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Food for Thought

by Lesley Balla, Alexandria Abramian-Mott and Kimberly Davis Tarne | Angeleno magazine | June 22, 2011

There is a sea of change in the L.A. dining scene, and we’re excited to ride that wave. The new guard has stripped everything down this past year—young, ambitious chefs are creating soulful, rustic cuisine that speaks to the times and, especially, to a new generation of diners. It was definitely the year for rising stars: Roy Choi wants you to eat with your hands and sit with strangers; Jordan Kahn’s food far outshines the hubbub over a restaurant critic being kicked out of Red Medicine; and the best dishes sing with simplicity. Other trends we love right now: sommeliers taking risks with their wine lists that expand your palate but not your wallet, food trucks moving indoors, and brunch becoming the new black. Don’t forget to bring your appetite!

Best New Chef
Jordan Kahn, Red Medicine

Don’t let the restaurant’s controversial move to throw out a local restaurant critic overshadow what its young chef is doing in Beverly Hills. Jordan Kahn, once a rising-star pastry chef, combines modern technique with Southeast Asian flavors to deliver dishes­­­­­­­­­­­­­—like sugar cane-cured trout with a savory burnt chile streusel, dotted with fresh wild herbs and edible flowers­—that are as spectacular to look at as they are to taste. You’ll probably spot a few local chefs at the bar sipping a perfectly unique cocktail and devouring the country pâté bánh mì well into the night. 8400 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, 323.651.5500, redmedicinela.‌com

The Brunch Club
In a city fueled by good food, it’s no surprise some of our go-to spots have launched brunch menus this year. Mainstays like Dominick’s (8715 Beverly Blvd., West Hollywood, 310.652.2335, dominicksrestaurant.com) finally opened their doors for the weekend’s early-afternoon crowd, keeping up with stellar brunches at Red O (8155 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, 323.655.5009, redorestaurant.com), Scarpetta (225 N. Cañon Drive, Beverly Hills, 310.860.7970, montagebeverlyhills.‌com), Zengo (395 Santa Monica Place, Santa Monica, 310.899.1000, richardsandoval.‌com) and First & Hope (710 W. 1st St., L.A., 213.617.8555, firstandhope.com), the downtown supper club now boasting Sunday jazz brunch. Meanwhile, the Heirloom-LA sustainable food truck (855.456.6652, heirloomla.‌com) takes advantage of Bar Covell’s (4628 Hollywood Blvd., L.A., 323.660.4400, barcovell.‌com) seating and liquor license, dishing out brunch to the Eastside crowd every Sunday. And rounding out the brunch revolution is Bagatelle (755 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood, bistrotbagatelle.‌com), a NYC institution that’s redefined weekends with bottle-popping and table-dancing. Opening in late summer in Boudoir’s former space, it encourages diners to party like rock stars… before noon.

Community Development
It’s hard to imagine a city less suited for communal tables—this is, after all, privacy-obsessed, square-footage-spoiled Los Angeles—and yet a sudden surge in high-occupancy tables is bringing perfect strangers together from WeHo to South Bay. At places like Son of a Gun, The Gorbals (501 S. Spring St., L.A., 213.488.3408, thegorbalsla.com) and Eveleigh, pairs and foursomes can sidle up to unknowns for an evening of strained interactions or flourishing friendships. But Manhattan Beach Post takes top honors when it comes to this kind of ad hoc dining at its finest. Architect Stephen Jones has created a space with not one but four communal tables. “I put a pair of [12-foot-long oak] tables parallel to each other with swiveling stools, so you can also strike up conversation with the next table,” he explains. And for the socially awkward? “There’s enough space between seats that gives you the choice to interact or not,” Jones says. “And the trough lighting creates an experience that really places the focus on the food.” We’ll eat to that!

From the Grapevine
Carafes are back? Barbera from… California? Three up-and-coming sommeliers spotlight the newest wine trends on the L.A. scene.

The New California
Paul Sanguinetti
(Ray’s & Stark Bar)

“While California is best known for its Napa cabernet and chardonnay or Sonoma pinot noir, there’s a new generation of winemakers taking inspiration from classic regions like Burgundy and Piemonte, and applying it here. So now we have California barbera, sangiovese, tocai Friulano, roussane and négrette, and a lot of it is quite good.”

Experiment, Experiment, Experiment
Brick Loomis (Culina)
“A lot of restaurants, including Culina, are serving wine in carafes now, which lets people really explore a list. Especially if you have unusual, value-driven wines, like a Friulian tazzelenghe or an Enfer d’Arvier from the Valle d’Aosta, it’s less of a risky proposition to try something new and delicious.”

