Ikemen (Los Angeles, CA)

Ikemen
123 Astronaut E S Onizuka St #108
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Dining date: 1/28/13

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Ikemen is the latest ramen chain to open up shop in Little Tokyo (following other notables Shin-Sen-Gumi and Men Oh Tokushima). Located in Weller Court (the plaza shared with super-spicy Orochon), it kind of replaces the recently-closed Chin-Ma-Ya. Ikemen’s first location opened up in Hollywood in late 2011; I’d read mostly positive things about the shop but never made it out to Hollywood.

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Ikemen isn’t your traditional ramen shop; it’s actually kind of weird (modern?). The philosophy is very clear (it’s painted on the wall) – they aim to create edgy and stylish ramen.

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The specialty is what Ikemen calls ‘dip ramen,’ essentially a tsukemen where you dip noodles into a warm broth before eating. Except, they call the soup au jus here, and an option for the Ghostbuster Dip Ramen combines this jus with heavy cream, truffle oil, roasted marshmallows. Yep. My coworker and I weren’t quite brave enough to go that route, and stuck to some of the slightly more conservative options. Continue reading

Sons & Daughters (San Francisco, CA)

Sons & Daughters
708 Bush St
San Francisco, CA 94108
Dining date: 11/24/12

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Sons & Daughters is a restaurant I’ve been wanting to try for some time. Since I spend a limited amount of time in San Francisco nowadays, it’s always been on my list of places to try but never high enough to the point where I’ve actually gone. Until now.

The restaurant opened up in the middle of 2010 and has garnered quite a few accolades in the ensuing couple of years. Some of the most notable have been its one Michelin star, a 3-star review from the S.F. Chronicle’s Michael Bauer, and chefs Teague Moriarty and Matt McNamara being named 2012 Rising Star Chefs.

A part of a trend in the S.F. fine dining world, Sons & Daughters has continually shrunk the dining room, added more courses, removed a la carte and gotten more expensive. I’m not particularly against that movement (and kind of wish more in LA attempted it), but the increases in price point need to reflect a higher standard of both food and service. Currently, it’s $135 service-inclusive for around 9 courses. Continue reading

The Hart and the Hunter (Los Angeles, CA)

The Hart and the Hunter
Palihotel
7950 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Dining date: 1/6/13

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Formerly the pop-up Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, Brian Dunsmoor and Kris Tominaga opened The Hart and the Hunter last October. It’s quickly become one of the most talked-about restaurants in LA over the last few months for its hearty and flavorful food. The cuisine is an interesting mix, a blend of Dunsmoor’s southern background and Tominaga’s California flair. I first heard the buzz when I was in Japan and was eagerly awaiting a visit to the restaurant. Expectations were high.

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The dining room is fairly small, with a couple of large communal tables in the center. An open kitchen provides a glimpse of the action. Continue reading

Alexander’s Steakhouse (San Francisco, CA)

Alexander’s Steakhouse
448 Brannan St
San Francisco, CA 94107
Dining date: 11/25/12

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I’ve wanted to try Alexander’s Steakhouse for some time. I love a good steak and Alexander’s is one of the more highly regarded steakhouses on the West Coast (and perhaps country). The original location, in Cupertino, garnered a Michelin star in the inaugural Bay Area guide and has maintained it ever since. A San Francisco location opened up in 2010 serving up the same American steakhouse fare with a bunch of Japanese influences. I tend to think my favorite steakhouse is Beverly Hills’ CUT, but figured Alexander’s would be a strong competitor to that.

It took a couple of years, but my family and I finally dined at the restaurant for my grandmother’s (surprise!) birthday. Over the years, this birthday dinner has become a bit of a tradition with previous birthday dinners at The French Laundry, Masa’s, Quince, Murray Circle, Cyrus, and The Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton. Alexander’s seemed to be the ideal choice for our carnivorous family, and the large restaurant was able to accommodate a private party for our extended family and friends.

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Sushi Dai (Tokyo, Japan)

Sushi Dai
Tsukiji Fish Market
5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0045
Dining date: 11/21/12

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I’d heard much about Sushi Dai well before coming to Japan, the super-popular sushi shop at Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market. The stories are almost legendary, talking about the early mornings, long lines and exceptionally fresh fish mere yards away from the fish auction itself. I attempted to eat at Sushi Dai in each of my first two days of the trip; on the first we opted for Sushi Daiwa’s much shorter wait and on the second, I gave up on waiting the estimated four hours for a seat. The third time was a charm – I had the opportunity to dine here on my last day in Japan.

Three of us woke up at 5am on a Wednesday for a short cab ride through the still-dark Tokyo streets to Tsukiji. We were still met with a line, albeit a relatively short one, and braved the cold.

Now, there’s two parts to the line at Sushi Dai. The first 20-25 people wait outside the restaurant, herded like sheep into about 4 neat rows (SO uncomfortable…especially in the frigid weather). The line then breaks (to make room for traffic through the market), and re-forms at the end of the street, where the rest of the line can stretch dozens deep. With our early-morning timing, we found ourselves at the front of the ‘second’ line. The total wait ended up being about 80 minutes. Continue reading

The Restaurant at Meadowood @ Animal (Los Angeles, CA)

Cooking with Friends: Christopher Kostow (The Restaurant at Meadowood)
Animal Restaurant
435 N Fairfax Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Dining date: 1/14/13

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New for 2013, the team behind the ever-popular Animal began a series of dinners called “Cooking with Friends” in which a guest chef would join for one night and cook a collaborative dinner, with a portion of proceeds going to the chef’s choice. I’m always intrigued by meals like this as it provides an opportunity to try something unique, particularly if it’s an out-of-town chef.

For this first dinner, the guest chef was Christopher Kostow of the Michelin three-star The Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena, CA. My only visit to the restaurant was at the tail end of 2009, and was actually one of the meals that inspired this blog’s creation. Given Meadowood’s accolades and reputation for serving a highly-refined, super-seasonal/local type of dining, the restaurant was packed for the one-night dinner. I was very excited for this one.

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The eight-course menu was priced at $135 and the beneficiary of this dinner was Cancer for College, a charity that provides college scholarships to cancer survivors.

Continue reading