L.A. Times restaurant reviews

Jonathan Gold | L.A. restaurant review: Girasol reflects Chris Jacobson's journey

November 2, 2013

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE

Jonathan Gold | L.A. restaurant review: Girasol reflects Chris Jacobson's journey

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.

Jonathan Gold | L.A. restaurant review: AOC in new digs with familiar tastes

June 1, 2013

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE

Jonathan Gold | L.A. restaurant review: AOC in new digs with familiar tastes

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.

Jonathan Gold | L.A. restaurant review: RivaBella makes ordinary Italian perfect

May 11, 2013

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE

Jonathan Gold | L.A. restaurant review: RivaBella makes ordinary Italian perfect

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.

Counter Intelligence: Jonathan Gold | L.A. restaurant review: Littlefork takes a big-eats turn north

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.

Jonathan Gold | Restaurant review: Hunan Mao for fish heads and fire

March 9, 2013

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE

Jonathan Gold | Restaurant review: Hunan Mao for fish heads and fire

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.

Counter Intelligence: The Hart & the Hunter makes angelic biscuits

February 23, 2013

Counter Intelligence: The Hart & the Hunter makes angelic biscuits

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.

Counter Intelligence: Hostaria del Piccolo lives the fantasy — almost — in Venice

February 16, 2013

Counter Intelligence: Hostaria del Piccolo lives the fantasy — almost — in Venice

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.

Counter Intelligence: Le Ka's a bit of this and that, for the beautiful people

February 9, 2013

Counter Intelligence: Le Ka's a bit of this and that, for the beautiful people

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.

Counter Intelligence: A little taste of Cortez

January 26, 2013

Counter Intelligence: A little taste of Cortez

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.

Counter Intelligence: Josef Centeno gives Tex-Mex a twist at Bar Amá

January 19, 2013

Counter Intelligence: Josef Centeno gives Tex-Mex a twist at Bar Amá

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."

Counter Intelligence: The just-right cooking at Bestia

January 12, 2013

Counter Intelligence: The just-right cooking at Bestia

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.

Counter Intelligence: Storefront Deli in Los Feliz

December 29, 2012

Counter Intelligence: Storefront Deli in Los Feliz

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.

 Counter Intelligence: Spago makeover smooths aging star's wrinkles

December 22, 2012

Counter Intelligence: Spago makeover smooths aging star's wrinkles

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.

Counter Intelligence: Ari Taymor's Alma stands apart in L.A.

December 8, 2012

Counter Intelligence: Ari Taymor's Alma stands apart in L.A.

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.

Counter Intelligence: Tasty Dining in San Gabriel brings the heat of Wuhan

December 1, 2012

Counter Intelligence: Tasty Dining in San Gabriel brings the heat of Wuhan

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.

Counter Intelligence: At MessHall in Los Feliz, fall in for fun

November 24, 2012

Counter Intelligence: At MessHall in Los Feliz, fall in for fun

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.

Counter Intelligence: The basics of life at Kang Ho-dong Baekjeong

November 10, 2012

Counter Intelligence: The basics of life at Kang Ho-dong Baekjeong

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."

Counter Intelligence: Laurel Hardware nearly nails it

November 3, 2012

Counter Intelligence: Laurel Hardware nearly nails it

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.

Counter Intelligence: Tom Bergin's Tavern, reinvented

October 27, 2012

Counter Intelligence: Tom Bergin's Tavern, reinvented

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.

 Counter Intelligence: Plan Check, where food meets the future

October 20, 2012

Counter Intelligence: Plan Check, where food meets the future

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.

Counter intelligence: Superba Snack Bar in Venice

October 6, 2012

Counter intelligence: Superba Snack Bar in Venice

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.

Counter Intelligence: Hannosuke and Ramen Iroha arrive in U.S.

September 22, 2012

Counter Intelligence: Hannosuke and Ramen Iroha arrive in U.S.

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.

 Counter Intelligence: Thou shalt not make substitutions at the Parish

September 8, 2012

Counter Intelligence: Thou shalt not make substitutions at the Parish

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.

 Counter Intelligence: Casual crazy vibe at Sycamore Kitchen

August 25, 2012

Counter Intelligence: Casual crazy vibe at Sycamore Kitchen

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.

Counter Intelligence: Hui Tou Xiang Noodles House has a star dish

August 19, 2012

Counter Intelligence: Hui Tou Xiang Noodles House has a star dish

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."

Counter Intelligence: Red Hill brings a folky modernism to Echo Park

August 4, 2012

Counter Intelligence: Red Hill brings a folky modernism to Echo Park

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.

Counter Intelligence: Next Door by Josie

July 28, 2012

Counter Intelligence: Next Door by Josie

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.

Counter Intelligence: At modern Mo-Chica, the alpaca question

July 21, 2012

Counter Intelligence: At modern Mo-Chica, the alpaca question

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.

Counter Intelligence: The Pikey, simply a pub with better food

12:42 PM EDT, July 6, 2012

Counter Intelligence: The Pikey, simply a pub with better food

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.

Counter Intelligence: Maison Giraud in Pacific Palisades

2:01 PM EDT, June 29, 2012

Counter Intelligence: Maison Giraud in Pacific Palisades

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.

Review: True Italian finds a home at Gusto

June 30, 2012

Review: True Italian finds a home at Gusto

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.

Counter Intelligence: Bizarra Capital, a dreamland Mexican-style gastropub

5:10 PM EDT, June 1, 2012

Counter Intelligence: Bizarra Capital, a dreamland Mexican-style gastropub

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.

