Crossroads Kitchen, Los Angeles – review

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I suppose it’s not all that surprising that the nations’ leading vegan-chique restaurant should be located in the shadow of the Hollywood hills. And even less surprising given that star chef and best-selling author of “The Conscious Cook”, Tal Ronnen’s long list of adoring A-list fans range from Oprah to Ellen to Arianna (to the Senate, no less). But all of my prior trepidation of stepping into a mortifyingly meatless environment was safely suspended – thanks to a little magic and a lot of effort from Mr. Ronnen and his team.

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Before you even glance at any of the photos below, if you close your eyes and think about the expression: “vegan restaurant,” you wouldn’t be blamed for summoning up images of an unfinished, beige-on-beige room without air conditioning, barely decorated with hyper-recycled materials, reused bamboo utensils, uneven floors, threadbare, cushion-less or yoga-mat seating; a sweaty wait staff who look like they can do with a good bath, a good hour of black-head removal and a good steak; and an über-enviro-concious-Greenpeace-centric menu with frightening words like Seitan and Tofu or other ersatz protein ingredients you might never come across in the natural world.   Am I close?

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It just so happens that Crossroads Kitchen is just as disorienting for omnivores as it must be for vegetarians. The West Hollywood corner bistro is dark, elegant and sexy, with fine linen, glass and silver finishes you would expect from any Michelin-contender. The wait staff is gorgeous and attentive and the menu is cleverly designed to fool (or convert) the unsuspecting critter-eater. But there is a lot more to this than plant-based hocus-pocus, hanky-panky. Chef Ronnen has carefully crafted a selection of sharable plates that feel very reminiscent of traditional Mediterranean fare and (for the most part) are tough to imagine as being created without so much as a single byproduct of the animal world.

For no other reason than the plethora of appetite-competitive options, we skipped over the gazpacho’s, lentil bread, pickles, olives and pizzas and started with a vibrantly refreshing Watercress and Peach Salad made with a wonderfully tart mint vinaigrette, dotted with dark, miniature hazelnuts.

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Artichoke Oysters

The highly beloved and enormously decorative Artichoke Oysters are every bit as wonderful as their kaleidoscopic shape. Five artichoke leaves over a bed of kosher salt yield a dollop of the vegetable’s creamy puree, that hides a surprisingly crunchy oyster mushroom and sprig of briny kelp.

The Squash Blossoms served with a scrumptious marinara are as light and crunchy as the best you’ve ever tasted, and you would never notice that the ricotta stuffing hailed from a handful of almonds.

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Crab Cakes

Even more eye-nose-mouth defying are the Crab Cakes with tartar sauce that have the perfect taste, texture and flavor of your typical high-end cocktail party pass-arounds.

Not surprisingly, there is a good offering of vegetarian pastas, but for my money, the real test was something more protein-forward, such as a Scallopini Milanese. The traditionally shapeless, breaded “cutlet” arrived supporting a garnish of tomato halves and spring lettuce leaves, and for that extra touch of disorientation – a steak knife! Whatever it was I was eating (and, no, I did not ask), convincingly resembled and tasted of a delicious slither of tender veal, perfectly crumbed and shatter-crisp fried.

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Scallopini Milanese

My dinner guest and I debated between a couple of the half-dozen desserts, and in retrospect I probably should have put my foot down for the Coconut Milk Tapioca with blueberry compote. But instead we settled on a New York style Cheesecake. The perfectly ornate presentation included a couple of figs and a heavenly morsel of pine-nut brittle. But the silver dollar sized dollop of chalky nut-cheese fluff had a little trouble standing up to its big apple namesake. I would either recommend a renaming to lower expectations, or perhaps the insertion of a distracting flavor-forward ingredient like a hazelnut or poppy seed puree…

Suffice it to say, the vegetarian yardstick has been substantially advanced, and going forward I might just possibly consider redefining myself as a flexitarian.

http://www.crossroadskitchen.com/The-Restaurant.aspx

http://www.opentable.com/crossroads

 

 

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Hatchet Hall, Los Angeles – review

Behind LA’s capped teeth, palm trees and perpetual tan, there lies a tremendous melting-pot of cultures and influences (thanks in part to the cosmopolitan transplants who were all in search of a very similar dream at one point or other), which is why it’s all the more gratifying to see a restaurant bold enough to reflect and salute the city’s very multi-culti, checkerboard fabric with such inclusive panache. The former Waterloo & City space is now a quizzical maze of rooms, moods, styles and disciplines, from a saloon-style back bar, to a beachy looking oyster bar; a turn-of-the-century southern diner festooned with taxidermy; an almost Edwardian private room dripping with precious candelabras and key-lime wallpaper and an Umbrian pergola-covered patio.