The Esoteric Revolution
Josh Goldman (the forthcoming ink., and formerly of The Dining Room at The Langham)
“We’re seeing more and more wines from underrepresented Eastern European countries like Croatia, Hungary and Slovenia, which weren’t really available here until recently. It’s fun to add something like a plavac mali, a cousin of zinfandel, alongside a California zin so people can expand their palates.”

Best New Mixologist
Julian Cox, Playa
When Julian Cox oversaw the bar program for the rotating door of chefs at Test Kitchen, he worked individually with each one to make sure his drinks worked with their food. Whether the menu was vegan and raw or robust Peruvian, you knew the cocktail was his by the obscure spirits he found or the spiced syrups and infusions he made. Working with John Sedlar at Rivera and now Playa, Cox really plays: Who knew hops-infused Champagne, Miller High Life and muddled grapefruit could be so perfectly refreshing? 7360 Beverly Blvd., L.A., 323.933.5300, playarivera.com

Best New Hidden Gem
Robata Jinya
The Valley got lucky: Ramen Jinya, home of giant bowls of springy noodles in rich, porky broth, opened in Studio City. Now, with its sibling Robata Jinya tucked neatly along the West 3rd Street corridor, we no longer have to drive over the hill. This outpost is more stylish than the strip mall original, with Samurai suits guarding the bar, but it’s also more than a ramen shop, with a full menu of grilled meats and vegetables (robatayaki), sushi and an amazing organic tofu that’s made right at your table. Still, whatever you do, get the ramen. 8050 W. 3rd St., L.A., 323.653.8877, jinya-la.com

Upper Crust
Pie is slicing its way through L.A.’s sweet spots, but you can forget about those banana-cream basics: The latest sugar rush is all about using pie shells as canvases for unexpected flavors. At Public Kitchen & Bar (Hollywood Roosevelt, 7000 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, 323.769.8888, domainerestaurants.com), the Shaker lemon pie gets an upgrade with fresh buttermilk and lemon rinds, while Valerie Gordon of Valerie Confections (3360 W. 1st St., L.A., 213.739.8149, valerieconfections.‌com) gives grandma’s classics a modern, highly seasonal twist. Look for Gordon’s cherry apricot marzipan and vanilla cherry pies, but you’ve gotta move fast; they all sell out at the Hollywood Farmers’ Market on Sundays. However, the—ahem—cake might go to Simplethings Sandwich & Pie Shop (8310 W. 3rd St., L.A., 323.592.3390, simplethingsrestaurant.‌com) with its rotating menu that includes banoffee and salted caramel pies.

Restaurant Row
Injecting culinary cool into Washington Boulevard was no easy feat, but three recent additions have extended Culver City’s red-hot restaurant scene to some very unlikely spaces. Since replacing an old Shakey’s, Pitfire Artisan Pizza (12924 W. Washington Blvd., L.A., 424.835.4088, pitfirepizza.com) has quickly become a local neighborhood haunt, while traditional British gastropub Waterloo & City (12517 W. Washington Blvd., 310.391.4222, waterlooandcity.com) took over a converted diner from the ’50s to gain its current hotspot status. A-Frame (12565 Washington Blvd., L.A., aframela.com) set up camp in a former IHOP space, dishing up a riff on modern picnic food. Forthcoming restaurants­, welcome! You’re in ’hood company.

Best New Restaurant
A-Frame

It’s everything a restaurant born out of L.A.’s food-truck movement should be: loud, bustling and communal—a place to let your guard down and get your hands dirty. Dining in chef Roy Choi (Kogi) and David Reiss’ (The Brig, Alibi Room) Culver City spot is akin to grabbing a taco and eating on the curb, except it’s a former IHOP turned into a stylish, convivial dining hall where you make friends with others at your table—because you might not know them—after eyeing their furikake-laced kettle corn, crisp beer-can chicken, and messy whole-fried Dungeness crab. By the look of the eclectic mix waiting to get in every night, it’s exactly how L.A. wants to eat now.

