packs in vibrant flavors and is light on the calories.
February 16, 2013
According to my "Grande Enciclopedia Illustrata della Gastronomia," carpaccio is the "celebrated preparation based on raw beef sliced as finely as prosciutto di Parma and variously garnished," and was invented by Giuseppe Cipriani at Harry's Bar in Venice. A regular there, Contessa Amalia Nani Mocenigo (of Venice), was given a strict diet by her doctor. One of the few things she could eat was carne cruda — raw beef. To make her diet less monotonous, Cipriani presented her one day with a dish of finely sliced raw beef scribbled over with a mayonnaise spiked with mustard and a dash of Worcestershire. He named it "carpaccio" after the painter Vittore Carpaccio, whose paintings were showing in Venice at the time. Cipriani was particularly taken with his use of red.
February 2, 2013
Brittany, on the Atlantic coast of France, is famous for its shellfish. The most prized oysters come from Cancale, and the bouchot mussels, just an inch or so long, are tender and sweet. One bowl of those dainty mussels steamed in white wine and shallots turned me into a lifetime mussel lover. Here, Carlsbad Aquafarm in San Diego County sells bags of mussels grown off the California coast at the Hollywood and Santa Monica farmers markets. You can also find some wonderful mussel dishes at restaurants.
January 19, 2013
Some 30 years after Wolfgang Puck introduced a wood-burning oven and his sophisticated pizza at the original Spago, we're enjoying a pizza renaissance. And many of the newer pizzerie and restaurants are turning out pies better than typical neighborhood joints in Italy — and by a long shot. Though Pizzeria Mozza gets the lion's share of attention and remains one of the toughest reservations in town, there are plenty of other chefs making great pies at places that are easier to get into at the spur of the moment — Steve Samson and Zach Pollack at Sotto, Jeff Mahin at Stella Rossa Pizza Bar in Santa Monica, Travis Lett at Gjelina and Gjelina Take Away and Nicola Mastronardi at Pizzeria il Fico. But there are other simpler places to find exceptional pizza too. Here are a few that fly under the radar, but maybe not for long.
January 5, 2013
OK, we've all had our holiday fun and feasting. And somehow another roast turkey or standing rib roast doesn't sound as appealing as it did on Day One or Two or Three. At this point, it's hold the gravy, the rich desserts and the bubbly and get down to basics. Just about now I'm craving a great hot dog with a squirt of mustard and not much else. Here's where to find a few good dogs around town:
December 22, 2012
Maybe it's the nip in the air. Maybe it's the proximity to the holidays, but this time of year I'm craving oysters. And I don't mean a measly half-dozen but a giant iced platter of glistening raw mollusks ready to be slurped down with Champagne or a minerally white wine.
December 8, 2012
I'm always receiving emails or texts from friends needing to know (right away!) where to go for breakfast in this or that neighborhood. The first meal of the day is ideal for catching up with friends or meeting up with a colleague or out-of-town visitor. The hours are elastic. Breakfast can sometimes stretch to afternoon. Many places have outdoor seating, the better to show off our glorious weather to East Coasters. And you can eat very well for a fraction of what it would cost for dinner — and without feeling as if someone is breathing down your neck for your table.
November 24, 2012
It's late November, and only in last few days has the weather cooperated to give us a taste of fall, and with it, a hankering for hearty cold-weather foods. I'm thinking oxtails braised in red wine (which I made this weekend), a steaming bowl of udon, steel-cut oats — and sausages in all their porky goodness. Just imagining the sizzle of the grill gets me hungry. OK, Jody Maroni was selling sausages on the Venice boardwalk for years. But it took two young guys opening Wurstküche in 2008 to usher in L.A.'s current penchant for all things sausage. Now we have Currywurst on Fairfax and Berlin Currywurst in Silver Lake, beer gardens and pubs and food trucks that specialize in rustic sausages, including, of course, the Let's Be Frank truck for dogs made from trimmings of grass-fed beef.