Wood grilled Octopus - Hatchet Hall

Wood grilled Octopus

Contrary to many points of view, the only thing truly southern about Brian Dunsmoor’s hearty hearth kitchen, is that it’s located south of Venice boulevard on the (next-to-be-gentrified) edge of Culver City. I would argue that the success of the seven week-old Hatchet Hall goes way beyond “southern-gothic”, as Mr. Dunsmoor flexes his flavor muscles in a variety of hemispheres with an emphasis on local ingredients.

Grilled carrots - Hatchet Hall

Grilled carrots

With a name like Hatchet Hall, it would be a fair assumption to find oneself confronted with endless cuts of bloody beef and bones, but rather surprisingly, Dunsmoor seems to favor unconventional beans, seeds, salsas, aiolis, seafood and dairy products to bring his dishes their unique (and by all recent accounts – highly popular) appeal.

Perusing the sharing-style, five-section menu is a lot like finding the restroom – a delightful (yet much longer than expected) adventure of twists and turns, dotted with highlights, bites and delights – plus an arbitrary surprise here or there.

Sliced tomatoes - Hatchet Hall

Sliced tomatoes

Accompanying the fresh and bi-coastal bivalves is an interesting selection of cured country hams served with pickles and warm bread. Our strictly-casual attired waiter referred to the second section as “snacks”. These include a few imaginative bar-food bites, plus a couple of mention-worthy salads. The Sliced Tomatoes are layered over the most amazingly tangy and richly whipped aged-cheddar, with a few crusty breadcrumbs and something called “pigeon peas”, which looked and tasted a lot like a second cousin to the black-eyed pea. The sublimely charred Market Peach Salad is similarly plated over a froth of yummy, minty cream-cheese, with a dribble of oil and vinegar.

Market Peach Salad - Hatchet Hall

Market Peach Salad

Moving on to hot appetizers, the list includes a couple of organ meats and the much-Instagram’d Skillet Fried Quail – which I’m dying to try on my next visit, but let it be said that the Wood grilled Octopus is pretty stellar; a triplet of crispy, tender tentacles coil lovingly over a puddle of citrusy aioli with a tart salsa verde and a few soft runner beans for company.

Wood grilled Trout - Hatchet Hall

Wood grilled Trout

Of the five main options, Chef Dunsmoor prepares three of them in his wood-fire grill. The first is a wonderful take on a traditional Pork Chop with brown butter and charred peaches. Then there’s a nose-to-tail trout wrapped with a deliciously smoky belt of bacon-y corn and roasted peanuts. And finally a whole Stone Crab – which arrives triumphantly dappled in a sublime herbed crab-butter, which I devoured greedily with tongs, wrenches and spears as if it were the last crab to ever cross my plate. His Game Hen is a formidable contender for the best roast chicken in town. It arrives mounted on a slice of country bread soaking in its own salty, barbecue au jus with a delightfully appropriate crown of hen-o’-the-woods mushrooms.

Wood grilled local Stone Crab - Hatchet Hall

Wood grilled local Stone Crab

Even the side dishes seemed to enjoy the wood-fire grill as much as their protein counterparts, such as the wonderfully honey-sweetened Chimichurri Carrots or the dill-infused Roasted Beets – the first served with yogurt, the second with crème fraiche. And while I idiotically assumed that duck fat was the ultimate decadence for Roasted Potatoes, Dunsmoor pushes his über-crispy spuds way over the edge with beef fat on a bed of roasted garlic aioli with a garden salsa.

Beef fat Roast Potatoes - Hatchet Hall

Beef fat Roast Potatoes

Surprise! Surprise! Desserts are just as varied and flavor-forward, from a Panna Cotta made from goat cheese, to a Bread Pudding exploding with blueberries.

Blueberry Breadpudding - Hatchet Hall

Blueberry Breadpudding

So, the hell with “southern-inspired.” Could Hatchet Hall be the first truly nouveau-American restaurant – inspired by all of us?

http://www.hatchethallla.com/reservations/

Roasted Game Hen - Hatchet Hall

Roasted Game Hen

The Pan Am Experience

Just like anywhere else, Los Angeles is a city with large portions of mediocre food establishments throughout the metro area. But there are also a few pockets of really blog-worthy restaurants helmed by world-famous chefs in a handful of neighborhoods. Whether it’s the up and coming Arts district downtown, or the 3rd Street/Fairfax area, or even the emergence of trendy toque-shops in Manhattan Beach, Angelinos know where their culinary stars are hidden. Hence the thought of traveling all the way to Pacoima for a meal might not necessarily sound like the best reason to hit the 10 to the 405 to the 5 to the 170 right in the middle of rush-hour.

But in a city with a shameless appetite for quirky (or borderline fetishistic) movie-themed adventures and pop-cultural thrill rides, it’s no surprise that this is also home to the oddest testament to 70’s nostalgia ever. I’m talking about the mother of all airline enthusiast indulgences, the upper-deck of all geek-fests – the Pan Am Experience!