10 New Favorites

1. Son of a Gun
Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook take to the water with their Animal approach to seafood. The shrimp toast sandwich is positively addictive. 8370 W. 3rd St., L.A., 323.782.9033, sonofagunrestaurant.‌com
2. Ray’s & Stark Bar
The real reason to go to LACMA this year isn’t the Tim Burton exhibit—it’s Kris Morningstar’s ultra-seasonal, boldly creative cuisine. 5905 Wilshire Blvd., L.A., 323.857.6180, raysandstarkbar.‌com
3. Manhattan Beach Post
Former Water Grill chef David LeFevre branches out at this fantastic hang with an eclectic menu and handcrafted cocktails. 1142 Manhattan Ave., Manhattan Beach, 310.545.5405, eatmbpost.‌com
4. Spice Table
Hidden in Little Tokyo, a former Mozza chef serves up Southeast Asian dishes like peanuts laced with tiny fried anchovies and wood-fired satays. 114 S. Central Ave., L.A., 213.620.1840, thespicetable.‌com
5. Savory
Paul Shoemaker’s breezy beach spot highlights seasonal cuisine with just the right amount of (seemingly effortless) flair. 29169 Heathercliff Road, Malibu, 310.589.8997, savorymalibu.com
6. Salt’s Cure
The place and menu may be small, but the flavors are big: meats cured and smoked in-house, grilled oysters and weekend brunch. 7494 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, 323.850.7258, saltscure.‌com
7. Wood & Vine
Come to this airy space in the historic Taft Building for some of the best chicken and waffles anywhere. 6280 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, 323.334.3360, woodandvine.‌com
8. The Royce
With his exquisite technique and adoration of local farmers and fishermen, incoming chef David Féau outshines the new dining room design at the Langham Hotel. 1401 S. Oak Knoll Ave., Pasadena, 626.585.6410, roycela.‌com
9. The Misfit
The former Anisette space gets new life with approachable bistro food given a seasonal slant. 225 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, 310.656.9800, themisfitrestaurant.‌com
10. Night + Market
Kris Yenbamroong’s street food-inspired menu offers some of the most authentic and exciting Thai tastes in town. 9043 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, 310.275.9724, nightmarketla.com

Best Service at a New Restaurant
Scarpetta
One spectacular plate of spaghetti isn’t the only thing New York chef Scott Conant brought to Beverly Hills: He’s imported service standards many East Coast diners take for granted. Maybe it’s because the Italian restaurant is in the Montage Beverly Hills hotel, or maybe it’s because some of the city’s best waiters have been poached from elsewhere (Spago and Bouchon, to name a few)-either way, this is the place where you’re greeted warmly when you walk in, where servers who care guide you with instinct and skill, where napkins are folded neatly upon your return, and none of it seems rehearsed or rushed. In short, it’s exactly what service should be. 225 N. Cañon Drive, Beverly Hills, 310.860.7970, montagebeverlyhills.com

Best New Restaurant Design
Lukshon

As with his menu, Sang Yoon spared no expense with the design of his Southeast Asian-inspired restaurant, Lukshon. It’s all in the subtle details: the floral patterns taken from vintage Chinese wallpaper carefully placed on teak and walnut panels along the wall; beautiful platinum beaded tiles; and the fact that the entire bar area is a front seat to the open kitchen. Ana Henton from MASS Architecture & Design gave the space a California modernist feel with a sleek, contemporary style. It’s the perfect place for a plate of spicy chicken pops and a crisp riesling. 3239 Helms Ave., Culver City, 310.202.6808, lukshon.‌com

Extending the Branch
Olive trees are making serious roots in Los Angeles restaurants. The imported Mediterranean trees are evergreen, and their silvery-hued leaves bring in just the right amount of quiet color that doesn’t overpower a space (sorry, ficus). Boxed or potted, mature versions have sprouted everywhere from Tavern (11648 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood, 310.806.6464, tavernla.com) and The Tasting Kitchen (1633 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, 310.392.6644, thetastingkitchen.com) on the Westside to Eveleigh (8752 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, 424.239.1630, theeveleigh.‌com), Mezze (401 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood, 310.657.4103, mezzela.‌com) and Fig & Olive (8490 Melrose Place, West Hollywood, 310.360.9100, figandolive.‌com) in WeHo. Even Soho House (9200 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, 310.432.9200, sohohousewh.‌com) sports a quartet of them festooned with lanterns in its top-floor private restaurant.

Best New Dish
Porcetto from Sotto

In a sea of foams, gels and other scientific techniques that make cuisine cuisine today, the simplest dishes often outshine the rest. At Sotto, a hidden Century City-adjacent gem, the porcetto is a thing of beauty. Devil’s Gulch pork belly, coated in herb salt and fennel pollen, is rolled up and slow-roasted until the fat, meat and flavor melt together. As the “roast” special on Sundays, it’s cut thick and served with a side of bitter greens and a dab of mostarda; during the week, chunks are sandwiched between two pieces of the excellent house-made bread, and it needs nothing more. Sheer perfection. 9575 W. Pico Blvd., L.A., 310.277.0210, sottorestaurant.‌com

Best New Sommelier
Helen Johannesen, Son of a Gun

Champagne isn’t the first thing you think of sipping alongside alligator schnitzel, but for Son of a Gun’s beverage director, Helen Johannesen, it’s the perfect pairing. In fact, she suggests drinking Champagne anytime with almost anything, which is why there are more sparklers on the list at the new aquatic-focused sibling of Animal than red or white wines. The idea is as whimsical as the menu, but still serious: You might not drop $900 for that bottle of 1990 Dom Perignon, but someone will, and they’ll happily drink it with a smoked steelhead roe amid the down-home décor. 8370 W. 3rd St., L.A., 323.782.9033, sonofagunrestaurant.com

