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.
I really needed a night out. Life has been conspiring against us lately, but it could be worse. Tired of being homebound and cooking three meals a day, I was desperate for a a little culinary magic. When a friend called with an invite to the opening night of Little Beast, I jumped at the chance like a drowning person needing a life raft.
This new restaurant was one of her clients, so I figured it had to be good. She's a produce broker and has never steered me wrong. All I knew about the place was that the chef, Sean Lowenthal, was, until he opened this place, the sous chef at Chateau Marmont for a couple of years. It was good enough for me.
Their goal in converting the old Larkin space, a quaint, early 1900s Craftsman house, was to create a dining spot in Eagle Rock to rival the foodie joints found in the more tony neighborhoods to their west like Silverlake and Los Feliz. Their mantra: seasonal, modern, progressive. I don't really know what that means when it comes to food, but after sampling the menu, I know that whatever you call it, Little Beast has raised the bar on this section of Colorado.
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.
Before Trois Mec opened, being able to claim you attended one of Chef Ludo Lefebvre's infamous LudoBites pop-ups was sort of a badge of honor amongst Angelenos. An elusive and super cool experience that you couldn't stop talking about, even if it made your foodie friends more than a little jealous. The locations were somewhat off the beaten path, the food completely unexpected, at least for newbies to the world of haute cuisine like me. The community vibe and air of excitement while dining, palpable. What makes this new endeavor of a permanent space even more exciting is his partnership with Animal owners Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo. I've only have the pleasure of eating at Animal once, but it was as exciting and memorable as any LudoBites. When it comes to fine dining with a twist, no one in LA is doing it better than these three.
While this is a partnership - Jon and Vinny have two other restaurants to run - this is Ludo's kitchen. Located in a strip mall on Highland in a converted pizza joint - they still haven't changed the Raffallo's sign - it's not much to look at from the outside. Yet once you cross the threshold and are welcomed with a hearty "Bon Soir!" by the whole staff, you know you've come to the right place. All the great things about LudoBites have been carried over to Trois Mec, but somehow it feels different. More refined, yet more relaxed. Since it's a permanent space, the frenetic nature of having to prepare the food in three hours is gone, but the intensity in the kitchen, the "just make happen" attitude has not diminished one bit.
After experiencing Trois Mec twice, once very early, once after it officially opened, I have to say his food is better than ever. Simpler in a way, though just as inventive with the complex flavors he's come to be known for. It seems cleaner and more vibrant, taking the essence of an item and cranking it up to 11. The presentation is beautiful as well, each course served on a different piece of pottery or antique French plates, designed to showcase just that particular dish.
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.
Huckleberry, Sweet Rose Creamery and Rustic Canyon touched a foodie sweet spot with locals in Santa Monica and West Los Angeles. Husband and wife co-owners, Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan proved again and again that they understood what the upscale community wanted: farmers market fresh food served in casually artful settings.
Mid-range pricing means they can afford to use high quality ingredients and indulge their flair for visually engaging food. Walk past Huckleberry's bakery display and you'll be hard pressed not to take a photograph. The scones and muffins are gorgeous.
Their forte is creating exceptionally well-prepared comfort food.
That is definitely the focus of their newest restaurant and bakery, Milo & Olive located at 2723 Wilshire Blvd. at Harvard on the eastern edge of Santa Monica and open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, 7am-11pm.
by Kitty Kaufman