Erven Snags Best New Restaurant Title

When I popped into buzzy Erven, the eatery that inhabits the old RFD space at 514-516 Santa Monica Blvd. in Santa Monica, to sample the much-lauded beer battered tofu sandwich, the staff that evening looked particularly chuffed.  I assumed that was because of the recent attention being showered on the vegan restaurant, and a good review from Jonathon Gold.  So when I congratulated them on their review, I got this response: “Which one?”  While it’s not out in print yet, turns out that Erven has just been named #1 of Los Angeles’ Best New Restaurants of 2016 by Los Angeles Magazine. You can see for yourself here.  Congratulations!




Stella Rosa Building On Lincoln And Lucille In Venice

Have you been wondering what those banners announcing Stella Rosa wines (not to be confused with Stella Rossa Pizza Bar in Santa Monica) on the sides of the construction site on the corner of Lucille and Lincoln Blvd. in Venice are doing there?  Well, according to an official associated with the winery, the construction site will be a future “cool, upscale, office building”.  No word on what will be inhabiting the building quite yet…  Look for a September unveiling. stellarosawines


True Food Kitchen Opens Today…

I got a chance to check out True Food Kitchen over the weekend.  The restaurant, which is on the ground floor of Santa Monica Place facing 2nd Street, officially opens today.  The space is bright and airy, with curving, warm lines and colors that soften the slightly industrial feel.  Since it faces west, the dining room is awash in light.  The kitchen and the prep areas are in the open and you can watch the staff hand-stuffing ravioli or chopping vegetables.  The menu is large, drawing from many different influences including Asian, Mediterranean, and American.  The concept for the menu is, according to their website, “simple, sustainable, fresh and pure” and is based on health guru Andrew Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet principles.  (The only complaint I heard on this visit was from my dining companion who thought the menu was too diverse and a bit difficult to navigate.)  There was a large selection of clearly marked vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free items as well as meats.   The shiitake and tofu lettuce cups that I started with were delicious and hinted of ginger, toasted garlic, and soy.  I then sampled a roasted asparagus pizza, which was topped with smoked mozzarella, red onion, and marjoram.  The crust was thin and the flavors well-thought out.  And I’m a sucker for anything with marjoram in it.  I also tried a market vegetable scramble: fresh vegetables and egg over a hash made from sweet potato that was earthy, filling, and satisfying.  Everything was washed down with a cucumber refresher, but they do have a full bar, beer, and small but careful wine list sorted by bottle price ranging from $24 to $48 (although they do have a select few bottles over that).  Everything was served efficiently by friendly staff that went out of their way to explain inflammatory diet principles or point out things like house-made ice cream.  I have hight hopes for True Food Kitchen.  The overall feeling of the experience was neighborhood-y and relaxed.  This could be a great go-to restaurant when you just don’t know where to go.  The eclectic menu would please anyone.  And with a nod to healthy diet,  who wouldn’t feel good about eating here?  Read more at

Shiitake & tofu lettuce cup
Roasted asparagus pizza
Strawberry and rhubarb crisp
Flourless chocolate cake

Alfred Molina Loves La Dolce Vita

In case you haven’t had a chance to read the February issue of Bon Appetit magazine, the last page, which normally interviews a celebrity about food, caught up with British actor Alfred Molina.  Guess what he said was his favorite restaurant?  Our very own La Dolce Vita in Beverly Hills.  Long a favorite of mine, I love the rat pack vibe, the classic service, and the caesar salad, prepared at a special station while you watch, is the best in town (and can be made anchovy-less upon request!)  Request the ‘Ronald Reagan’ booth for one of the most entertaining shows in town: Hollywood high-rollers, Bev Hills doyennes in hats and opera gloves, and celebrities (I recently sat next to Tom Ford and his partner).  Going to La Dolce Vita is an event not just a meal.  Good choice, Alfie.