The Truck Stops Here
When Kogi BBQ truck owner Roy Choi opened two brick-and-mortar restos last year—Chego (3300 Overland Ave.,
L.A., 310.287.0337, eatchego.com) and A-Frame—he paved the way for other food trucks to follow suit with storefronts. The Flying Pig Café (141 S. Central Ave., L.A., 213.621.0300, flyingpigcafela.‌com) has landed in Little Tokyo. >>> Komodo (8809 W. Pico Blvd., West L.A., 310.246.5153, komodofood.‌com) is where Californian and Asian cuisine meet. >>> Sweet teeth unite at the Coolhaus ice cream sandwich shop (8588 Washington Blvd., Culver City, 310.424.5559, eatcoolhaus.‌com).

Club Med
Forget the ho-hum hummus: Restaurants combining local, seasonal produce with traditional flavors from the Middle East and Mediterranean are all the rage. At Mezze (401 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood, 310.657.4103, mezzela.‌com), chef Micah Wexler serves dishes like Turkish-inspired veal manti topped with almond milk; warm house-made pita doused in honey butter; and a killer Israeli couscous with preserved lemon and creamy uni butter. >>> The fashionista set clomps through Cleo at the Redbury Hotel (1717 Vine St., Hollywood, 323.962.1711, cleorestaurant.com) for charred artichokes hot from the wood-burning oven; lamb tartar with bulgur and mint; and beef cheek tagine. >>> And we love the baleela (warm chickpeas with pine nuts and brown butter), pide (hot flatbread with spicy soujuk sausage) and duck shawarma at neighborhood fave Momed (233 S. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, 310.270.4444, atmomed.com).

Best New Pastry Chef
Josh Graves, Ray’s & Stark Bar

He had us with the BTO (“Better Than Oreo”) cookies at The Mercantile last year, but now Josh Graves is wowing us with buttery cherry crostatas, orange marmalade cake and perfect panna cotta at Ray’s. He goes for flavor first, hooks in artful presentation—he’s surrounded by LACMA, after all—and makes great use of the exquisite produce Executive Chef Kris Morningstar brings in for the rest of the menu. The ethereal dark chocolate mousse on cookie crust with kumquat purée alone proves Graves to be an up-and-comer worth notice.

Best Atmosphere
Eveleigh
With its well-worn floors, brick fireplace and cozy vibe, Eveleigh feels like a country hilltop home that’s been around forever. And in some respects, it has: The building was once a fashion showroom, but it’s smack-dab in the middle of the Sunset Strip-the last place you’d find anything pastoral. But when you’re sitting on the back patio with the retractable roof shades pulled back, the stars twinkling in and a breeze blowing through the fruit trees and herb garden outside, that’s what it is: the perfect setting for approachable, seasonal small plates and creative cocktails.

Fired Up!
Pizza is hot right now thanks to new wood-fired ovens getting lit all over town. Bradford Kent cranks his to 800 degrees for the pies at Olio Pizzeria (8075 W. 3rd St., L.A., 323.930.9490, pizzeriaolio.com), but temps go lower for the bialys he makes on weekends. >>> Sourdough crusts get nice char from olive wood at The Luggage Room (260 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena, 626.356.4440, theluggageroom.‌com). >>> The pies at Stella Rossa Pizza Bar (2000 Main St., Santa Monica, 310.396.9250, stellarossapizzabar.‌com) are wonderfully crisp and chewy, many topped with locally sourced produce. >>> The ovens at both Mother Dough (4648 Hollywood Blvd., L.A., 323.644.2885, motherdoughpizza.com) and Sotto (9575 W. Pico Blvd., L.A., 310.277.0210, sottorestaurant.com) were constructed by third-generation Neapolitan oven-builder Stefano Ferrara.

The Next Big Thing
Top Chef fans and hungry foodies alike are eagerly awaiting ink. (8360 Melrose Ave., L.A., 323.651.5866, mvink.‌com), the solo debut of Michael Voltaggio (Angeleno’s Best New Chef 2010), which should open any day now. >>> After garnering accolades for his Peruvian cuisine at Mo-Chica, Ricardo Zarate makes his latest appearance at Picca (9575 W. Pico Blvd., L.A., 310.277.0133, piccaperu.com), which just opened above Sotto. >>> Neal Fraser (BLD, Grace) will oversee the menu at The Strand House (no info at time of press), a Manhattan Beach spot that debuts just steps from the sand next month. >>> And when the Hotel Bel-Air (701 Stone Canyon Road, Beverly Hills, 310.472.1211, hotelbelair.com) is ready to show off its two-year, head-to-toe overhaul in October, you’ll find Wolfgang Puck and his restaraunt group overseeing food and beverage operations, serving contemporary, California-centric cuisine.