L.A. Restaurant Review

Every year I travel to a city with my partners, Trey and April, to soak up its culinary vibe for four days. These journeys are some of the most creative and productive times for our team. We are away from the manic demands of the restaurant and can spend time reimagining our concepts.
Earlier this year our destination was Los Angeles, the city where both Trey and April fostered their careers, and a place renowned for its diversity and creativity. One of our objectives is to get a sense for the trends that are driving the future of our business, and trends are what L.A. is all about. The primary trend that we have been aware of for years is the “casualization” of the restaurant experience. Fine dining in its older iteration has almost disappeared. In Los Angeles Magazine’s annual Best New Restaurant guide that came out in January, the list was almost entirely made up of hip and youthful openings. Wine lists have changed as well. Gone are the 50-page tomes of the past. Lists are smaller and more esoteric, with a decided emphasis on international wines rather than being California-centric. Finally, dining these days is many times noisy. Energy, crowds and tight table spacing dominate the landscape in L.A. There are fewer restaurants that evoke a feeling of luxury and ease.
Here are the restaurants we chose for our L.A. visit:
This restaurant is collaboration between Nancy Silverton, Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich. With talent like that it is hard to go wrong. This is a hard to get reservation in an impressive physical setting – very “osteria” in its authenticity. The menu includes dozens of choices including a mozzarella bar and more pasta than you will ever get to experience. The ingredients have a distinctly “Mario” point of view with lots of esoteric Italian choices. The wine list is huge and impressive, but the wine service was too precious for our taste…too much glassware seasoning and sommelier tasting that took way too much time. We needed a drink, damn it!
Another wonderful restaurant by Suzanne Goin, owner of Lucques and A.O.C., this sophisticated and sensual space is a modern interpretation of a fine dining restaurant without the formality and artifice. The food is contemporary California/Mediterranean and very good. They also have a coffee bar, a small but well-stocked gourmet shop and a take-out deli. The crowd at lunch was very sleek and L.A.
THE BAZAAR by JOSÉ ANDRÉS http://www.thebazaar.com/
This sprawling concept of a restaurant/patisserie/bar/gift shop is worth seeing but not experiencing in any depth. We felt the food and drinks relied on gimmickry rather than substance. I had a $20 LN2 Caipirinha that was processed through liquid nitrogen equipment. Good way to screw up a perfectly good drink. Some of the small plates were tasty, some flops. They also offer a $120 per person luxury dining option.
We stumbled on this new Rick Bayliss restaurant looking for Red Medicine. We sat down ready for some Vietnamese fusion food and were soon devouring guacamole and margaritas. We were embarrassed at being in the wrong place, so we figured ‘what the hell”…how could another couple of drinks hurt anything? This is a cool new spot that deserves more than we gave it.
This is one of those places that open one’s eyes to the wonders of youthful creativity and ambition. The chef/owner here, Jordan Kahn, has been a famous pastry chef at both Per Se in New York and at Alinea in Chicago, two of America’s most renowned restaurants. So what is he doing in this small corner off Wilshire Blvd. in a restaurant that feels as much like a bar than a Vietnamese restaurant? Mind you, we arrived at Red Medicine at 11:00 p.m. on a Tuesday night – our third dinner of the evening – so the energy in the room was not terribly exciting. The food, however, was terrific. On my next trip to L.A., I will make this place one of my first stops at a normal dining hour. It is definitely worth a foodie visit.
John Sedlar is one of our community’s pioneers, having created Saint Estephe, Bikini and Abiquiu in the 80s and 90s. This new interpretation of Latin American food is complicated and ambitious. There are multiple menus served in separate rooms and the cocktails and food are spectacular! Go to their website and read Irene Virbilia’s review. It will give you a better overview of the concept than I can in these short lines. Needless to say, we all loved this vibrant and exciting new concept.
This is another new dining experience in Little Tokyo close to the thriving new downtown development called L.A. Live near Staples Center. The mission statement of the Lazy Ox calls itself a “full-service casual dining spot.” Their emphasis is on local ingredients creatively prepared and paired with craft beers or esoteric wines. The inside of the restaurant is crowded and clamorous. We chose to sit outside at tables on the sidewalk. We ate lots of very tasty small plates and drank wines none of us had ever heard of before. We loved our experience primarily due to the emphatic individuality of the place.