Incomporable airline memorabilia collector Anthony Toth’s extreme hobby provides his guests (or rather – his passengers) a rare 2+ hour “flight” to re-experience the golden age of travel in meticulous detail for around $300 a seat. Inside one of the sound stages on the Air Hollywood backlot is a museum showcasing six decades of baggage tags, china and amenity kits (sporting the unmistakable blue logo), when the skies were dominated by the most formidable international airline the aviation world could ever forget.

Toth’s creation is quite literally his life’s work, that started with him pilfering silverware from his in-flight meals as a kid, to raiding airliner bone-yards for cabin panels and seats, to trolling on e-Bay for every last imaginable piece of Pan Am’s service inventory. As you leave the museum and step across the red-carpeted bridge via the forward starboard door, you either find yourself in the first-class cabin of a Boeing 747, or a very elaborate Hollywood illusion.

In complete contrast to boarding procedures today, you are greeted by the beaming smiles and authentic uniforms of a squad of gorgeous stewardesses (yes, stewardesses – it’s the 70’s, remember!) who cordially gesture with a pair of white-gloved hands to one of the main deck seats or the upper-deck lounge sofas. The campy safety announcement borrows from just about every pun imaginable for a flight to nowhere at an altitude of nothing. But thankfully, perhaps the only departure from the otherwise rigidly 70’s theme, is the ban on smoking throughout the flight.

In the absence of turbulence, the only other in-flight entertainment is a historical parade of beige, white and powder-blue stewardess uniforms – that are met with period-appropriate hoots, hollers and whistles from up and down the aisles.

The menu is a replica of the original 1974 first-class, in-flight dinner, originally created by Maxim’s de Paris. After steaming towels and nostalgic cocktails like the Harvey Wallbanger or the Tom Collins, a trolley of shellfish appetizers is followed by a traditional seat-side carving of surprisingly tender Chateaubriand with vegetables and your choice of demi-glacé or creamed horseradish. Unquestionably the finest meal I have ever had in all of Pacoima, and without doubt one of the most flavorful cuts of meat I have ever tackled at 30,000 feet.

Just before our final approach back to the present, the well-traveled trolley bearing a handsome fruit tart, decadent chocolate gateau, dessert liquors and a ring of coffee cups, made its final trip down nostalgia aisle.

It’s rather sad that as the culinary world continues to soar to new and exciting altitudes, the once glamorous jet-age has descended into a purely functional and utilitarian holding pattern -where you feel like you’ve hardly left the ground on account of being treated like dirt. Long live the 70’s. Long live the Queen of the skies!

http://airhollywood.com/panamexp/

MB Post, Los Angeles review

Until chef David LeFevre bravely opened MP Post, slap-bang in the middle of Manhattan Beach, LA’s south bay never really contributed much to the culinary scene beyond beach-boy burger joints and beer bars. Surely a long time protégé of Charlie Trotter’s, or a Michelin star winning executive chef of downtown’s famed Water Grill who wanted to open his first solo foray in the heart of a sleepy surfer town must have been barking up the wrong lifeguard tower. But we all have to hand it to him – not only did he ace it, but he started a tidal change of popular foodie hotspots up and down the Pacific beachfront. 

LeFevre’s concept was to simply recreate a few sharable comfort food dishes that reminded him of his roots. Who knew this would turn into reservation riots and valet parking apoplexy as he drove his neighbors nuts with addictive tastes and textures well beyond their Baywatch comfort zones.

There’s an über-emphasis on chilled, laid-back informality in the vast, open space. The wooden walls and concrete floors feel cool but intimate, and the odd lifeguard tchotchke here and there feels reminiscent of old school corn-dog shacks. The sand colored envelope addressed to you (a nod to the restaurant’s former life as a post office) contains the list of robust offerings of local and selected small batch wines, ten cocktails with a few unique twists and shakes, and a region-free menu categorized by ingredients rather than courses.

Menu - MB Post

You’ve got mail!

As if by socialist decree, there seems to be a mandatory serving of a Bourbon sour at just about every table. The sneaky switcheroo of Kentucky Bourbon for Pisco with frothy egg-white-whipped lime-juice seems to have become the Tequila sunrise of the new generation. And right beside them, like a couple of sun tanned, liver-spotted beach bums – the wave stopping Bacon Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits. These bad boys go down SO well with a thimbleful of whipped maple butter, that I would like to nominate their recipe for inclusion into the next time-capsule. Why shouldn’t archaeologists, a thousand years from now, relish in the delight and pleasure of millennials, who paid currency for this incomparably more-ish treat, after riding the surf with fin-shaped planks?

