Cream of the crop: Top L.A. Times restaurant reviews
June 10, 2010
As friends and I step into Patina, the figures of the hostess, manager, bartender, server and sommelier awake from their enchantment. They move forward, murmur a greeting and lead us to a table in the elegant, modernist dining room. Sometimes it feels as if the entire restaurant has been put into a state of suspended animation by an evil witch called the economy.
7:35 PM EST, February 17, 2009
Olives that flood your mouth with flavor. A foie gras lollipop wrapped in cotton candy. The definitive shrimp with garlic. Innocent-looking bites that shoot smoke out of your nostrils.
September 30, 2010
Before the Bravo network ever dreamed up "Top Chef," Tom Colicchio, the show's head judge, already had a remarkable career. He was chef and partner at New York's Gramercy Tavern in the mid-'90s, then in 2001 opened his own restaurant, Craft, a block away, holding down both kitchens for a while. Craft was followed by Craftsteak, Craftbar and the cleverly named sandwich spot 'Wichcraft. Soon he was opening versions in Atlanta, Dallas and Vegas and more.
October 29, 2008
Joe Pytka has been tinkering with his West Hollywood restaurant -- again. Bastide not only has a new chef -- Paul Shoemaker, its fourth -- but also a different format. Giving up its tasting-menu-only dictate, the 6-year-old restaurant now offers an a la carte menu in addition to the chef's tasting menu. That means you can stop in at Bastide for dinner and a bottle of wine and choose exactly what and how much you want to eat. You no longer need sign up for a three- or four-hour tasting menu.
11:18 PM EDT, March 31, 2009
John Rivera Sedlar, the chef who brought us Saint Estephe, Bikini and Abiquiu (may they all rest in peace) is back and back in a big way. At the new Rivera within shouting distance of L.A. Live, the 54-year-old chef is firing on all cylinders. Rivera is terrific, one of the most exciting restaurants to debut in L.A. in the last few years.
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.
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.
October 28, 2010
"Take one," the waiter says, proffering a vase sprouting savory lollipops. Each stick holds a round of squid sitting on a cube of dark red chorizo. "Eat them in one bite, so you get both tastes at once," comes the further instruction. I do. The sweet meaty squid and the spicy paprika-streaked chorizo are terrific together.
August 5, 2010
Pull up in front of the new Red O on Melrose and, before deigning to take your car, a valet in an embroidered guayabera and natty straw hat will lean into the window to ask, politely, if you've got a reservation. It's Mozza all over again. No reservation, no getting in. And on weekend nights, you'll need to reserve a month out. Even on the weekdays, it's the 6:30 or 9:30 routine. Try to get into the bar and the big guy posted outside the door, leaning on a lectern to make him look less like a bouncer, will nix that too. The bar is for patrons waiting for tables.
July 8, 2010
The server eases the rectangular plate down on the glass coffee table. Here we go, I think, biting into a tiny pleated dumpling plumped with braised pork belly and slicked with black Chinese vinegar. A trace of chile oil, the melting tender pork, the supple dough: heaven. Between sips of the gin-based cocktail "Lady From Shanghai" we watch the sunset wash over the San Gabriel Mountains and the skyscrapers of downtown L.A. through the floor-to-ceiling windows.
May 27, 2010
Chefs come and chefs go. Some don't change a thing. Others don't quite fit in. But sometimes a new chef can bring a breath of fresh air to a tired menu or contribute a whole new spirit to a place.
April 22, 2010
Behind the wall of windows that look into the showplace kitchen, cooks in tall toques bob and weave around the stoves in an intricate choreography. Everyone is focused. There's not much talking going on. At the center of it all, look for the compact, closely shaven man sans hat and wearing a striped apron: That's Quinn Hatfield, chef and owner, with his wife, Karen, of the new, improved Hatfield's in Los Angeles.
February 18, 2010
Something is going on at the new Lazy Ox Canteen. With no sign out front (yet) and a quiet presence at the edge of Little Tokyo, this cozy tavern is, so far, flying under the radar. But locals -- the brave denizens of downtown -- are making it a headquarters of sorts, stopping in for a glass of craft brew and maybe some fried anchovies or red wine-braised beef neck. Some are on the lookout for chef Josef Centeno's baco, his signature flatbread with eclectic toppings. Or the stupendous burger on a house-baked bun.
January 20, 2010
From the avalanche of attention Thomas Keller has been getting for Bouchon, you'd almost think the arrival of the new Beverly Hills restaurant was the second coming. Actually, it is, in a way. For those without a long memory, Keller was executive chef at Checkers Hotel in downtown L.A. in the early '90s, well before the French Laundry, Per Se and his seven Michelin stars. Now Keller is back in Los Angeles in a big way, this time as a phenomenally successful chef trailing all the high expectations and jealousies that exalted status entails.
