Part of a growing trend to serve Chinese food with locavoire sourcing and an attention to healthy choices, Chi Lin off the Sunset Strip (9201 Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood CA 90069, 310/278-2068) pays homage to the spirit of Chinese cuisine with upscale versions of classic dishes like Peking Duck, soup with steamed dumplings, tangerine beef, tofu with pork and stir fried clams.
Tucked away just off Sunset Boulevard next to the much larger restaurant, Rivabella, the entrance to Chi Lin is marked by a bordello red neon sign suggesting forbidden treats and dangers are inside.
Chi Lin is a restaurant for special occasions. The dining room is perfect for a romantic liaison with a new friend or to celebrate the love of your life on an important anniversary. A hostess in a clinging black leather dress, cut mid-thigh, will lead you to your table in an intimate dining room.
Rows of lights hang down from the ceiling, their dim rays illuminating not so much the room as the essence of the space. The mirrored walls reflect the ceiling lights to infinity. Tables and booths allow for comfortable seating. The waitstaff is attentive. The menu accommodates omnivores, pescetarians and vegetarians.
I love breakfast. Pancakes that taste like cookie dough at Hedley's, Huevos O'Groats, I'll even drive to Ventura for the chorizo skillet at Golden Egg or go to Barney Greengrass in New York for nova, onions and eggs. So I was excited to try Tart, the cute cafe next to the Farmer's Daughter hotel on Fairfax.
It's adorable inside. Quaint, cozy, the owner, who looks like Yosemite Sam, bouncing around in an apron, like someone's dream of what a breakfast place should be. So I didn't mind that we got seated right next to the door on a particularly chilly Angeleno day. And I didn't even mind that it took almost a half an hour to get our coffee. It was Saturday, and they were busy. But the coffee was burnt and watery. Like it was scraped from the bottom of the dispenser.
I returned it and ordered a cappuccino to compensate. It took twenty minutes to arrive AND it came with lipstick smeared all over the mug. Not mine, by the way. I sent it back, and suggested that since it had been forty five minutes and there was no sign of our food, maybe we should abandon ship...
My friends weren't having it. They'd waited this long and we were starving. So we waited. And waited. And waited. A concerned bus boy finally came to check on us. When our food finally did come, it was a disaster. I honestly don't know where to start.
Except for a short stint on the Westside, I've spent over 20 years living in the Valley. And I love it. I really do. Yet, since I became more of a "foodie" a few years ago, I have been consistently disappointed with our lack of finer dining choices. We have excellent Mexican, burgers, pizza and sushi on every block of Ventura Blvd., but it's a wasteland when it comes to trying to find a place with a decent wine list, upscale decor and innovative food that doesn't cater to hipster millennials who are more concerned with being seen than with what's on the plate. Every time I read about a new place opening I held my breath in anticipation that my prayers would be answered…only to have them dashed by another gastro pub or taco joint (no offense).
So imagine my delight when Girasol, helmed by Chef CJ Jacobson, a two-time Top Chef contestant, was moving in to my neighborhood. The space located just outside Tujunga Village has been many different restaurants over the years none of them seemingly able to succeed for very long, so here's hoping his team can make it stick. They certainly transformed the building, pushing the sunflower-theme in a very modern, slick direction with an amazing layered metal ceiling and gray-brick tiled walls. It's like eating inside a metal sculpture. It's super cool, but not in a cold or unwelcoming way. You could really impress a first date by bringing them here.
The food mirrors the atmosphere and tastes as good as it looks. There's no real theme per se, just seasonal, creative fare that showcases the locally-sourced ingredients with a few unusual touches thrown in here and there to keep your palate engaged. Big Ceej is friends with many of the regional farmers, so expect the menu to change pretty regularly with the night's specials being as "in-season" as it gets. Thankfully he's cooking in California so his options are pretty varied.
Sometimes it pays to be in the right place at the right time. In the case of the epic, pre-opening meal I got to enjoy at Trattoria Neapolis last week, I just happened to be at home to get the call. Our friends think we eat out all the time, but our "foodie" cred is mere illusion. Yes, we like to eat well when we go out (who wants to get dressed up and fight traffic for a mediocre meal), however, to us the wine/beverage program is just as important and finding places that are impressive on both the food and beverage sides of the menu are rare.
I knew nothing about this new Pasadena eatery before I stepped through the door. I was suitably stuffed and excited when I left. The space is sophisticated, yet inviting, with many different areas to choose from - the bright and airy Garden Room, the cozy booths in the bar area, the semi-private upstairs balcony and my favorite the brick-walled wine room. It's an impressive space with many touches imported from and evoking Italy in a modern way.
It has been a 10-year labor of love for restaurateur Perry Vidalakis who traveled all over the Italy and the United States researching how to blend his love of Italian food and style with the life and style of Southern California. Most of the menu is familiar, yet the execution - by Chef Bryant Wigger - utilizes techniques and local ingredients that put his own fresh spin on the traditional fare.
Westside fans of the Loteria Grill at the Farmers Market who lamented the long drive into LA can now enjoy Loteria's freshly made Mexican food right here in Santa Monica in the old Gaucho Grill space.
When Jimmy Shaw, owner/chef, was setting up his first restaurant at the Farmers Market, Loteria could have been nothing more than another fast food restaurant in the maze of stalls. But Shaw's graphic design in that confined space stamped Loteria Grill as smart, hip and stylish.