Bacon Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits - MB Post

Bacon Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits

The cheese and cured meats cater to just about every appetite, from the simplest cheddar with honey, to salty slithers of dark red Jamon Iberico with a bracingly strong horseradishy mustard and tart pickles. I would also argue that there’s at least one vegetable with everyone’s name on it. Mine’s probably on those blistered Blue Lake Beans with the most wonderful Thai basil and chili sauce and a few dice of crispy pork belly. Or perhaps the creamy, dreamy Mac & Cheese with parmesan, mycella blue and fontina. Maybe the fruity, fragranty Pomegranate Couscous with lavender feta…? No. It has to be the caramelized Roasted Brussels Sprouts with crunchy hazelnuts and strips of emmentaler.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts - MB Post

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

LeFevre offers an equally scrumptious choice of more serious eats. His Loup de Mer has the crispiest garlic-topped skin out of any fish in the greater 310 area code. It sits atop a birds nest of julienned cucumber and an almost green-papaya, mint and cilantro dressing.

Loup de Mer - MB Post

Loup de Mer

The only oddity in a string of otherwise safe bets were the line of Shrimp and Pork Dumplings straddling an insipid ponzu sauce (rather than, say, a thick soy-garlic dip), but more incongruous were the lonely chicharrones, providing little more than punctuation. But the unsurprisingly popular soft-as-a-salt-water-taffy Meyer Farm Beef Rib-eye arrived nicely charred outside and perfectly pink inside, slithered into pencil strips and topped with a rich disc of melting black truffle butter.

Meyer Farm Rib-Eye - MB Post

Meyer Farm Rib-Eye

And you thought you could only get a corn-dogs at the beach!

www.eatmbpost.com

Petty Cash Taquería, Los Angeles review

Not that it really matters, but when it comes down to it, there isn’t much that’s authentic about Walter Manzke’s popular taco temple Petty Cash Taqueria on LA’s miracle mile. His chef de cuisine Fabian Gallardo might come from south of the border, but he has actually spent a disproportionate amount of his cooking career in Italian kitchens on the east coast. Nor is “Petty Cash” much of a giveaway for the Tijuana inspired cuisine either. (Turns out the name was taken from a band that used to perform cover songs by Tom Petty and Johnny Cash.) And perhaps it’s a bit of an overreach to create a graffiti-covered, East LA-inspired, street-food-meets-street-art crossroads in the middle of ritzy Beverly Blvd. But hey, I have to hand it to them – they have most certainly pulled it off!

The casual, bright and airy, bar stool bedecked space feels like a rambunctious communal dining room that feeds off of an effervescent bar. And while a vast majority of the young “hora feliz” crowd might be transient, the buttercup yellow menus offer a myriad reasons to linger way past happy hour. Not surprisingly, the cocktail program is rather impressive, with vertical and horizontal flights of Tequilas and Mezcals seldom seen this far north of Baja, plus some kitchen-inspired combinations using avocado, tomato water and chilies.

The Bomb.com - Petty Cash Taquería

The Bomb.com

The Nachos might be legendary, but something referred to as the Bomb.com is an irrefutable runaway hit. Appropriately named by one of the kitchen staff and concocted quite by accident, the bowl of chunky guacamole is generously surrounded by a coliseum of Santa Barbara sea urchin with a flask of (what might look like biodegradable packaging materials but are in fact) the most wonderfully dry, light and crispy Chicharrones (pork rinds) my teeth have ever had the delight of snapping into. The delicious explosion of a buttery, salty, creamy crunch has elevated my hankering for Guac ‘n Chips like never before.

Hamachi Ceviche - Petty Cash Taquería

Hamachi Ceviche

The Ceviche bar offers a “build-your-own” Aguachile, which is a house-made Climato version of the famous marinated seafood cocktail – in addition to a few traditional options, like bright slithers of zesty and refreshing Himachi with lime, tomatillo and avocado. Our server also recommended the newly added (and perhaps ripe for reconsideration) Ceviche salad, which brought back old memories of a real fishing trip, where forkful after forkful yielded nothing more than cabbage and peanuts, and only once in a great while – a tiny reward.

But it’s all about the tacos. Whether it’s the shatter-crisp, beer-battered Mahi-Mahi, the citrusy, smokey char-grilled Octopus, the picante adobe-rubbed Pork Shoulder, the Carne Asada, the tempura Acorn Squash or any of the other gourmet creations – the local, seasonal and natural ingredients that chef Gallardo forages for at various farmers markets are only eclipsed by the unbeatable price of around $5 – $6 a pop. His confident use of flavors, marinades, fruits, herbs, garnishes and other surprises, create deeply satisfying and highly attractive servings. The warmth of the freshly pressed tacos reminded me of that wonderfully magnetic sensation you get when you grab hold of a just-scooped, flavor-spiked taco from the serving hatch of an ultra-popular food truck with an enviably long line around the block, followed by sealing up the top edge over the onions and the cilantro, and then balancing the bottom end onto your lip – so as not to lose a morsel of its delectable contents, as you send it into the tasting gallery…

Pettycashtaqueria.com

Lukshon, Los Angeles review

On the more memorable end of the dining spectrum, there are basically two distinct types of restaurants: those that inspire you to get up, go home and cook, and those that inspire you to remain seated and keep ordering. Lukshon, Sang Yoon’s Culver City based, pan-Asian tapas bar is definitely the latter – partly because of his über-intricate, process-oriented culinary style, but also because of his unique and utterly unrepeatable flavor combinations.