Bar Toscana, Brentwood

I got a chance to check out the new Bar Toscana in Brentwood.  First read:  this place is fantastic.  The vibe was hip and cool with a beautiful crowd lounging and sipping signature cocktails to indie music.  The decor was modern with a “New York-y” feel.  A lot of attention has clearly gone into the details from the undulating bar shelves, well-thought out presentation of food, and the spectacular digital projection art by local artist Jennifer Steinkamp.  Illuminating one wall and the floors of the front window, the images of plants and seasons constantly shift and change.  The effect is mesmerizing.  Service was snappy and cheerful.  From the Italian tapas menu, we settled on the vegetarian choices which included an amazing Polentine which are small cubes of polenta that are then dipped into a cheese fondue with shaved black truffle.  The dish was warm, satisfying comfort food at its best.  We also loved the Stuzzichino Toscana that arrived as three small jars containing an earthy fava been puree, an artichoke spread, and a vibrantly flavored tomato jam.  Toasted bread sits alongside.  I love playing with different flavor combinations and this was a knockout.  We also enjoyed the Zuppa di Carciofi (pureed artichoke soup with Parmigiano crisps), Insalata di Zucca (a roasted pumpkin salad with grilled chanterelle mushrooms, frisee, and goat cheese), an Italian cheese plate (served on an olive wood board-a small detail I loved), and finally we finished with a Bonet Piemontese a luscious warm chocolate cake with amaretti and caramel sauce.  The quantity was just enough and the timing of the service allowed us to pick and graze luxuriously over lively conversation the entire evening.  Ever watchful Sauro and Roberto checked in with us a number of times to ensure that everything was perfect.  They can rest assured that it was. 

The bar

Polentine, Stuzzichino Toscana


digital art by Jennifer Steinkamp

Hold On Irene! Bread Problem Fixed At Obikà, Century City

If you read S. Irene Virbila’s upbeat and positive review of Obikà Mozzarella Bar in the Westfield Century City Shopping Center, then you know that the one flaw she encountered was the lackluster bread, which she described as, “Squishy as Wonder Bread.”  (LA Times 10/18/10  Well Sweetie, you can rest assured the problem has been remedied, even before your review went to print.  The bread, we were informed by manager Reagan, was now from Breadbar and was perfect accompaniment with the featured Mozzarella di Bufala DOP which, as you all know by now, is flown in fresh three times weekly.  On our recent visit, the food was everything Sister Irene promised.  We loved the tasting of fried mozzarella and vegetables with sage leaves and a spicy tomato sauce, the fried breaded mozzarella di bufala was a comforting treat of a grilled cheese, and the roasted bread topped with cherry tomatoes, caperberries, olives, fresh oregano, salted ricotta, and mozzarella di bufala DOP exploded with fresh mediterranean flavors punctuated by an intense salty caper bite.  We tried many other dishes as well, all thoroughly enjoyable.  But the hands-down winner at our table was the Rice and Eggplant Tortino with Smoked Mozzarella de Bufala Compana DOP.  I arrived at our table molded, the smoky mozzarella rice carefully hidden beneath grilled eggplant.  The light and fluffy rice was a perfect foil for the flavors of the eggplant, cheese, and pesto.  An unusual dish, but one that left us in awe.  Completely satisfied and stuffed, on the way out, we were introduced to the owners Nilde and Raimondo, whose friendliness, warmth, and genuine interest in us reminded us of dreamy evenings spent in trattorias in Southern Italy.  We instantly felt like family.  We were even treated with limoncello at the end of the evening!  While Century City Shopping Center may not feel like Italy, Obikà gets it right;  delicious, innovative food and friendly, warm staff. 

The new breadbasket by Breadbar
The Rice and Eggplant Tortino
Obikà (310) 556-2452