October 27, 2012
When Ben Ford introduced his Ford's Filling Station in 2006, the fledgling gastropub was mobbed. The right idea at the right time: moderately priced comfort food in a rustic, no-frills setting. Big portions and hearty dishes — in other words, fuel. Now we've got gastropubs — a term that originated in London to denote pubs with seriously good food — popping up all over the city. Some, like Bar Marmont in WeHo, Waterloo & City in Culver City and the Parish in downtown L.A., hew to a British model. Others, such as Spanish Fly in Koreatown or the Tripel in Playa del Rey, are more eclectic. But one thing they all have in common is a loose, lively vibe, food made from scratch and not only craft beer but often well-chosen wines and inventive cocktails too. Hours tend to run later than conventional restaurants. Hungry after 10 p.m.? Head to a gastropub.
October 13, 2012
Campanile may have started the trend for family-style meals years ago with festive globe-trotting menus on Monday nights. Now they can be as homey as fried chicken and mashed potatoes at Farmshop or Huckleberry's. Or envisioned as an all-out pig or tomato extravaganza at Mozza's Scuola di Pizza. They all share informal service, dishes served on big platters in the middle of the table, wine, laughter and a relaxed time for all. And who's going to know if you make up your own family from a motley crew of friends and relations?
September 29, 2012
With the economy still not entirely recovered, restaurants — and very good ones at that — are betting on happy hour deals to get customers in the door. I like to call it tapas hour, when you can get small bites and cocktails at attractive prices. It's a great way to continue the conversation with co-workers, meet up with friends before a film or wait out the traffic.
September 15, 2012
Whenever Italian friends come to stay, I've noticed they can go at most three, maybe four days before they can't stand it anymore: They have to have some pasta. If that means cooking it at a campground or beside the road, so be it. This is comfort food at its most basic. And if there's nothing much in the cupboard, well then that's why aglio olio (garlic and olive oil) was invented. Or for that matter cacio e pepe (Pecorino Romano and lots of black pepper). Here are three places to get that pasta fix.
September 1, 2012
How does your garden grow? That's a question that can be posed to a number of restaurants around town. And I'm not just talking old olive oil cans sprouting Genovese basil or flat-leaf Italian parsley. Restaurants are adding giant pots or raised beds wherever they have space. Some are putting in edible landscaping more as poetic ambience than working garden. But others are more ambitious, growing a good portion of the produce and herbs used in their kitchens. And why not? We've got sun. We've got space. And we've also, it turns out, got rooftops.
August 18, 2012
Summertime and the living is easy … that would be the summer prix-fixe market menu. Ease into a chair at a favorite restaurant, and let the chef determine the menu based on summer's bounty. Oh, you might have to make a couple of choices, but that's it. You may not even have to exert yourself to read the menu. Sit back, let the food come, and enjoy.
August 4, 2012
This weather practically demands a picnic. But having the time to make the entire spread is often more dream than reality. That's where some of L.A.'s top restaurants step in with takeout picnics to order. OK, you didn't make everything yourself. Get over it. What's important is being outdoors and spending time with friends and family. Just don't forget the napkins — and real silverware. And especially don't forget the corkscrew.
July 21, 2012
Having a good bakery-cafe in the neighborhood is a quality-of-life issue just as much as having a serious coffee shop or wine bar. Just as young chefs are moving into far-flung neighborhoods to open their own places, bakers who may have been caterers or pastry chefs at high-end restaurants are venturing out on their own too. Three neighborhoods just lucked out with this newish crop of bakery-cafes from some stellar bakers.
July 7, 2012
When Campanile introduced grilled cheese night on Thursdays with then-co-owner Nancy Silverton at the panini press, those casual evenings perked up the dining scene. Sometimes it seemed as if all of L.A. would stop by for her variations on the grilled cheese theme and a festive, bargain-priced meal. And those Thursdays are still going strong.
