Los Angeles

philippe1.jpgDouble-dipped Justice at Philippe's

If you are a criminal defense attorney as I am defending cases in downtown Los Angeles, you will eventually find your way to the tangled skein of ceiling fans, neon soft drink signs, and sawdust floors of a restaurant called “Philippe - The Original The Home of the French dip sandwich Since 1918" in nearby Chinatown. This restaurant and the sandwiches contained within played a central role in defending my first felony trial which took place in 1987.

In that case, my client was twenty years old and stood no more than 5' 4" weighing 110 lbs. It wouldn’t have hurt him to eat a sandwich himself. He had just been released from prison after serving time for burglary. He was told by his parole officer to obey all laws, don’t possess a gun, and stay away from gang members. He did very well in following those directions for the next 24 hours. 

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charlies2.jpgI’m always dragging my friend Laur with me to try out new restaurants. From casual gastropubs up the street like Laurel Tavern, to “modern (molecular) cooking” at The Bazaar across town. She’s always up for a new dining adventure no matter where we go.

When she invited me to dinner at a new place in Malibu last month, I thought to myself, “Seriously, does anyone DRIVE to Malibu just for dinner?” I wondered if trying to get there during rush hour would be worth all the trouble.

If you live in Los Angeles, you understand the hell that is our freeway system, especially during the work week. Sometimes it can take hours to crawl across the 405 freeway, and even shortcuts are clogged with hungry diners trying to make that 7 or 8pm dinner reservation.

It wasn’t just the thought of midweek traffic that bothered me: it was also the general consensus (I think) that Malibu proper is for locals only. I’ve lived in Studio City for fifteen years now, and I can remember driving to Malibu only once for an actual dinner. It was an intimate gathering at some restaurant (can’t remember which one) for a friend’s 40th birthday party. 

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girasolintExcept 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.

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ilfornaiowine.jpgWe had planned to spend New Year's Eve with friends and family but the flu and changes in schedules left us on our own. The New Year deserves to be celebrated, so we organized a dinner the first week of January at Il Fornaio in Santa Monica.

We enjoy coming to Il Fornaio for many reasons: their good food, affordable prices, and their Passporto program that rewards diners who come frequently during the Festa Regionale. During the first two weeks of every month, Il Fornaio presents a menu featuring the dishes and wines of a particular region in Italy. January's region is Trentino-Alto Adige, which borders Switzerland and Austria.

We met at the Santa Monica Il Fornaio, our favorite, because of the cozy setting and the friendly, attentive staff. Because the Regionale pairs food with wine, we came hungry and thirsty. Since we had a large group, we could order a good sampling of dishes.

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Albright Outdoor-IndoorLongtime Santa Monica Pier staple, SM Pier Seafood, has officially re-launched as The Albright. After 35 years, the family-owned and operated restaurant has passed down from mother to daughter and has undergone a complete revamp - including an updated menu that reflects the new owner's commitment to using fresh, locally sourced food - and the addition of an extensive craft beer & California wine program. The restaurant is now run by Yunnie Kim Morena, whose parents opened the original location in 1977 upon emigrating to the U.S. from Korea.

The menu’s focus takes a fresh, locally sourced, approach to classic items that one would hope to find on the Pier. The Albright’s culinary program features everything from Spicy Seafood Soup and Kumamoto Oysters to Whole Fried Tilapia and a massive salt-water tank of live lobsters, crabs and prawns, one of the few places on the Westside with this offering. Classic favorites include, Mussels and Fries, Grilled Black Tiger Shrimp Tacos and Corn Dog Bites. Seasonal specials will also be available daily.

In celebration, The Albright will be offering a '77 throwback menu on Thursday, January 16th, to honor prices from 1977 (the year that the original location opened). Items will include:

Live Lobster & Crab: $19.77
Fish&Chips: $4.50
Chowder: $1
Bud Light: $1

The Albright is located at 258 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA 90401.Public parking is available on the Pier or in adjacent lots. Additional information is available at www.TheAlbright.com.