Mumbai Ki Galliyon Se, Artesia

Why can’t LA manage to come up with at least one really great Indian restaurant?  I’m talking about the likes of which one sees in London.  They have the most fantastic places like Amaya ( that are  sleek blends of hip style, incredible food, chill beats, and lively bar scenes.  Going out for Indian is a whole night of entertainment.  Sadly, LA lacks anything like it.  I know there’s Tanzore.  I like the ambiance but the food, while good enough, never manages to deliver the wow punch.  Then there’s reliable old Bombay Cafe, which hasn’t changed in years.  It’s more of mid-week restaurant than a big night out.  There are a smattering of places in Beverly Hills and across the city, but still…they just fall a little short.  So I give up.  I decided to try to create an Indian dinner party at home.  Hip Bollywood remixes, lush tropical flowers, and exotic scents set the mood.  I chose a few fusion-y starters and nibbles, as well as a mango fool for dessert. For the main, I settled on a Goan curry from Camellia Panjabi’s authoritative tome, “The Great Curries Of India”.  Where was I going to find all the ingredients for this meal?  Little India of course!  I headed straight to Pioneer Blvd in Artesia for one-stop shopping.  I found everything easily enough (except for “true Kashmiri chilis” that Ms. Panjabi insists upon).  But I had another motive for driving that far.  Ever since I read in the LA Times about a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant that specializes in Mumbai street food, and in particular a sandwich called a “dabeli”, I had to try it.  So after much searching and u-turns, I eventually ended up at Mumbai Ki Galliyon Se (From the streets of Mumbai).  Inside the simply decorated restaurant, I met the owner, Sailesh Shah, who with his wife have shaken up the Artesia food scene.   A gentle, unassuming man, Sailesh spoke to me at length about his profound beliefs in vegetarianism and the teachings of Gandhi.  It seemed clear to me that he was a deeply spiritual man.  He took time away from his busy day to go through my shopping list, instructing me on what to look for and which of the local markets was likely to have the obscure ingredients.  Then he added my name to a waiting list of people desperate to spend an afternoon in a cooking class with him, his 13-year-old daughter (who he brags is an amazing chef), and another Italian/Indian fusion chef from Napa.  The list has grown to 400 since the article in the Times.  Finally he brought me the dabeli, or to be more exact, two dabeli which is one order.  They consist of a feathery toasted bun cradling a wonderfully spicy, soft, and crumbly Mumbai-masala potato patty.  The flavors are then layered with chili peanuts, halved green grapes, raw onion, and pomegranate seeds.  The effect is dazzling!  The sandwiches are spicy, salty, sweet, tart, crunchy all at the same time.  The overall sensation is pure heaven.  I ate in a trance, washing them down with an iced yogurt drink flavored with saffron, cardamom, pistachio, and almond.  The complexity of this “piyush” floored me and left me feeling refreshed, exhilarated, and extremely lucky.  Ever since I shook hands with Sailesh and left Mumbai Ki Galliyon Se, I have not been able to stop thinking about the dabeli.  Perhaps I’ll have to host another Indian dinner party soon…  Oh, and the evening was a smash success!

Mumbai Ki Galliyon Se

17705 Pioneer Blvd, Artesia, Ca 90701 (562) 860-6699


A Peek Inside Tiato, Santa Monica

Toddrickallen stopped by the newly opened Tiato Market Garden Cafe in Santa Monica recently to check things out.  Tiato is the casual brainchild of the An family of Crustacean in Beverly Hills.  You might be forgiven for having driven by and not noticed.  In order to find it, you have to enter the lobby of the office building that houses Lionsgate at 2700 Colorado Ave.  I was assured that this would soon be remedied as they are putting the final touches on what will be their permanent entrance  from the street leading through the patio.  Juan, the affable assistant manager, gave me a tour of the restaurant starting with the large inviting patio.  He pointed out to me that the lush landscaping is actually the kitchen’s herb garden and was careful to show me the Vietnamese herb tiato, (or pernilla in english) which gives the restaurant its name.  Inside, the space is cool, modern, comfy, and cavernous with dark wood and teardrop glass fixtures.  There is casual dining (a la Urth) as well as full service,  and a take-away counter.  Tiato also has a bar with a happy hour from 4:00 to 8:00 on Thursday and Friday with drinks, beer, and a modest wine list.  The creative menus reflect a variety of influences, from Mexican to classic American, but a strong emphasis is on Vietnamese and Asian.  Breakfast consists of a variety of eggs, burritos, vegan scrambles, salads, and smoothes.   The lunch menu lists soups, salads,  bowls, sandwiches, and larger entrees.  And Juan confirmed the rumors that they will be bringing in limited supplies of Crustacean’s famous garlic noodles.  Currently, Tiato is open from 8:00 to 6:00 Monday through Wednesday and 8:00 to 8:00 Thursday and Friday, but starting July 24th, they will be serving a weekend brunch from 10:30 to 3:00.  With its great ambiance, friendly staff, fantastic patio, and An family cuisine, Tiato is well worth a trek to this sleepy Santa Monica neighborhood. 


