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Los Angeles

Staying Awake on the Freeway: Coffee in Los Angeles

IMG_2727Los Angeles doesn’t strike you as a coffee town like its rainy Pacific Northwest friends Seattle and Portland, or its foggy neighbor San Francisco to the north might. The sun is always shining. The temperature hovers in that 65-75 degree sweet spot seemingly year round. Hence there is no need for a warm-up mocha, right? Who needs the caffeine here?

Well, you need the caffeine, or at least Vin Scully on the radio to entertain during those sluggish commutes on the 405 or the 10.

Let’s be fair though about coffee. Los Angeles deserves world-class baristas and local micro bean roasters just as much as any cold weather or rain-abundant destination. Coffee is as comforting as your favorite blanket and nuanced as intricate Rhône blends. When in capable hands at the espresso machine or drip filters, the morning cup and afternoon pick-me-up can be a transcendent drink, regardless of the climate

Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and Starbucks can be found anywhere across Southern California. Though Los Angeles might have been a little behind many other pivotal cities for “Third Wave” coffee options, the great metropolis has certainly caught up. Now, you’ll be plenty awake on the freeways after enjoying some of the finest espresso and coffee in the country. (more…)


Restaurants: Ink, Los Angeles

In today’s television driven culture, what exactly constitutes being, every food writer’s favorite term, a celebrity chef? In the young days of chef television, there was the Food Network constantly, and then chefs teaching Diane Sawyer and Matt Lauer new recipes on morning news programs. These were a highly select group of gifted restaurant chefs with a side project of television. The focus was about the food, not the entertainment. Slowly, things evolved. Remember when Emeril Lagasse’s Food Network program included a jazz band? Bam!

Across the Pacific from Japan arrived “Iron Chef,” pioneering the television chef competition genre at the same time that “Survivor” was a reality television hit for CBS. Viewers of “Iron Chef” were far more interested in the “Survivor” elements than the gastrique made of wood sorrel on the duck confit a chef might have made if the confit was the secret ingredient.IMG_7987

Today, with all of the bells and whistles of blogs, social media, numerous television platforms, and the dining public as captivated by dashing young chefs as thirteen year old girls now are to Justin Bieber, there are hundreds of celebrity chefs. Or at least chefs called “celebrity chefs.” Wolfgang Puck, Emeril (as iconic a first name as Madonna), Bobby Flay, and Rick Bayless were just the forefathers of what has now reached this fever pitch.

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Octopus, Ink. Shells, Young Fennel, Pimenton

It often seems there are more celebrity chefs today than actual entertainment industry celebrities.

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Plat du Jour, December 5, 2012: Los Angeles and Plate Sharing

Having written about Los Angeles dining for a few years during the pop-up restaurant and food truck boom, it was great to visit the sprawling freeway-filled metropolis recently and  see what the latest fads are in the continually changing city. Often in these parts, what is in vogue at 8 am is no longer what is most trendy by 8 pm. Pop-ups and food trucks certainly have burst their bubbles, though Kogi is still going strong and Ludo Lefebvre will soon be launching his 10th edition of LudoBites.

A few notes struck me most about concepts I had only briefly touched on before and were heavily emphasized while visiting new spots across the city and re-visiting a few perennial favorites. There were some great discoveries– an other worldly pain au chocolat from the tiny Proof Bakery in Atwater Village, to basic public knowledge– hey, did anybody know that the pizzas and butterscotch budino are terrific at Pizzeria Mozza?(!)

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Waterloo & City’s Wild Boar Terrine and Charcuterie

Interestingly, what struck me most in Los Angeles was the theme of an editorial,“Famished: Mine, All Mine” by Sara Deseran of San Francisco Magazine.

Deseran is tired of “pass-the-plate” style dining. In Los Angeles, that form of dining is heavily emphasized, encouraged, and often, necessary. (more…)


Cocktail of the Week: Tequila Cocktail, Ink, Los Angeles

To accompany Michael Voltaggio’s  sterling, ambitious modern inspired masterpieces currently being produced at the cult chef’s Melrose restaurant Ink, Gabriella Mlynarczyk and Brittini Rae Peterson are presenting diners with equally inspired, cutting-edge cocktails to excite them for the riveting dinner to come.

Yes, this is mixology, but it’s mixology like the molecular gastronomy Voltaggio displays in the kitchen. Instead of trying to shock with foams and gels and powders like is often the case at his prior place of employment, The Bazaar by Jose Andres, Voltaggio uses these elements to subtly enhance a dish, not for a pizazz or novelty factor.

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The cocktails have all the hallmarks of the craft cocktail, mixology movement, with assorted house made syrups, freshly squeezed juices, and whimsical creations that often have two or three ingredients you’ve never even heard of.

