Scratch Bar (Los Angeles, CA)

Scratch Bar
111 N La Cienega Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Dining date: 3/15/14

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Scratch Bar opened almost a year ago, a relatively young entrant to La Cienega’s Restaurant Row. The menu, created by chef Phillip Frankland Lee, has been described as modern American yet in a fun and whimsical manner. Something a bit different.

An a la carte menu is offered as well as a few different tasting menus (all the way up to a 14 course at the chef’s counter). We went somewhere in the middle with a 9 course tasting priced at $85pp, adding on a supplemental dish.

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Chi Spacca (Los Angeles, CA)

Chi Spacca
6610 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Dining date: 3/14/14

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Chi Spacca opened last year and is the latest restaurant to join the Mozza corner at Melrose & Highland. It replaced the Scuola di Pizza, yet in a way is a permanent extension of the restaurant. Chad Colby, who used to helm the Scuola kitchen, is also managing the Chi Spacca menu. The restaurant’s probably best known for its house salumi program and catering to a primal way of eating – large slabs of meat cooked over fire. Think 36 ounce veal racks and 42 ounce tomahawk pork chops and beef porterhouses. My kind of place.

I’ve been wanting to try Chi Spacca for some time, but it really felt like a place to try with a large group. We rounded up five for this evening and came hungry. A holdover from the Scuola di Pizza, a completely open kitchen offers visibility into all of the cooking being done between the large steaks on the grill and items coming out of the wood-burning oven.

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Vegas Uncork’d Preview @ Bourbon Steak (Los Angeles, CA)

Bourbon Steak
237 S Brand Blvd
Glendale, CA 91204
Dining date: 3/27/14

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Bourbon Steak is Michael Mina’s return to the Los Angeles restaurant scene since the closure of XIV in 2011. This is Mina’s fifth location of the steakhouse, a restaurant blending a traditional steakhouse with modern touches, joining San Francisco, Scottsdale, Washington DC, and Miami. Located right next to ever-popular Din Tai Fung, the duo has created a dining hotspot at the Americana at Brand.

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This meal served two purposes – to sample Bourbon Steak and to serve as a preview for Bon Appetit’s Vegas Uncork’d in May. I’m a huge fan of Vegas Uncork’d and thus was very excited for this one. The festival has turned into one of the largest of its kind in the nation and Mina, who has four restaurants in Vegas, is a big participant each year.

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Fifty Seven (Los Angeles, CA)

Fifty Seven
712 S Santa Fe Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90021
Dining date: 3/28/14

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Located in between popular daytime options Bread Lounge and Stumptown Coffee and just around the corner from always-popular Bestia, Fifty Seven is the latest restaurant opening in the red hot Arts District. The restaurant, which opened this past week, is to me one of the more intriguing recent concepts. The format has been compared to the old Test Kitchen and its revolving door of chefs creating their own menus. Whereas Test Kitchen stints typically lasted just a few days, Fifty Seven will welcome a new chef every few months to come in and create an entirely new menu. To me, the success of Fifty Seven will ultimately be dependent upon the quality and excitement of the chefs they are able to bring in.

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David Nayfield is the chef in residence and the first chef to craft their own menu. Nayfield has a strong pedigree, most recently coming from the highly acclaimed Eleven Madison Park. He brings his progressive American cuisine in the form of a $48 three-course menu with a handful of additional a la carte snacks available. Three different options were available for each course; between the two of us, we were able to sample two-thirds of the options and added on two snacks for good measure.

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Zo (Los Angeles, CA)

Zo
334 S Main St
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Dining date: 3/7/14

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I’ve only visited Cheviot Hills’ Sushi Zo a couple of times, but both times I’ve concluded that it was a top-tier sushi place in Los Angeles. So, I was very excited to hear chef Keizo Seki was opening up a downtown location in the Medallion Apartments at 4th & Main. While downtown (particularly Little Tokyo) has a few good sushi spots, I wouldn’t say there is anything really special. There are, of course, some good deals (Sushi Gen) but no destination sushiyas where I feel it’s worthwhile for someone to drive in from outside of greater downtown. Zo is really the first high caliber omakase-only, sushi-dedicated restaurant to open in downtown LA (Q Sushi opened up nearby shortly thereafter and is also cut from the same cloth).

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While Zo opened in September, my first visit was just earlier this month – way overdue. The omakase menu runs in the mid-$100 range for around 25-30 courses (it varies depending on what is available).

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Din Tai Fung (Taipei, Taiwan)

Din Tai Fung (Xinyi)
No. 194, Section 2, Xinyi Road, Daan District
Taipei, Taiwan
Dining date: 2/10/14

Din Tai Fung (Zhongxiao)
No. 218, Section 4, Zhōngxiào East Road, Daan District
Taipei, Taiwan
Dining date: 2/6/14

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A visit to Din Tai Fung was an absolute must for me while in Taiwan. In fact, I think it’s on a lot of tourist itineraries as the restaurant has a devoted following from all around the world. I was first introduced to Din Tai Fung’s xiaolongbao (and its oft-overlooked rest of the menu) when I moved to Los Angeles and have thoroughly enjoyed them ever since.

Din Tai Fung, which actually started as a shop selling cooking oil, has a number of locations in Taipei. I was able to try two of them – one near where we were staying in the Zhongxiao Dunhua area and the original location. The original location was crowded with tourists (the vast majority from throughout Asia), all eagerly waiting to dine where it all started. We arrived just after opening on a Monday morning to find a handful of people waiting. It was perfect timing as crowds came soon thereafter; by the time we left the restaurant, dozens waited outside for a seat.

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The menu at both locations was significantly more robust than what I had seen in Los Angeles. All of the usual suspects were there – some small plates, soups, noodles, soup dumpling xiaolongbao, and both sweet and savory baos; however, Taipei locations seemed to have more options in each category. Most notably, there were a number of xiaolongbao options I had never seen before. Between our two meals, we dined on some old favorites and some new ones.

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