After having served countless “Office burgers” and micro-brew beers to just about every hipster on the Westside at his 14 year-old gastropub Father’s Office, chef Yoon created a seminal Southeast Asian concept-brasserie that has become a canvas for his distinctive culinary genius.

All of the communal counter tops and private tables in the contemporary teak room seem to reach out lovingly towards the lucite lined, multi megawatt kitchen. (I can only imagine how tough it must be for any of the cooks to pick their nose or adjust their groin while working under such a formidable spotlight.)

Tea Leaf Salad - Lukshon

Tea Leaf Salad

The menu starts off offering a handful of single origin (and surprisingly overlooked) Asian teas, before heading off boldly into exotica. Many items change seasonally (or due to toque boredom) but thankfully the half-dozen or so staples are just too perfect to mess with. I’m referring to the sweet, sour, hot and deliriously smooth Hawaiian Butterfish with Thai chili and lime vesicles, and the most amazingly crunchy Tea Leaf Salad that combines that wonderful chewy sourness of your favorite grandma’s slaw with all sorts of nuts and crispy lentils and even a prawn for extra panache.

Beef Tartare - Lukshon

Beef Tartare

The Beef Tartare arrives as a fresh and zesty foursome of thimble-sized nuggets perched (super briefly) on top of a cucumber disc.

Spicy Chicken Pops - Lukshon

Spicy Chicken Pops

But the two main reasons I have dragged more than forty guests to this Chinoiserie are the Spicy Chicken Pops and the Kurobuta Pork Ribs. The former gently spiced with Sichuan salts and carved into very user-friendly lollipops, and the latter slathered in the darkest of deliciously smoky, vinegary, chicory coffee barbecue sauces I have ever encountered – on an always too small half-slab of fall-off-the-bone ribs. This dish is without doubt on my pre-lethal injection final meal list.

Kurobuta Pork Ribs - Lukshon

Kurobuta Pork Ribs

One of the newer items is Yoon’s Lobster Roll, which is a lighter than average but relatively neutral tarragon-citrus-mayo lobster salad, wedged in between a couple of inches of Labrador-colored butter-laden toast. But it’s the almost translucent slither of smoky, salty pig’s ear terrine that launches this 3-bite snack into super-orbit.

Lobster Roll - Lukshon

Lobster Roll

My favorite of the wok-fried rice dishes is a crispy and hearty Black Wild Rice with a tangy XO sauce, covered by a soft fried egg that adds a luxuriously rich and silky finish.

Asian sweets are seldom a big hit among western diners, but Yoon steals many a familiar flavor like chocolate, toffee and passion fruit in his assortment of ice-cream, crumb and crust deserts, but if you’re still skeptical, do not miss the bold and robust flavored Vietnamese coffee – served with a Barbie doll tea-party-sized jug of sweetened condensed milk.

Lukshon.com

Bestia, Los Angeles review

If landing a table at Bestia wasn’t challenging enough (I could teach a puppy to play chess in less time), when you arrive at the graveyard of derelict factories on the darkest of alleys in the so-called “Arts District” of downtown Los Angeles – a mere Molotov cocktail away from skid row – that uncomfortable lump that you feel in the pit of your stomach is a curious mixture of anticipation and regret: The thrill and satisfaction of finally being able to sample one of LA’s white-hot “it” places, diluted by the frightening realization that this might very well be your “last supper!” But you surrender your car keys to the shadowy figure emerging from the darkness anyway, realizing that there’s just no going back.

The former warehouse is a crowded hive of exposed light bulbs, raw bricks, time-weathered steel girders and industrial doors. And in stark contrast to all the old wood, antique bric-a-brac and semi-middle-aged crowd, there is youthful electricity oozing from the asymmetrical hairdos of the gaggle of handsome, black T-shirted twentysomethings, whose charm and hospitality are only eclipsed by their cocky confidence as they rattle off recommendations from the exhaustively prolific menu. Even the open kitchen, running the length of the room, exposes more than just the hearty preparations of 41 items – it reveals an even cockier bandana-clad cooking crew of even more twentysomethings. The kids have clearly taken control of the ship – and they’re teaching the grownups a thing or two about a thing or two! Not that we tried to or anything, but there wasn’t a single query that could stump our waiter. Even the origin of the stemware was just another aspect of his limitless lexicon of information.