June 23, 2012
When I was in college, breakfast of toasted bagel, cream cheese and lox eaten with the Sunday paper spread all over the table seemed like a wonderful luxury. Later I discovered the nuances of gum-free cream cheese and the bialys and Nova from Russ & Daughters and Barney Greengrass in New York. (Barney Greengrass has an outpost on the top floor of Barneys New York in Beverly Hills.) Satiny smoked salmon or other fish can be enjoyed other ways as well. Here are a few places to find superior smoked fish in the L.A. area.
June 9, 2012
Who wants to eat lunch inside on these perfect early summer days? A salad is too messy to eat from your lap unless you carry a cleaning kit with you. But a sandwich? That's why it was invented. You could pack your own peanut butter and jelly, but if you want a lesson in the art of sandwich making, try one at any of these three places. I could list a good many more worthy sandwiches — the tarragon chicken salad at Joan's on Third, the egg salad at Clementine, the duck confit báhn mi at Josie Next Door and the simple, perfect jambon beurre at Cookshop in Echo Park. But let's start with these three.
May 26, 2012
I admit, I love my duck. Young and broke and in Paris, I used to save up for the prix fixe menu at a little bistro in the 6th that included canette (female duck) roasted on the spit and floating island for dessert. I count the wild duck my friend Bill cooked 20 years ago as one of the finest things I've ever eaten.
May 12, 2012
Whenever my friend Roberta comes to town, we try to have lunch at Providence on a Friday. That's the only day the Michelin two-star restaurant is open for lunch, in fact. Lunch has a different character than dinner. You tend to talk about different things, maybe because you're more alert at 1 p.m. than at 9. Restaurants are usually less crowded then, so it's quieter. I have a sneaking suspicion that chefs enjoy lunch too, because of that more leisurely pace. I'm not talking about grabbing a sandwich, I mean a meal at a good restaurant.
March 10, 2012
You probably know your barbecue: Bludso's in Compton for meaty beef ribs; sliced brisket from Phillips in Leimert Park; maybe farmers market fixture Bigmista's platter of pulled pork, ribs, brisket and links. But here are a few lesser-known spots to add to your list, in case of goat-barbecue, Korean-Chinese-mutton-skewer or Argentinian-parrillada cravings.
March 1, 2012
I once had a friend in Paris who assiduously followed neighborhood bistros' plats du jour (daily specials) around town. And when I first moved into the arrondissement, he presented me with a scribbled crib sheet of his favorite dishes, which night they were served and, most important, where. For someone very much on a budget, it was a wonderful gift. In Los Angeles, a number of restaurants have a schedule of plates of the day. Sometimes it's printed. Sometimes it's scrawled on a blackboard. And since many of them are real bargains, it's worth making your own chart of dishes and restaurants. If it's Friday, it's stinco (roasted veal shank) at Angelini Osteria, short-rib mole tacos at BLD or whole roasted fish at Comme Ça.
February 9, 2012
Love dumplings? The soupy, Shanghai-style ones filled with juicy pork? Puck-shaped Beijing ones with beef? Pan-fried? Steamed? Boiled? There are Vietnamese dumplings made with rice flour wrappers folded around chunks of sautéed shrimp. Or beefy Lebanese dumplings blanketed with yogurt-garlic sauce. Or hat-shaped Afghan dumplings served with stewed pigeon peas, yogurt and dry mint. If you're on the hunt for dumplings, check out these slingers from recent Find columns.
February 2, 2012
Traffic being the way it is, getting to lunch, having lunch and getting back to where you started can shave hours off the day. In an increasingly harried world, having lunch out (instead of at your desk or in your car) every once in a while has become something very special. But how many times can you go to Langer's for pastrami or Comme Ca for a burger? Here are a few fresh ideas for lunch.