September 16, 2009
As friends and I approach Studio, the restaurant at Montage Laguna Beach set on the edge of a bluff, I can see chef Craig Strong silhouetted against a silvery mauve sky as he talks to a table of guests on the outdoor terrace. Palm trees in front are ablaze with the setting sun and in the grass behind him, a trio of bunny rabbits play and nibble. We're seated outside, too, the better to enjoy the sea air and the unobstructed view of the coastline. What a spot!
March 18, 2009
Church & State has to go down as one of the more unusual restaurant pairings in Southern California: owner Steven Arroyo, best known for casual clubby places such as Cobras & Matadors, and chef Walter Manzke, renowned for his meticulous French- California cuisine at Bastide, Patina and L'Auberge Carmel.
August 13, 2008
YOU SNAG a parking spot on the street in the middle of Brand Boulevard's endless row of car dealerships and as you get out of the car, you can feel the salesmen go into high alert. A possible buyer for that gas-guzzling truck? No, just another food lover on the way to the most exciting and delicious new restaurant to open in a very long time -- Palate Food + Wine.
July 16, 2008
WHEN friends I don't see nearly often enough invited me out to dinner a few weeks ago, of course I said yes, and then rearranged my schedule to work around the date. "Let's go to Vincenti, just for fun," they told me. "It's really good these days." Since I'd heard the same comment more than once recently, and it had been awhile since I'd been to the queen of the Brentwood Italian restaurants (last reviewed nearly seven years ago), I was curious.
April 9, 2008
Carpaccio of "surf, turf and earth" is laid out on a square platter -- a fabulous mosaic of raw beef, tuna, salmon, scallop and roasted pepper, each round decorated with a wisp of frisee or a pretty pink grapefruit segment, the whole pulled together with a drizzle of basil and kumquat oils. Each bite is different, making a melody of flavors that dances across the palate.
March 19, 2008
Since its opening about 2 1/2 years ago, Wilshire has seemed a restaurant in need of a therapist. The vision and reality didn't really track. Christopher Blobaum, the chef, had ambitions for a sophisticated contemporary American restaurant that was also as committed to serving sustainably produced foods as anything in L.A. at the time. But the bar scene soon hijacked the restaurant, and the fun-loving crowd got in the way of more serious diners, who were left feeling like second-rate citizens. And those who did brave the noisy, frenetic scene often came away with mixed reviews of the dining experience, despite the kitchen's best intentions.
December 19, 2007
AFTER the din of the restaurant last night, Lucques is heaven. No raucous birthday parties or pounding heavy-metal soundtrack. No standing around waiting for our table, whacked by passing monolithic handbags. I don't have to fight my way in or worry that the reservation desk has lost our reservation. I don't have to wonder whether the chef is in or not, because either way the food is consistently delightful and original.
October 31, 2007
THE white marble counter top veined in gray is cool to the touch. I take a sip of Vermentino, enjoying its delicate minerality, and look over the menu at Osteria Mozza, which might be the hardest reservation in town right now. But for me, the best seat in the house has to be one in the middle of the room at the L-shaped "mozzarella bar, " where you can't even make a reservation -- it's first come, first served.
June 13, 2007
The charcuterie on the wooden board in the center of the table is arranged as precisely as a Cezanne still-life. Fine slices of pink prosciutto are dropped like handkerchiefs. It's the excellent artisanal prosciutto Americano made from acorn-eating pigs by La Quercia in Iowa. Quarter-sized slices of Spanish chorizo streaked with paprika and crimson and white marbled salametto Toscano march across the board. They're all top-notch, but what grabs my attention are the rabbit rillettes and that thick slab of duck terrine, both house-made. I take a bite of terrine, and it has that rich, gamey taste of the real thing, rustic and earthy.
February 21, 2007
Two new restaurants in north San Diego County -- Market, a contemporary American bistro in Del Mar, and Addison, a golf resort dining room in Carmel Valley -- are setting the bar ever higher in that part of the world. They're very different, but each is as good as anything in Los Angeles right now.
February 7, 2007
I can't believe it. At 8 o'clock on a Friday night, four of us are the sole guests at Leatherby's Cafe Rouge, the new restaurant at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa. Twenty minutes later, two tables are filled. Total. Considering that this is one of the brightest new restaurants to open in Orange County in years, I'm floored. It's chic and tres moderne, even a little sexy, with a curved glass facade, sleek high-sided booths and a petite bar. South Coast Plaza is only a couple of blocks away, and plenty of other nearby restaurants are packed.