Tiato Market Garden Cafe

2700 Colorado Avenue (between Princeton and 26th Streets), Santa Monica


Jin Patisserie, Venice

With all the new bakeries popping up across town, it’s easy to overlook the hidden gems.  One such place is Jin Patisserie in Venice.  Hidden behind a high fence is a tranquil garden of escape from the city.  There hardly is a lovelier place in LA to sit for afternoon tea than here.  The petit sandwiches and pastries are always wonderful.  Christine is masterful at her craft.  Her macarons shine, the gateaux perfect.  But I most love Jin for the amazing chocolates hand-crafted with rare steeped teas and Asian flavors.  They are extraordinary and are always the perfect gift.

Jin Patisserie

1202 Abbot Kinney Boulevard
Venice, CA 90291-3366
(310) 399-8801

Umami Burger, Santa Monica

OK, I have to confess, I have not stopped dreaming of the Earth Burger at Umami Santa Monica since I had my first one a couple of weeks ago.  Dense, moist, deeply satisfying; I’m obsessed.  It differs from the other veggie burgers out there.  It isn’t rice based like most which leave one feeling like they’ve eaten a cinderblock.  Umami’s version is made with edamame and mushroom so it has a meatier texture.  Topped with white soy and truffle oil aioli, ricotta, cipollini onions, lettuce, and tomato, this is a burger of legends.  You can appreciate the skillful blending of flavors to achieve umami, the fifth or savory taste (after sweet, salty, bitter, sour).  Here the truffle oil becomes a player in a symphony flavors, not the usual overuse and the resulting petroleum backnote that ruins many a  dish.  The sum of the parts blend harmoniously into a mouth-watering whole.  And don’t get me started on the  indescribably delicious ‘cheesy tots’, house-made tater tots which are crispy on the outside and pillowy-moist on the inside with a hint of cheese.  Umami Burger Santa Monica is a magical combination of outstanding food, attentive and speedy service (ask for Kitty), and ocean breeze-fanned patio.  What could be better on a balmy summer evening?

Umami Santa Monica @ Fred Segal (and other locations throughout the city)

