Year-End Visit to Los Angeles: Sotto, Providence & Other Memorable Meals

Year-End Visit to Los Angeles: Sotto, Providence & Other Memorable Meals
It gets very busy around here at the end of the year. We have happy hour, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas and New Year’s Eve menus to plan, along with holiday parties to execute and our annual strategic planning trip where the partners – George Hauer, Trey Foshee and me – go away and discuss the future year ahead.
This year, we started local. Our first day was all marketing with our consultant, Tammy Haughey. We met at George’s house for a five-hour meeting, followed by a lovely dinner at Nine-Ten in La Jolla where Chef Jason Knibb took great care of us. Tammy, George and I embarrassed Trey by ordering all appetizers, but they sounded so delicious we couldn’t pass them up. The fall fruit salad with pears, persimmon, apples and pomegranates was yummy, as was the sous vide organic egg with assorted mushrooms, frisee, parsley, crispy pork lardons, white truffle oil and whole grain mustard vinaigrette.
The next morning we carpooled to Los Angeles where our first stop was lunch at Sotto. Wow…what a great meal. The space was tavern/gastro-pubish with a lot of soul. The open kitchen was glassed in so we could still have the feel of it without the noise. Trey sent out a tweet about where we were eating in LA and they saw it, so we were treated like family. They sent out a beautiful rustic plate with olives, fresh burrata and unbelievably good bread. The next course standouts were baby gem salad with breadcrumbs, aged caprino sardo and wheatberries, and the most amazing soup I have ever tasted. It was cauliflower and almond with chilies, capers and sultanas. When the server cleared the table I told George and Trey that I would have dreams about that soup. They sent out more appetizers, and then came our four entrees: pizza, pasta, octopus and a sandwich. The chickpea panelle (Ragusano cheese, zucchini, arugula, pickled chilies) had this fantastic cauliflower salad on the side that I couldn’t stop eating. We were so full, and this was day one! Then they sent out delicious cannolis with orange marmalade and pistachios. I realize that all the food I just described sounds very simple, but it stood out as perfectly executed. The hospitality was at the same level – warm, friendly and unobtrusive. (As a side note, the bussing was perfect…notable in the industry and in LA in particular.) When they presented the check, it was attached to a recipe for the cauliflower soup! Talk about being in tune with your guests. It was a really great experience.
 Sandwich and Pizza at Sotto Restaurant
We checked into the hotel and met for another long meeting, followed by dinner at Providence, Michael Cimarusti’s place in Hollywood. We walked in and were ushered to the bar. Their cocktail list was solid. We soon went to our table and shortly the server brought over menus and a large wooden box. Inside was a large truffle. The server had us all inhale the aroma, a smart sales technique – it worked for us. We ordered the five-course tasting menu with two supplemental truffle courses and wine pairings. In hindsight, we should have ordered a la carte as they lavishly brought us extra course after extra course. There were too many to mention. First though, they brought out a big fish bowl with three slotted spoons. There were slivers of grapefruit floating along the top. We were instructed to fish out the orange bubbles floating below. Trey could sense George and my reluctance and graciously did the dirty work for us. They were little bubbles of greyhounds (vodka and grapefruit juice) that burst when we put them in our mouth. It was fun. There were sticks in rocks that had abalone and chorizo on top, tiny little “fish tacos” with nasturtium as the shell and raw scallop inside, kumomoto oyster with American caviar, a very interesting fruit di mare, truffle risotto, truffle scrambled egg, and perfectly cooked veal. The wines were paired well, with a beautifully balanced wine from Liguria. Chef Cimarusti came out the end of our very long meal and we were able to thank him in person. This was top-notch experience I would highly recommend to anyone dining in LA.
 Greyhound "Bubbles" and "Fish Taco" at Providence
The next morning we met for a few hours and finished up before lunch. We drove to Son of a Gun restaurant, a very casual spot by the same chefs behind Animal. The décor is Boston maritime and the service is, um, what’s the word for nonchalance plus ignorance that doesn’t sound rude? Yep, that’s it. We ordered Hitacho Nest White Ale and some obscure varietal white wines that no one in the restaurant could tell us about. Then a curly kale salad, smoked mahi dip, shrimp tacos (very good with an interesting tortilla), monkfish pho, and blackened rockfish (yummy). We ended the meal with some tin roof ice cream, and headed to Heath Ceramics.
 Shrimp Tacos at Son of a Gun
Our last meal was scheduled for MVink. We headed to Spago first to check out the remodel and have a glass of champagne, then on to MVink, a busy, upscale-casual spot with an open kitchen and a great design. The hosts and servers were very nice, friendly and good at their jobs. I felt put at ease by the service staff. We ordered a ton of food – duck rillete, broccoli a few ways, which I really liked, lamb, branzino, octopus, and roe and, because the waiter recommended it, ham with biscuits (delicious) and potatoes that were super charred on purpose. The Mencia was a great paring with this rustic fare. We headed to Red Medicine for dessert.
If you haven’t been to Red Medicine, I urge you to go. Do not expect fancy, do not expect spot on service, and do not expect a cohesive, consistent experience. Expect some of the most innovative, inventive and excellent food you will ever have. Go…you will be so happy you did. We ended up ordering more savory food (a second dinner before dessert), including a sugar snap pea salad with soymilk custard and celtuce, Nantucket Bay scallops cured with kaffir lime, lychee, whey, verbena and raw turnip, an EXTRAORDINARY plate of turnips with roasted banana, banana vinegar, fermented black bean, crème fraiche and kale (unbelievably good), and every dessert on the menu. The milk chocolate dessert with crispy devil’s food, cucumber, buckwheat and lovage, and the coconut bavarois with coffee, condensed milk, Thai basil and peanut croquant were our two favorites.

We headed back home the next day with a quick stop at Portola Coffee Lab for the best macchiato south of Blue Bottle, then back to restaurant to prepare for the holidays…and next year.