January 31, 2007
Pizzeria Mozza isn't just a restaurant. It's an action film, a master class in the art of making pizza, a trip through Italy's wine regions and a magnet for a diverse crowd of hungry diners only Los Angeles could muster. It's the toughest reservation in town, maybe in the country right now, the place where everybody in the food world wants to eat. After months of buzz and speculation, Nancy Silverton, who brought us La Brea Bakery and co-founded Campanile, and Mario Batali, the New York chef with a big appetite and an ever-growing collection of high-profile restaurants, have finally opened part one of Mozza at the corner of Melrose and Highland avenues. Part two, an osteria (casual tavern), is to follow in the spring.
August 9, 2006
NEVER underestimate Wolfgang Puck. He's such a familiar face, beaming from the covers of his cookbooks or exhorting viewers of the Food Network to "live, love, eat " that we tend to forget he's not just chef to the Oscars and a celebrity in his own right, but also the real deal. And just when you thought he'd stopped spawning new restaurants, with the exception of an occasional Spago or two, he's back with Cut, his new steakhouse in the Regent Beverly Wilshire hotel.
April 26, 2006
STONEHILL TAVERN, the new restaurant at the St. Regis Resort Monarch Beach, is a kind of miracle.
October 12, 2005
When my cellphone chirped, I was deep into the south of France, cutting into a grilled magret and dipping violet artichoke leaves in sticky, gloriously garlicky aioli. I'd just opened the second bottle of Gigondas and didn't feel like talking, but the caller seemed so ... insistent.
March 23, 2005
It generally takes about five minutes after I've been introduced to someone before the questions start coming. "What is your favorite restaurant?" is followed, inevitably, by the next most urgent question: "Where's a great Chinese restaurant in my neighborhood?" As if I'm holding out.
October 20, 2004
Is nothing sacred? The definition of a "real Italian" restaurant used to be that a real Italian worked there, or at least someone with real Italian ancestors. There would be red leather-effect banquettes, light so dim it would flatter a gargoyle, Chianti bottles on the wall, microwave lasagna, veal with spinach and lemon sauce, zabaglione, cheap red wine by the carafe and, in the places near university campuses, 99 cent breakfasts.
October 6, 2004
I dip my head under the indigo curtains that screen the doorway and take a seat at the white-blond maple counter. Sanded every night, its touch is familiar and reassuring, seductively smooth. A server hands me a steaming hot towel. I slip the paper wrapper off the chopsticks and place them on a pretty chopstick rest. Sliding my hands over the counter, I remember all the times I've sat here before -- not that many, really, but every one of them etched in my memory.
June 30, 2004
The rave was so uncharacteristic coming from Marco, my oldest Italian friend, that I put down the phone seriously wondering if he'd gone out of his mind. He'd just been to Norman's in Coral Gables and he couldn't say enough about Norman Van Aken's New World cooking. Now you have to understand that Marco is, if anything, a purist with an incredible instinct for what's authentic and true. He doesn't like many big deal restaurants. He'd rather hang out with the cooks in a little trattoria he's discovered in Sicily or Campania than suit up for a three-hour meal at a pretentious high-end restaurant. So when I heard the thrill in his voice when he talked about his meal at Norman's, I listened up. He's never steered me wrong.
June 2, 2004
The change of ownership notice in the window looked ominous. Oh no, I thought, we're not going to lose Jar, are we? Not in a year when Nouveau Cafe Blanc, 5 Dudley and Chianti all shut their doors. Not this reliably excellent and very civilized Los Angeles chophouse. There goes that luscious pot roast, those baby turnips roasted with their greens on, the world's best fries and that demure banana cream pie! Say it's not so.
February 25, 2004
At the unprepossessing Mori Sushi in West Los Angeles, the waiter sets down a broad oval plate stippled in the browns and golds of autumn leaves, its texture rough as burlap. On it are four rows of nigiri-zushi, four pieces each, one for each of us. The composition is as flawless as an Agnes Martin painting. My architect friend is looking at the fish as if he has never seen sushi before. And in a sense he hasn't, not this kind of quality. It's evident even before you taste it -- in the pearlescent pink and white gleam of halibut fin, cross-hatched with the knife; in the subtle marbling of wild yellowtail belly, my new sushi passion; in the silvery blue pinstripe running down a sliver of half beak, or Japanese silver fish; and in the alabaster translucence of Japanese squid.
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