500 Broadway, Santa Monica, CA 90401 (310) 451-1300

Sunday-Thursday 11am to 11pm, Friday-Saturday 11am-12am

Clockwise from top left:  Earth Burger, ‘Cheesy Tots’, Tempura Onion Rings

Red O

We thought we’d check out the hot new restaurant Red O on Melrose in the beautiful new basket-like building that used to house old Moustache Cafe space.  Of course there’s no way to get a rezzie at this point, but the reservationist told us to show up and avail ourselves of the copious space at the two bars.  Well, apparently she must have told everyone in LA county and perhaps half of Orange county the same thing because by the time we got there, “They were at capacity.”  Or so stated the icy and officious door man.  We were curtly told we could wait and since we were the first in an increasingly long line of people waiting, we decided to wait.  And wait we did.  45 minutes.  Even when we pointed out to the doorman that many people had left and we could see that the side bar was almost empty, he kept to his line, “We’re at capacity.”  Oh well.  Many had it worse than us.  Others who had been sent away to put on more suitable attire were sent to the back of the line when they returned.  And many people with reservations were turned away when they arrived in shorts (as it should be).  Tempers flared around us but we kept our cool and continued to wait.  Eventually the doorman warmed up and was actually a nice guy.  Finally we were rewarded with two seats at the front bar.  Curiously, we noticed that the communal table and back bar were about 25% occupied.  Oh Well.  The interior was bright, breezy, tropical meets north African with many small niches and corners to sit.  Unfortunately, our seats at the bar were next to two black leather swings which were irresistable to the many women who obviously went to the Linsay Lohan School of Charm  and kept swinging into us.  The barman was friendly and helpful and gave us prompt service despite the demanding club-scene ambiance.  The wine list was quite good and we settled on a Falanghina.  However, when we asked the barman what was vegetarian on the menu, his face fell.  Turns out, not much.  A sum total of seven items, mostly nibbles and snacks.  Even many of the things that appeared to be vegetarian contain lard.  Now, we’re not naive about Mexican food, but this is LA.  Hot chef Rick Bayless, fresh from his recent White House state dinner, clearly has put together a complex menu.  Everyone around us were raving about the dishes so we decided to go ahead.  We started with the guac and chips, about as standard as you’d get anywhere.  We moved on to the Red O salad, a mixture of lettuces with garlic-lime dressing, wire-thin crisps of tortilla, and pickled onion.  Again, very good, but nothing over the top.  Next came the queso fundidos, with its pile of mushrooms on top, served with warm corn tortillas.  Warm, cheesy, comforting, we liked it best when combined with the mushroom soft tacos, which were mixed with beans.  Everything was very good, but clearly vegetarians are an afterthought here.  The scene was great, the crowd beautiful, the service good, the food ok.  Would we kill ourselves coming back?  Probably not.  Oh well.



Red O/Restaurant

8155 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA  90046



Pizzeria Ortica, Costa Mesa

Have you ever been driving through Orange County and wondered, “Where in the Hell am I going to eat?”  A great place to keep tucked into your mental rolodex is David Myer’s casual Italian restaurant Pizzeria Ortica.  Centrally located at South Coast Plaza, it’s a breath of fresh air.  The interior is bright and sunny and the staff friendly and helpful.  But it is the food that shines here.  The Roman artichokes with ricotta salata were buttery and rich.  The wood-roasted vegetable with buratta and basil oil, while a little too heavy on the peppers, especially shishito, was still a satisfying and creative starter.  The pizzas here are stellar.  They start with a 300 year-old starter (a ‘biga’), hand stretch the crusts, top, and bake in a wood-burning oven.  The results are fantastic; moist, malty, crispy, and burnt in a few spots.  The margherita was excellent, but the Milanesa stole the show.  Topped with fontina, asparagus, Parmigiano Reggiano, and a fried egg, it was a perfect balance of topping and crust.  I love a fried egg on pizza.  You often see this in France.  When the egg is cut, the yolk oozes over the pizza and creates a rich carbonara as it cooks slightly adding complex character.  The entire table agreed that this was one of the best pizzas we’d had in a while.  Pizzeria Ortica is well worth a visit.  Although David Myers may be having some difficulties north of the border, in OC he’s still thoroughly in control. 


Pizzeria Ortica

650 Anton Blvd, Costa Mesa, CA 92626 (714)445-4900

LA Food Show

Next time you’re in the mood for a good veggie burger, try LA Food Show.  Their burger is thick, moist, slightly sweet and completely satisfying.  It appears to be made mostly from rice and mushrooms and can be made vegan upon request.  They also have a terrific selection nibbles that arrive at your table within seconds of ordering.  I loved the panko-crusted fried baby artichokes with remoulade.  The guacamole was very chunky and contained a lot of corn which threw me off a bit.  LA Food Show is from the people behind California Pizza Kitchen.  It has a very ‘Houstons-y’ feel but has a much larger menu.  In addition to the Beverly Hills location, there is one in Manhattan Beach as well.