Executive chef Ori Menashe has created far more than just an eclecto-rustic Italian test kitchen. His prowess as a truly gifted salumiere, pizza & pasta maker, and his uncanny ability to sidestep conventional ingredients to give his hearty dishes an unpretentious reinvention, will inspire future snout-to-tail toques, who from hereon out will be referred to as the “Post-Bestia Generation”.

Sea Urchin Crostino - Bestia

Sea Urchin Crostino

The plates grow in sharability as you move down the page. Things start timidly enough with Homemade Country Bread (Menashe grows his own yeast), which reappears toasted under a variety of Crostinos, from Chicken Livers with herbs to Sea Urchin (the latter having to regrettably yield its briny flavor to the garlic and chilies).

Farro Salad - Bestia

Farro Salad

But then there’s a noisy explosion of options, building from the delightfully sweet and tangy Farro Salad in a pickled chili and avocado dressing, to the much-blogged-about Roasted Marrow Bone, and of course the adorably photogenic aged-wood plank of 4 or 5 impeccably house-cured Salumi (including duck), with sour pickled vegetables and a mild, mermaid-green mustard for company. Thanks to the revocation of the California law, Foie Gras Terrine has returned to the menu, and the spreadable ‘Nduja sausage makes a number of spicy appearances – as the flavor driver for Mussels and Clams and as a feature in one of the three San Marzano tomato-based pizzas.

Salumi - Bestia

Salumi

I’m always a bit weary that an octopod can become mushy when tossed in a dressing. But chef Menashe keeps his cheerful Grilled Octopus and Calamari moist, tangy and shatter crisp, with a refreshing and citrusy chili vinaigrette. His pastas aren’t just house made, they’re house leavened! The melt-in-your-mouth worm-shaped Pici with hearty chunks of deliciously salty lamb ragu and crunchy breadcrumbs will emit a sigh of delight from even the staunchest of Italian die-hards.

Pici with lamb ragu - Bestia

Pici with lamb ragu

Given that Bestia means beast, the selection of land animals is surprisingly short, but the family style Prime Aged Ribeye, fileted to boast a succulent pink interior that tears apart effortlessly, delivers a simple, salty, fire-grilled, tender morsel of umami heaven.

Aspen Ridge Prime Aged Ribeye - Bestia

Aspen Ridge Prime Aged Ribeye

Pastry chef Genevieve Gergis (Menashe’s wife) peppers her half dozen desserts with seasonal fruits like persimmons, tangerines, winter lemons or pink lady apples, but the olive oil and salted caramel Valrhona Chocolate Budino is by far the strongest contender.

Grilled Octopus and Calamari - Bestia

Grilled Octopus and Calamari

Bestia might well be LA’s turning point in defiance of convention, categorization, expectation and formality, heralding a brand new genre of dining on the left coast.

http://www.bestiala.com/

Hinoki and the Bird, Los Angeles review

Hinoki scented Black Cod - Hinoki and the Bird

Hinoki scented Black Cod

Tucked away beneath a condo tower just beyond the eastern edge of the 20th Century Fox backlot, you might discover one of the greatest stars this town has ever unveiled. Hinoki and the Bird – brainchild of Sona and Comme Ca chef David Myers and Kuniko Yagi, (a waitress-becomes-a-chef success story of her own) is a surprise-filled candy-box of an east-meets-west bistro defying any other SoCal dining experiences heretofore.

Hinoki and the Bird, Los Angeles

Hinoki and the Bird, Los Angeles

As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I was struck by the expanse of unfinished Japanese cedar wood planks (Hinoki) lining the walls, doors and floors, that under less subtle direction might have resembled the inside of a cuckoo clock or the Unabomber’s cabin, but Myers’ attention to detail and the pools of amber light and shadows creates a formative oasis – just rustic enough for an after-work foo-foo cocktail – yet utterly sophisticated enough for an original and transformative dining event.

Chef Yagi’s varied menu bounces between the familiar and the exotic like a restless ping-pong ball, from all across south-east Asia, with dominant overtones of her Japanese heritage to her adoptive California. Things start calmly enough with a raw bar including a silky Beef Tartare spiked with pickled jalapeño, and a couple of sashimi’s. Not being a huge fan of raw fish with fruit, the popular Hamachi seemed a touch out-powered by the intense sweetness of persimmon and pomegranate, but who cares when you practically gorge yourself on a milky, cheesy, yoghurty Japanese ranch dip on the backs of Dutch Potato Chips?

Lemongrass Lamb Sausage - Hinoki and the Bird

Lemongrass Lamb Sausage

We were issued deliberate instructions along with the nugget-sized Lemongrass Lamb Sausages, to tear off a piece of the hoja santa leaf they rode in on, bundle them up, and then dip them into the chili-lime sauce. As the complex flavors and textures began to unfold, from the furry aromatic leaf to the citrusy sauce surrounding the succulent meat, even the avid non-lamb-eater at the table couldn’t resist but to reach for more.