Except, Ink isn’t going for the pre-Prohibition era style that is so in vogue with bartenders today. There are no Manhattans or a new style Martinis on the menu, though that could probably be concocted on the spot.

What you have instead is a menu of name-less cocktails, driven by spirits, then filled out for a complete drink, much like Voltaggio does house made Doritos, miso, and nori  to a formidable corn porridge. (more…)


Restaurants: Spago, Beverly Hills

This being Los Angeles, the story must be enthralling in a grand, cinematic mystique sort of way, full of glamour, plot twists, and complete re-models externally and internally.

No, it’s not a Raymond Chandler era, Los Angeles story. For that, head up north to Hollywood Boulevard for a definitive martini at Musso and Frank’s, complete with a chilled martini-filled sidecar and an atmospheric, Philip Marlowe sidecar too. For the more modern L.A. Story, catch the Steve Martin film, or even 2009’s “I Love You, Man,” full of today’s classic L.A. scenery and clichés.

No, this Hollywood story really takes place in Beverly Hills, at the luxurious intersection of Canon and Wilshire, where presently Santa and his reindeer are flying over the passing-by traffic of Range Rovers with tinted windows, Mercedes sedans, and Lotus convertibles.

There may be no more recognizable name in Los Angeles’ dining history than Wolfgang Puck, and the same can be said for his flagship restaurant Spago being the most recognizable restaurant name. You could even present a very convincing case that the two might be the most recognizable in the country. (more…)


Cocktail of the Week: The “Running Leap” from The Spare Room, Hollywood

On this Thanksgiving Eve, Autumn is very much on the mind of everyone. Well, maybe not as much if you’re in Los Angeles where it still feels like late summer.

The days of pumpkin this, apple that are soon fading into snowy winter days, so let’s celebrate a strike of an Autumnal cocktail from The Spare Room, one of two exceptional cocktail bars inside the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel (the other being the Library Bar just off the lobby where the focus is on produce-centric, omakase ordered cocktails).

“The Running Leap”

The Spare Room indeed has two lanes for your bowling and drinking needs. I didn’t drop the $100 for a lane to see if a cocktail might make my bowling shots go straighter, as they usually curve quickly to the gutter. It’s a hidden speakeasy, except not underground, and about fifty times the size of one.

The year-old Spare Room’s cocktail menu is divided into seasonal cocktails (think an Old-Fashioned with cranberry cordial) and revamped classics (the Penicillin becomes the “Amoxycillin” with Amaro added).

Using Bonded Bourbon as the base, the “Running Leap” is an absolute stand-out. Served in an antique tumbler with three chiseled rocks that never melt away to dilute the drink, the usually ho-hum pairing of apple cider and bourbon gets a new life here courtesy of a house-made rosemary liqueur. Maple syrup adds some body and sweetness, then a spritz of lemon helps calm the rosemary’s edge. It’s all shaken up and presented on a paper maple leaf, with a garnish of apple chips. (more…)


Plat du Jour: November 2, 2012: The Perfect Sandwich, The Not-So Perfect Restaurant Location, and Menu Terminology

It’s the first weekend of November and APO is very much in the air. This time of year always brings such wonderful produce and comforting treats from autumnal ingredients. The past few weeks I’ve been delighted by the exceptional brussels sprouts dishes on menus (usually with bacon, guanciale, or pancetta involved), the pumpkin beers on draught, the pumpkin caramel whoopie pies I baked a week ago, almost anything with cranberries or apples involved, and some stellar dishes involving chestnuts, chanterelle mushrooms, end of season figs, and Bartlett pears.

Pumpkin Caramel Whoopie Pies

But, the streak had to end. Let’s just say I won’t be asking for another round of the pumpkin frozen yogurt I sampled today. The chalky consistency and harsh, almost bitter squash notes were not exactly pleasant, especially with a topping of dried fruit compote and (very acceptable soft) chocolate chip cookie crumbles. I’ve never been a vocal advocate for frozen yogurt like I frequently am with sorbet, gelato, and ice cream. Frozen yogurt certainly has its merits. At times, it can be spectacular, even at this certain purveyor.

Pumpkin frozen yogurt…we’ll stick to chocolate next Autumn.

Before heading into the final notes before the weekend, we again want to send our thoughts and best wishes to those affected by Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast. The good folks at Eater National have put together a map of restaurants nationwide, from Bainbridge Island to D.C., who are sending proceeds from meals to the relief efforts for those affected by Sandy. Thank you to Eater for putting together the list and to all the restaurants taking part in the recovery, as we all hope to do whatever we can to help the hurricane hit areas re-build as quickly as possible. (more…)