 Baby Artichokes   



LA Food Show

252 N Beverly Dr.   Beverly Hills 90210

(310) 550-9758

Jeremy Fox at Animal

Ok, I have to confess, I love Ubuntu in Napa.  I still dream of the strazzopreti carbonara with mushroom jus.  The carta da musica, with its cloud of petals and leaves on top conjures a spring meadow with an earthiness supplied by a truffled cheese.  I admire then-chef Jeremy Fox’ ability to pull in all of the senses.  One looks, then inhales, then tastes.  Magic.  So it was with great excitement I discovered Jeremy would be a guest chef for a week at Animal, the meat-centric restaurant of wunderkinds  John Shook and Vinny Dotolo.  The night of our reservation, I briefly spoke to a bubbly John Shook, who was clearly energized by Jeremy’s presence.  Jeremy’s cooking is artistic and harmonious.  Gone is the traditional vegetarian scaffolding of strong onion, garlic, and spices.  These have been replaced by a careful balancing of rare ingredients, obscure techniques, and skill until a rich tapestry of incredible depth and complicated tastes is created.  No one flavor crowds out the rest.  Often, I had a difficult time deconstructing the components.  The results are breathtaking.  We started the evening with marcona almonds lightly dressed with lavender sugar, salt, and olive oil:  The flavors as comfortable and soothing as a warm Mediterranean breeze.  At the same time, a miniature forest of French breakfast radishes arrived atop a small hill of chevre flavored with nori beside a diminutive field of back salt.  These nibbles whetted our appetites as we contemplated a menu that confounded us with words like ‘agretti’, ‘calaloo’, and ‘rescoldo’.  Having read Quarrygirl‘s review earlier in the day, we were anticipating slow service.  John Shook had informed me that they had remedied the problems from the previous night and indeed they had.  Our server Jessica was attentive, efficient, and charming.  There were no gaps in service whatsoever.  The next course of spring peas with white chocolate, chocolate mint, and macadamia left us marvelling at the ingenious inclusion of white chocolate which added depth to the already sweet peas.  Beautifully garnished with petals, it tasted like spring.  Next came the pee wee potato salad with 3 hour favas, anchovy flavor, and parmesan.  Impossibly tender, buttery baby potatoes were nestled among earthy favas as citrus, delicate fava tendrils, toasted bread crumbs and wisps of parmesan recalled a freshly dug, early season garden and impressed us very much.  This was followed by heirloom carrots rescoldo style with parsnip, vadouvan, coconut, and citrus.  Unfamiliar with ‘rescoldo style’?  So was I.  Jessica explained that it is an Argentinian method of roasting root vegetables until they turn into charcoal, then in turn using them to slow roast other vegetables such as the tiny carrots here.  The information I found online doesn’t mention using vegetables as the charcoal, but that is how it was told to me.  Tiny delicate carrots cavorted with parsnip puree flavored with coconut, blood orange, vadouvan, and a dusting of coriander flowers.  Although the carrot tops had been removed, the stems remained and provided a delightful crispness.   Anyone who’s been reading this blog for a while knows that I am fascinated with vadouvan, or French curry.  (Look for it in Josiah Citrin’s cooking.)  The parts created an entirely new whole of intriguing flavor.  This was to be our favorite dish of the evening and we marvelled at the thought that went into its creation.  Next came a triple corn anson mills grits with smoked cast-iron corn and agretti.  Warm, cheesy, smoky…its aroma taunted our noses as soon as it was set down.  Dancing on the top were green spikes resembling pine needles.  These were the agretti.  Again, our server came to the rescue, describing agretti as an “Italian succulent”.  Besides visual intrigue, they added an interesting grassiness to the dish.  The last savory plate was slow roasted beets, ruta-kraut, calaloo amaranth, horseradish.  We wondered if this was a nod to the Eastern European roots of the Fairfax district.  Small beets played with the kraut, horseradish, mustard sauce, and liptauer cheese with the amaranth as a garnish.  Ambitious, but by this point we were beginning to display some culinary overload.  Still, we enjoyed playing with the various combinations of sauces and vegetables.  Dessert was a chocolate pudding with puffed wild rice, which added a curiously addictive toasty texture.  It was topped by strawberry gel into which was set a green strawberry.  One would expect the strawberry to be sour, but dipped in the gel, I was amazed to find it resembled an apricot in flavor and texture.  We were duly impressed.  Afterward, we were fortunate enough to corner Jeremy Fox.  He is an affable, easy-going, unassuming man.  I pressed him about if he was planning on opening a restaurant in LA.  He deflected  but alluded to wanting to see the response from his week at Animal.  We could only hope he would consider it.