I couldn’t contain my curiosity as to why a sub-section of the menu is called Inspiration! I was politely informed that “those are dishes inspired by flavors from around the world.” Hmmm, which would suggest that all the other dishes must have been inspired from…someplace else? Regardless, this menu-within-a-menu includes notable signatures such as Coconut-curried Mussels with shaved cauliflower and crumbled sausage, and the conversation-stopping Hinoki scented Black Cod with maitake mushrooms and shishito peppers – which arrives with a thin canopy of burning wood, delivering wafts of smoldering cedar smoke over the delectably sake-laden and wonderfully juicy, miso-flavored fillet. Sake is also to blame for the fate of the impossibly tender and ridiculously delicious Drunken Duck Breast that could quite easily be sliced with the back of a spoon.

Of all the times I have ever enjoyed Short-rib (and there have been numerous), I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of it braised in cumin and coriander before. Chef Yagi if you’re reading this, please grant your Curry Short-rib special a permanent spot on the “Inspiration” section, as this has to be the most inspired and original execution of one of my favorite cuts of beef.

Roasted Yam - Hinoki and the Bird

Roasted Yam

There is nothing particularly remarkable about the names of the ample side dishes, but their preparations are so astonishingly original, it felt as though our table clocked a million frequent flier miles into the future: the rice is neither steamed nor fried – it’s grilled, the roast potato with crème fraiche and crunchy lardons is a toffee-sweet yam, the bok choy is smothered in lemongrass and shallot, the swiss chard on steroids is all about the sesame. (Somebody, stop me!)

Miso Donuts - Hinoki and the Bird

Miso Donuts

In addition to the Ice-creams, Sorbets and Mochi’s, desserts include a multi-textural death-by-chocolate Ice-cream Sandwich and the curiously salty and feather light-and-fluffy Miso Donuts with a sublime honey flavored caramel dipping sauce – the kind you can spread on an old shoe-brush and still enjoy.

Hinoki and the Bird, you are without doubt my restaurant of the month!

http://hinokiandthebird.com/reserve/

Mapo Galbi, Los Angeles review

Mapo Galbi

As downtown Los Angeles increasingly evolves into a hip canvas for new toques to show off their kitchen prowess, diners are just as increasingly tempted to cross the 405 and 110 Freeways after dark, in search of some of the city’s most acclaimed food. But as you head east from the familiarly popular restaurant rows of Fairfax Avenue or West 3rd Street, you venture through an oddly exciting (yet unnervingly foreign) neighborhood, which is home to some 120,000 Korean residents. And without GPS and a solid phonetic recommendation, finding an authentic and satisfying meal in K’town can be a bit of a long shot. You see, with the overabundance of brightly illuminated Korean signs screaming for your attention, what you hope might be a good steakhouse…could turn out to be a good gynecologist instead.

Mapo Galbi

Mapo Galbi

As far as first impressions go, Mapo Galbi is a slight jolt to the expectation system. But don’t let the indecipherable Korean sign, nor the rather nondescript storefront or any of the interior choices of functional vinyl, 70’s wood veneer and sensible mirrors sway you. When you sit around one of the 10 gas-griddle tables, and slip on one of those cute, red aprons – you realize that you are about to venture more than a few feet outside the box.

Dak Galbi Stage 1 - Mapo Galbi

Dak Galbi Stage 1

As our evening progressed, the hostess seemed to grow measurably more charming – even as we careened repeatedly into our substantial language barrier. When I mentioned that I had “wanted to try this restaurant for some time,” she obligingly pointed to the restroom door. The very succinct menu was equally tricky to navigate, but with the aid of hand gestures, charades and the translation services of a neighboring table in between a gush of giggles, we somehow managed to order the highly popular Dak Galbi (spicy chicken with vegetables).

Dak Galbi Stage 2

Dak Galbi Stage 2

Our appetizers included a sliced cabbage salad with a creamy dressing, and a small dish of Water Kimchi, which consisted of a few submerged crunchy carrot and radish sticks under a milky, briny yet pleasantly refreshing, fermented broth. At this point, our griddle pan arrived, and the dish assembly began with alacrity. The ingredients started with rather simple chunks of marinated chicken, sweet potato chips and short ropes of rice-cake. Once browned, these were followed with coarsely chopped cabbage and a most unstinting helping of Gochujang (chili, sugar, sesame, garlic) sauce.

Dak Galbi Stage 3 - Mapo Galbi

Dak Galbi Stage 3

Just prior to serving, sesame leaves and scallions were scissored in, giving the dish a fresh green accent.