January 26, 2012
Southern California's one big bowl of noodles for anyone who loves Southeast Asia's many incarnations. And we're not just talking about pho and pad Thai. Look to the Central Vietnamese restaurants of Westminster for your fix of mi quang, neon-yellow rice noodles in a curry-like sauce with a party of garnishes, or bun bo Hue, spicy beef and pork noodle soup, often garnished with banana flower and amaranth. Or craving Cambodian seafood soup or tom yum noodles with chunks of crispy pork belly? Here's where to go, from recent Find columns.
January 19, 2012
Pizza joints, many boasting wood-burning ovens, are popping up all over the Southland like chanterelles after a rainstorm. But they're not the only restaurants working with oak or almond wood. Some chefs at other restaurants are lucky enough to have wood-fired ovens in their kitchens. They're tricky to use, but once mastered can be a formidable tool. Cooking with fire is ancient, and I'm convinced we're hard-wired to find any dish cooked in a wood-burning oven just that much more delicious.
January 12, 2012
If you're a fiend for the spicy, then you may have attempted to down an entire bowl of the Special 2 ramen at Orochon in Little Tokyo, which earns you a photo on "the wall of bravery." Or you've sought the experience of Jitlada's southern Thai specialties, including Chef Tui's Dynamite Special Challenge, covered in a chile sludge that packs so much heat your ears start to ring. (Thais say southern food is the ultimate of phet, or spiciness.) Where to find more of the burn? Here, from recent Find columns, are several ways to satisfy the capsaicin cravings.
January 5, 2012
The wealth of Southern California's restaurant scene doesn't lie just in big-name, fine-dining places. There may be no other area in the country that can compare when it comes to the number and variety of treasures that offer really delicious food at often amazing prices. These are some of our favorite Finds of the year. There's Iranian, Mexican, Japanese, Chinese, Thai and even an experimental sushi fusion restaurant located in a hamburger stand. Now that's L.A.
December 29, 2011
The fellow I met at a holiday party had just one question for me: Where do you find a great steak in this part of the country? He grew up in Texas on grass-fed beef and complains he's never found a steak here with as much flavor. He's disappointed every time he spends big bucks for a steak, whether it's corn-fed, dry-aged or wet-aged, Wagyu or Kobe or sizzling with butter.
December 22, 2011
For a lot of Angelenos, the holidays bring a craving for tamales — fat, corn-husk-wrapped packets of tender steamed masa filled with gooey melted cheese or shredded fall-apart pork or chocolatey chicken mole. This time of year, places such as Liliana's in Boyle Heights or Tamara's in Marina del Rey are swamped with orders. Luckily, L.A.'s a world of tamales: the Michoacan uchepo and Belizean ducunu, or even a Puerto Rican pasteles (which isn't made with masa but with plantains steamed in banana leaf).... Here are some of the places at which to get a quick fix, from recent "The Find" columns.
December 15, 2011
Turophiles (yes, that's what cheese lovers are called) look forward to the cheese course the way dessert hounds long for their pudding. But not every cheese course is equal. Some restaurants try to get away with industrial cheeses straight out of the fridge or, not at all prepared, offer a hunk of the Parmigiano used on their pasta. That's why we treasure the restaurants that take care with their tomme and bucheron and bleu d'Auvergne.
December 8, 2011
Wind storms, below-70-degree days and chilly, chilly nights — it's enough to drive one to soup. We're talking big pots of steamy, spicy crab stew. Or the kind of soup you lean over and dip your own ingredients into. Soups with springy noodles and chicken meatballs, or house-made dumplings, or shrimp and galangal — all of it enough to share with friends (the more friends to huddle with, the better). Here are a few places from recent Find columns for just that.
December 1, 2011
Here they come: the relatives. And they're hungry too. So where are you going to feed them? Why not one of the new generation of brunches that have been popping up at some very good restaurants lately? Brunch is convivial and fun, not to mention much less expensive than taking the crowd to a full-on dinner.