In the new space on the Promenade, Shaw was confronted by the realities of a difficult space.
Gaucho Grill had its fans but the restaurant on the Third Street Promenade was famously dark and claustrophobic. Shaw's solution to that limitation was to knock down the front and back walls.
La Sandia Mexican Kitchen and Tequila Bar shares the top floor of Santa Monica Place with half a dozen other restaurants, the Food Court and the Market.
You'll recognize La Sandia by the crowded patio and open air bar, offering over 200 tequillas, half a dozen margaritas and Mexican beers, Mojitos, Capirinhas and Sangria pitchers.
The front part of the restaurant is dominated by the busy bar scene, especially at Happy Hour. With generously extended hours Sunday-Thursday from 4:00pm-9:00pm and Friday 4:00pm-7:00pm, Happy Hour appetizers are $3.00 (shrimp ceviche, a choice of quesadillitas, tacos, empanadas and sliders, chicken wings and bbq pork ribs), margaritas $5.00, Mexican bottled beer $3.00, daily specials Mondays-Thursdays and $5.00, "bottomless" bowls of guacamole.
Walk past the bar and you enter the restaurant with a dining room in a plaza style expanse, dominated by a retractable ceiling, a large fountain with four, smiling cherubs and upholstered booths with plush seating.
Driving on the freeway, looking at the streets and neighborhoods below, I often wonder what fabulous restaurants I'm missing. Tacos Por Favor is one of those places that I had heard about for years, but had always driven by without stopping.
Today I decided to stop.
A cantina-sized Mexican restaurant on the corner of Olympic at 14th Street,Tacos Por Favor sits on the border between the two-Santa Monicas.
It is well-known to the people who work in the auto repair and building supply businesses nearby as well as the students of the upscale private school, Crossroads and the well-heeled who could eat at the upscale Buffalo Club down the block, but prefer Tacos Por Favor's casual atmosphere and lower prices.
When I first met my husband, I told him that I’m part Native American. I’m also half Jewish. This is when he said to me, “You don’t live on a reservation…you make them.”
I’m sorry, but you will not be able to make a reservation at Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, a new pop-up restaurant on Abbott Kinney housed in what was once Capri. Well, you can if you are a party of six or more. Since I am a huge micro-manager, my suggestion is go, leave your name if there’s a wait, and walk around, going in and out of the great stores. They will even phone you when your table is ready.
It’s rare that I’m blown-away by a restaurant, but I have become the town crier for this one. Which is funny because the woman who once dubbed me the town crier because I like to share all my finds, is the one that called me late one night, sated, and told me every detail of her experience at this one. She mentioned that they only serve beer, wine and water, a fact I chose to ignore. So, the very next evening when I dragged my husband to an early dinner there, I tried and failed to order iced tea.
Living in LA is easy. Eating out here is hard. Sure you can wear whatever you want, and reservations for most places aren't necessary, but the high prices for ho-hum food and lackluster service by kids waiting on you while waiting for their big break (this is not a myth) mostly keeps us at home where the food is at least warm, the company enjoyable and (for us) the wine cellar filled with lovely selections. When we want a fix of beautiful, inventive food, we just turn on Top Chef and watch the pans fly. That's where we discovered Nyesha Arrington.
A contestant on the recent season in Texas, we couldn't help but root for her and Chris Crary, another LA chef to win the top prize. They both seemed, not only genuinely talented, but to be decent people as well. Which is not, by the way, a requirement for a chef, though it probably helps in the kitchen and certainly when you're on reality TV. Unless you want to be cast as the villain. They say all publicity is good publicity, but that is surely a double-sword when you're "playing" yourself. Regardless, we would be able to taste their food and, yes, the fact that we saw them on TV did sway us to go to their respective restaurants. Actors are a dime a dozen. Someone who can cook perfect pork belly truly has my attention.
We met Nyesha at LudoBites 8.0 while she was waiting to be seated. We felt a bit silly, nervous and dorky approaching her to chat, but she was incredibly gracious and I think a bit surprised to be recognized. (She was not eating yet. We would never be so rude as to interrupt someone in that manner.) We told her how impressed we were with her kitchen skills, especially during the Last Chance Kitchen segments, and promised to come into Wilshire soon. (She's the executive chef.) We had been there once - before she took over the kitchen - and enjoyed the experience, so now we were doubly excited.
Flouncing along La Brea Avenue one windy day looking for a great cup of coffee which, by the way, is rather difficult to find in Los Angeles, I happened upon a rather stark building. Being the warrior that I am, I knocked on the door and asked a young lady there if they served coffee and was it any good? She told me that they only made french press café. How pleased I was to hear this.
It was rather late in the afternoon and I enjoyed my cup in this quite provocative wine lounge. As I was about to go on my merry way, I noticed a young man sitting in a deep, red velvet chair sipping on a glass of wine. It was 3.30pm and knowing the habits of people who love their wine no matter what time of day or night, I decided I must return…a quick glance at their menu also helped me to make that decision.
I did return for the best coffee in town a few days later and chatted with the owner, Edgar Poureshagh, a very interesting and educated person. He was, in fact, the young man I had seen sipping wine. We spoke of many things – food, wine and the Assyrian empire and after telling him I wrote restaurant pieces, I decided this would be a grand place to write about.