Dak Galbi with Banchan (side dishes)

Dak Galbi with Banchan (side dishes)

The side dishes (Banchan) included a rather soft, sweet and chewy strip of kimchi fish cake, a wonderfully flavorful seaweed salad, roasted zucchini and a few very crispy taco-sized slices of pickled radish. Our challenge was to balance a portion of chicken, rice-cake and cabbage onto a radish slither – without dropping the contents during the chopstick-assisted journey toward the lips. (If the need for the red aprons wasn’t clear earlier, it was blatantly obvious now.) The delectable combination of the sweet, sharp, savory and spicy, warm chicken against the cold and briny radish was a perfectly restrained contrast of the foreign and the familiar. And the incredible texture variety of melt-in-your-mouth rice cakes on one hand with crunchy scallions on the other, took the rather simple and gimmick-free dish to a unique and unexpected level.

Kimchi rice stir fry - Mapo Galbi

Kimchi rice stir fry

And just when the evening began to wane, our hostess reignited the griddle and stirred up a small bowl of rice with chopped kimchi and a few black ribbons of dried seaweed, for a delicious post-course, sizzling stir-fry.

While I can happily vouch for the quality, I cannot speak to the authenticity of Mapo Galbi, but über-esteemed Momofuku chef David Chang not only can and does, but he even goes so far as to consider it one of his all-time favorites.

http://www.visitkoreatown.org/mapo-dak-galbi-restaurant/

https://wwww.facebook.com/…/mapo-galbi

Trois Mec, Los Angeles review

Trois Mec

Trois Mec

Trying to get into any of LA’s “it” restaurants at the peak of their game has always involved a bit of high stakes drama. But none can rival the theatrical shenanigans of securing a seat at Jon Shook, Vinny Dotolo and Ludo Lefebvre’s Trois Mec (three mates). Just like any other live performance, the website offers tickets to specific sittings on specific dates. The “pay now – see you in two weeks” scheme permits diners to sample Lefebvre’s unconventional cuisine in a daily changing, omakase (chef’s choice) menu of whatever happens to be in season, in vogue or in the pantry.

Trois Mec exterior

Trois Mec exterior

Thrilled to be finally clutching a ticket, I gingerly opened the door to a roar of “Bon soir”, in an utterly unremarkable dining room, that occupies the space of a formerly unremarkable pizza joint at the end of an unremarkable strip mall in the shade of the Hollywood hills.

Then for the next couple of hours I found myself drowning in a tsunami of mediocrity as the giant candle of hype melted away into a puddle of weak tea. Sure, the notion of a don’t ask, don’t tell, hush-hush, say-no-more, pre-pay, chef’s choice supper club sounds rather enticing, but when the eloquently described dishes yield little more than the total sum of their parts, its hard not to feel like you’ve just been taken for a bit of a backstage joyride.

Garlic Bread - Trois Mec

Garlic Bread

A series of pre-menu Snacks included the house signature Buckwheat Popcorn – a decent enough, salt and vinegary blocker for the gaps in between the teeth; the peppery Tapioca cake with melted Parmesan cheese – a solid runner-up in the rice-cake cook-off; a Dijon Crème Brulee – every bit as unnecessary and pretentious as it sounds; a highly forgettable miniature sesame crisp something-or-other with shredded greens; and finally the first applause-worthy item, a square inch block of fire toasted Garlic Bread with melted herb butter.

Spot Prawn - Trois Mec

Spot Prawn

The five menu items started with the melancholy death of a Santa Barbara Spot Prawn, which was camouflaged from sight by slithers of crusty tomato, and camouflaged from taste by the violent upstaging of horseradish-infused crème fraiche.

Grilled Eggplant Caviar - Trois Mec

Grilled Eggplant Caviar

The Grilled Eggplant Caviar reminded me of a bucket of red laundry with Jamon Iberico swimming in a soggy pond of honey melon juice amidst a few crushed hazelnuts in suspension.

The Sunchoke salad, the only real hit among the misses included a medley of the thinnest slithers of delicately pickled sunchokes amongst a splendid blend of crunchy green beans and roasted sunflower seeds over a bed of citrusy hummus, spiked with thyme powder, giving the dish a fresh elegance and a little hope for the rest of the evening’s performance.

Sunchoke Salad - Trois Mec

Sunchoke Salad

The jury is still out as to whether it might have been easier to slice through my wallet or the Grilled Beef Belly, which would have also benefited more from the company of a crispy roast potato than the paltry abalone mushroom and green herb jus.

And finally a sugar-crusted, raw egg yolk topped the Carolina gold Rice Pudding, which came peppered with brown butter powder, making for a curiously savory and unnecessarily rich dessert.

Sesame Crisp - Trois Mec

Sesame Crisp

If I’m ever in the area again, I just might pop next door to Ludo’s Parisian bistro Petite Trois, which by all accounts looks and feels (and hopefully tastes) like a real meal – and may yield slightly more value for the $100 seat!

https://www.troismec.com/