Jeremy Fox                                                   Radishes


heirloom carrots rescoldo style                           triple corn  grits  and agretti

chocolate pudding with puffed wild rice



The Vegetable Dinners at Animal continue through May 23rd, reservations required.

Animal Restaurant

435 N. Fairfax Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90036

 (323) 782-9225

Westside Tavern

If you have yet to go to Westside Tavern, what are you waiting for?  The comfortable and casual space and personable servers  are definitely a plus.  But it is the creative ‘chef-driven’ food that shines here.  It is consistently and amazingly good.  I’ve tried a number if items on the menu which are inventive and satisfying such as the ultra-comfort grilled cheese and tomato basil soup, the stellar portobello mushroom and mozzarella melt, or the addictive fried green beans with lemon aioli (eaten like french fries).  However, I always return to the two dishes that I can’t stop thinking about.  I know you may find it hard to believe when I tell you that the hummus pita is the best I have ever had, but I swear it!  It is creamy, rich as butter, garlic-y, and topped with house roasted bellaria tomatoes, kalamata olives, and feta.  Served with warm, soft pita, the flavors work together to dazzle the palate.  Likewise, the flatbreads (more like pizzas on crispy, corrugated cracker bases) are divine.  They change seasonally.  On a recent visit the selections included shiitake mushrooms and asparagus with fontina and truffle oil as well as a roasted tomato, grilled artichoke, smoked mozzarella, and arugula flatbread.  One taste and you’ll be on your blackberry trying to schedule your next visit.  For dessert, try the warm fudge brownie or warm sticky toffee cake.  Both are deep, gooey, rich.  Wine and cocktail lists are very manageable.  The meat dishes will make any carnivore drool.  As they don’t take rezzies, make sure you time your visit between when movies get out and when they start or you may have a considerable wait, but it’s well worth it. 

Westside Tavern

10850 West Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles, California 90064  310.470.1539

The Tasting Kitchen, Venice

Ok, what’s with the food scene on Abbot Kinney?  It seems to hover somewhere between casual/creative and uptight/snobbish.  It certainly has a big attitude for such a small street.  You want a reservation when?  That’s laughable.  You don’t like the table you’re sitting at?  Tough.  You want to leave the speck out of the salad?  We don’t do substitutions, the chef is an artist.  Puhlease.  Why do we put up with this?  Because some of those atmosphere-less industrial spaces are actually great.  It was with this in mind that we tried the latest, The Tasting Kitchen.  We were sat in the packed front dining room, a large plain cube with what has to be the worst acoustics since Border Grill.  We found ourselves yelling over the din.  At one point, a screeching patron at the table behind ours drowned out our server.  She stopped talking, turned to look at her, then turned back to us shrugged her shoulders and shouted, “Happy Tuesday!”  The cacophonous crowd were a mixture of suits, flannel, tattoos, dreadlocks, and sundresses.  Once we adjusted, we went over the ‘bill of fare’.  You know those menus that must list every ingredient and its provenance?  This ain’t one of those.  Things like Cluck ‘n frites and halibut. blossoms. creme. abound, which left us confused.  The server soon sorted us out.  I was impressed to see under cheeses, so we ordered that with some bread and butter.  The bread was wonderful; warm, crusty, delicious.  Off to a good start.  Then we tried the frittura di verdure.  well-executed tempura vegetables with a delightful aioli.  We moved on to a butter lettuce salad with blue cheese and tarragon.  Good, but I’m a firm believer that butter lettuce requires a delicate dressing or it gets lost.  Here the dressing was too heavy-handed.  Finally, we tried the spaghetti/tomatoes/basil, not exactly revolutionary cuisine.  But I can honestly say, it was one of the best I have ever had.  Tangy, fresh, perfectly cooked large spaghetti.  We were impressed that the chef could inspire us with such a plain dish.  At that point, the noise levels were beginning to grate on our nerves and we had to leave.  I’d definitely go again, only with earplugs.

