Los Angeles

churchstateescargots.jpgChef Walter Manzke’s smile is infectious. Wait, maybe I shouldn’t say “infectious” since we’re in the middle of the H1N1 Flu scare (I refuse to call it the OTHER name because I love my bacon).

On my first visit to Church and State, I didn’t get to meet the chef until evening’s end, when I stole a few seconds of his time to tell him how much Peter and I enjoyed the restaurant. During our entire dinner though, from across the room, I was carefully watching him as he expedited orders and finished off each plate in the open kitchen. 

Between bites of the luxurious beef short-rib bordelaise and the perfectly baked (and cute) tiny ramekins of escargot, I would look over and see Chef Manzke’s face beaming. It’s almost like I could feel his joy drifting through the kitchen, then up above the beautiful, antiquated string of lights, and finally, smack down onto my plate.

Delicious food always makes me happy, but seeing chef Manzke’s ear-to-ear grin in the kitchen definitely made me more aware of the joy and care he (and his crew) puts into each dish.

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ludoBefore 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.

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stanslogo.jpg There’s something about being up at 4:00 a.m. that I feel, gives me permission to go to hell in a hand basket, gastronomically speaking.  I dropped my husband and kids off at LAX so he could escort them to Connecticut for summer camp. I always  feel bereft when the kids are away.  Especially our younger daughter Hannah, who I think on the eve of leaving, feels obligated to be sweeter to make up for the fact that her older sister Lena, urged by her teenage-ness, becomes, well, let’s just say, not so sweet.

I slept with Hannah last night and it was like being 13 all over again. Although I think our combined ages when we do that amounts to about 10.  “Quit tickling me!” “I’m not Mom.” “Are too!!” “Am not!” “Oh, Christ, you farted!” “Miss me yet?”

Driving home from the airport, I thought, ‘what would be open at this hour that would be absolutely decadent and bad for me…..?”  “Stan’s!”

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mozzalogo.jpg Dinner at a great restaurant is like jazz music. The Duke Ellingtons, Count Basies and Billie Holidays of the culinary world perform their signature genius through improvisation.

Such is the case with Nancy Silverton of La Brea Bakery fame, Chef Mario Batali, and winemaker / restaurateur Joseph Bastianich, who together own Pizzeria Mozza, an up tempo hotspot in Los Angeles.

The trio really knows how to riff when it comes to putting a new stamp on old standards.

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surfas2.jpgThe other day, my daughter Hannah and I stopped by Surfas. It always surprises me when she wants to go there, since their prepared food is, lets just say..um..esoteric.  She ordered the 72 layer biscuit with ham and cheese and drank a Bubble Up. Oh to be 13, 5’5” and weigh 98 lbs.  After that, as we crossed over into the store, a fellow cradling a basket of hot baguettes narrowly missed running into me as he made his way to his station or should I say ‘kingdom’, because this guy rules!

Hannah and I watched him set up the baguettes and tend to a customer at the newly established Cheese Bar. If you haven’t been to Surfas lately, there have been some delightful additions to the whole experience.

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