 The Review: Black Hogg is a beguiling entry on Silver Lake scene

June 2, 2012

The Review: Black Hogg is a beguiling entry on Silver Lake scene

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?

Counter Intelligence: Ración is Basque country

3:23 PM EDT, May 25, 2012

Counter Intelligence: Ración is Basque country

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.

The Review: Water Grill gets back to the seafood basics

May 19, 2012

The Review: Water Grill gets back to the seafood basics

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.

Counter Intelligence: Umamicatessen in downtown L.A.

3:31 PM EDT, May 11, 2012

Counter Intelligence: Umamicatessen in downtown L.A.

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.

Counter Intelligence: A little crunch with your Chianti at Tar & Roses

May 5, 2012

Counter Intelligence: A little crunch with your Chianti at Tar & Roses

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.

The Review: A1 Cucina Italiana in Beverly Hills

May 5, 2012

The Review: A1 Cucina Italiana in Beverly Hills

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.

Review: BierBeisl, a modern Austrian for Southern California

April 21, 2012

Review: BierBeisl, a modern Austrian for Southern California

"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.

Counter Intelligence: At Rocio's in Sun Valley, moles reign

April 14, 2012

Counter Intelligence: At Rocio's in Sun Valley, moles reign

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.)

Counter Intelligence: 800 Degrees in Westwood

March 31, 2012

Counter Intelligence: 800 Degrees in Westwood

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."

Restaurant review: Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air

March 10, 2012

Restaurant review: Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air

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.

The Review: Bäco Mercat makes it easy to get carried away

February 9, 2012

The Review: Bäco Mercat makes it easy to get carried away

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.

Restaurant review: Short Order

January 26, 2012

Restaurant review: Short Order

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.

The Review: Pizzeria Mozza in Newport Beach

December 22, 2011

The Review: Pizzeria Mozza in Newport Beach

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.

Restaurant review: The Strand House in Manhattan Beach

November 24, 2011

Restaurant review: The Strand House in Manhattan Beach

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.

Restaurant review: Pizzeria il Fico

October 20, 2011

Restaurant review: Pizzeria il Fico

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.

The Review: L'Epicerie Market in Culver City

October 6, 2011

The Review: L'Epicerie Market in Culver City

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.

The Review: Picca

September 22, 2011

The Review: Picca

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.

Restaurant review: Ombra Ristorante in Studio City

September 8, 2011

Restaurant review: Ombra Ristorante in Studio City

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.

The Review: Hungry Cat Santa Monica Canyon

August 11, 2011

The Review: Hungry Cat Santa Monica Canyon

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.

Good things come on small plates at Mezze

July 21, 2011

Good things come on small plates at Mezze

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.

Dining: Cafe Gratitude in L.A., for the vegan Stuart Smalleys of the world

July 14, 2011

Dining: Cafe Gratitude in L.A., for the vegan Stuart Smalleys of the world

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."

Restaurants: Más Malo in downtown Los Angeles

July 7, 2011

Restaurants: Más Malo in downtown Los Angeles

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.

The Review: Sotto

June 30, 2011

The Review: Sotto

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.

The Review: Son of a Gun on 3rd Street

June 23, 2011

The Review: Son of a Gun on 3rd Street

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.

The Review: The Spice Table in Little Tokyo

June 16, 2011

The Review: The Spice Table in Little Tokyo

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?

The Review: Ray's and Stark Bar at LACMA

June 9, 2011

The Review: Ray's and Stark Bar at LACMA

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.

The Review: Public Kitchen & Bar in Hollywood Roosevelt

June 2, 2011

The Review: Public Kitchen & Bar in Hollywood Roosevelt

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.

The Review: Playa

May 26, 2011

The Review: Playa

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.

The Review: Aburiya Toranoko in Little Tokyo

May 19, 2011

The Review: Aburiya Toranoko in Little Tokyo

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.

The Review: London's St. John Hotel with chef Fergus Henderson and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

May 12, 2011

The Review: London's St. John Hotel with chef Fergus Henderson and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

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.

The Review: Lukshon

May 5, 2011

The Review: Lukshon

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.

The Review: Julienne in Santa Barbara

April 21, 2011

The Review: Julienne in Santa Barbara

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.

The Review: Craig's

April 14, 2011

The Review: Craig's

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.

The Review: Ecco in Costa Mesa

March 31, 2011

The Review: Ecco in Costa Mesa

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.

The Review: Firefly in Studio City

March 24, 2011

The Review: Firefly in Studio City

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.

The Review: Hostaria del Piccolo in Santa Monica

9:05 PM EDT, March 15, 2011

The Review: Hostaria del Piccolo in Santa Monica

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.

The Review: The Royce

March 10, 2011

The Review: The Royce

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.

The Review: Fraîche in Culver City

March 3, 2011

The Review: Fraîche in Culver City

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).

The Review: Beechwood restaurant

February 24, 2011

The Review: Beechwood restaurant

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.

The Review: Petrossian

February 17, 2011

The Review: Petrossian

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.

The Review: The Old Place

February 10, 2011

The Review: The Old Place

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.

The Review: A-Frame

February 3, 2011

The Review: A-Frame

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.

The Review: Chaya Brasserie

January 27, 2011

The Review: Chaya Brasserie

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.

The Review: Eveleigh on the Sunset Strip

January 13, 2011

The Review: Eveleigh on the Sunset Strip

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.

The Review: Scarpetta at Montage Beverly Hills

January 6, 2011

The Review: Scarpetta at Montage Beverly Hills

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.

The Review: Salt's Cure in West Hollywood

December 23, 2010

The Review: Salt's Cure in West Hollywood

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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