The Tasting Kitchen

1633 Abbot Kinney Blvd
Venice, CA 90291

(310) 392-6644

Some thoughts on market plates…

I have a real problem with market (veggie) plates.  Throwing together on one plate all the side dishes that were specifically designed to go with meats is not what I call good restauranteering.  The practice treats vegetarians as afterthoughts.  I mean come on, a chef can’t come up with even one veggie main?  I almost never order a market plate.  But there are always exceptions to the rule.  There is one restaurant in LA that I always order the veggie plate.  It may seem odd to order vegetarian at Cut in Beverly Hills, however the choices are amazing.  Recently I created my own plate out of english and snap peas with morels and young garlic, creamed spinach with organic egg, decadent and luscious cavatappi mac and cheese with Quebec cheddar, and chanterelle mushrooms.  I love experimenting and playing with the various favors.  The food is always sublime, the service as near perfect as you can get, and the wonderful atmosphere created by the giant photos of famous people cooly staring down at the patrons as real flesh-and-blood stars stare back.  (Last time, I sat next to Andie MacDowell.)  It a magic formula for a perfect Saturday night out.  



Hatfield’s, Los Angeles

A recent dinner with friends at Hatfield’s proved to be a lovely evening.  The owners, Quinn and Karen Hatfield have kept the configuration of the space the same as the Goodell’s Red Pearl Kitchen, the previous inhabitant, but have cleaned it up and made it airier, crowned by a large geometric honeycomb chandelier creating the illusion of a hive.  The open kitchen pulls one into the action as the chefs and kitchen staff scurry like bees, creating a delightful menu of some truly memorable dishes.  We selected the vegetarian prix fixe which consisted of a Roasted Sunchoke and Rocket Salad which was surprisingly delicious with the inclusion of unsuspected ‘falafel crumble’.  The impressive Fricassee of Chanterelle and Fave Beans with hand-rolled garaganelle and parsnip ‘bacon’ continued the ‘wow’ factor.  The dish was well-executed, creamy, satisfying and well-balanced.  Next came the Wild Mushroom “Cannelloni” which consisted of oat groats inside an oat crepe with marinated radish and pickled beets.  This was the only disappointment in an otherwise stellar meal. Although the texture was rich and meaty, the flavors were dull and flat and shortly lead to boredom.  Thankfully the delightful Beignets served with a small dish of melted chocolate and a mini-milkshake (did I taste a hint of cardamom?) came to the rescue.  I love a dessert that can be played with and although perhaps now a bit passé, I’m a big fan of deconstructed desserts.  I find something so sensual in dipping a lightly sweetened beignet into unctuous, oozing chocolate and cooling it with a sip of rich, creamy milkshake as it luxuriously slides down the back of the throat, .  It was fun, playful, and utterly delicious.  A perfect way to end a perfectly respectable dinner.  Service was spotty but attentive enough to ensure a decent enough timeline.  All in all, a memorable meal and well worth the visit.  Now about that curious apple sculpture near the entrance…


Bar Bouchon, Beverly Hills

There is hardly a more lovely place in Los Angeles to linger over a salad and glass of Sancerre than Bar Bouchon, at the Montage in Beverly Hills.  The downstairs diminutive version of Thomas Keller’s Bouchon  upstairs, Bar Bouchon is a charmer with a simplified menu and friendly staff.  There are few places to sit inside, but trust me,  you won’t want to.  Grab an outside table and on a splendid sunny afternoon, you’ll feel transported to a French cafe. 

BE (Boulangerie-Epicierie), Paris

A fantastic place to pick up trendy sandwiches and salads for the flight before heading off to the airport is BE, owned by fave chef Alain Ducasse.  BE (from Boulangerie-Epicerie) is a gourmet breakfast place and deli with minimalist décor and amazing pastries, breads, sandwiches, salads, and coffee.  It  is very popular with the beautiful crowd for good reason; it is fresh, delicious, and organic. 

BE: 73 Boulevard de Courcelles, 8th, M°Monceau, ☎ 01 46 22 20 20

 Open Monday through Saturday, 8am to 8pm, closed August.

And finally, does anyone else see anything suggestive in this add for BE?