November 24, 2011
After Thursday's extravaganza, it might be the right time to think about the lightest meal of the day — or the meal that affords us the rest of the day to burn off some calories, anyway. Forget pancakes. How about savory Taiwanese crullers dipped in super-fresh soy milk, house-made longaniza sausage with eggs, sweet Belizean ducunu (they're like logs of unfilled tamale made with fresh corn grated off the cob) or poached-egg soup with hand-patted tortillas? Whether on La Brea Avenue or Bolsa Avenue, early-morning options abound. Here are several places to try from recent Find columns.
November 10, 2011
Especially at this time of year, when relatives roll into town eager to live it up. It's fun to introduce them to L.A.'s ethnic dining scene, chase food trucks around town and stop in at the latest cutting-edge venues. But at some point, they may want to indulge in a celebratory holiday meal at one of L.A.'s fine-dining establishments.
November 3, 2011
There is no shortage of burgers in this town, whether classic or updated (you know, with truffles or bleu cheese or Parmesan crisps). But the truly offbeat burger shines in some unexpected places. Looking for a halal chicken tikka burger? A soul turkey burger with mashed yams on a sesame seed bun? An Angus beef patty stuffed between two Belgian waffles? L.A.'s got it all. Here are a few from recent Find columns.
October 27, 2011
As October glides toward November, the weather skates the edge — one foot in summer, the other in fall. Leaves begin to drift from the trees. Morning brings a cooler edge to the breeze. And every evening the sun sets a little earlier. Time to put away the rosés and lighter reds and bring out the big guns: Cabernet, Bordeaux and Barolo, Chinon and Cahors, Syrah and Sangiovese. Chefs are already anticipating the change of season with heartier dishes. Bring it on, I say.
October 20, 2011
Koreatown is easy to navigate when it comes to some of its culinary standbys. You probably know your favorite spots for Korean barbecue and pork bossam; naeng myun cold noodles when it's hot out; that bubbling, spicy tofu soup soondubu when it's chilly; and sul long tang oxtail soup for your hangovers. But with so many other specialty restaurants to explore, here are a few suggestions beyond Korean barbecue from recent Find columns.
2:39 PM EDT, October 13, 2011
The Spanish are on to a good thing with tapas, those lusty little bites that bars in Spain put out in the early evening. Ever wondered how the Spanish can eat dinner at 11 or later? Because they stave off hunger pangs and socialize earlier in the evening at tapa bars, ordering wines by the glass and nibbling on anchovies, chorizo and garlicky sautéed shrimp. In L.A., we now have enough restaurants specializing in tapas that you could actually do some bar hopping. But that would involve a bit of driving. Best to stick to one place for the night and just stick with tapas, or stay longer for dinner.
October 6, 2011
If ever Los Angeles were having a ramen moment, this might be it. Ramen pop-ups and shops are springing up from West L.A. to downtown. Ramen-ya stalwarts are facing competition as Yamadaya and Tsujita have opened on the Westside in Santouka territory and Shin-Sen-Gumi unveiled a new branch a block from Daikokuya downtown. Thick noodles, thin noodles, extra fatty pork broth, dipping sauce, toppings such as fried garlic, purple cauliflower, fried pork skin or slabs of roasted pork…. In other words, have it your way. Here are a few ramen shops to try.
September 1, 2011
Sometimes you just get a hankering for fried chicken. That's what I took to the Hollywood Bowl recently when I was invited by some friends to see Dolly Parton. Though it may be best eaten in the great outdoors, luckily, we can also find some great fried chicken in restaurants that give special attention to the all-American dish.
August 25, 2011
If you're hungry for a little of Beijing and beyond — northern Chinese dumplings, buns and hand-pulled noodles or maybe even cumin-scented lamb kebabs in the style of Xinjiang's food stalls — look no further. Here's where to get your fix of Uighur saucy chicken piled on thick-cut flat noodles or Shandong beef roll, braised brisket wrapped in flaky, pastry-like griddled pancakes.
Five Vietnamese restaurants reviewed in The Find: Huynh, Dat Thanh, Thien An Bo Bay Mon, Ngu Binh, Uyen Thy Bistro
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