Happy Thanksgiving! Coincidentally, today marks the fourth year anniversary of this blog. This past year was filled with far less travels but still lots of great eats. I’ve stayed within the U.S. this year and, as a result, this year’s list isn’t nearly as worldly as last year’s (in which each of the top 5 were outside of the country).
Thinking back on a year of meals that was very LA-centric, it seemed to be a year of many pop-ups and collaborative dinners. I appreciate the fact that there are so many opportunities to try food from up-and-coming chefs and well-known ones from outside the city. In fact, I was lucky enough to attend meals in LA from 4 of NorCal’s most notable chefs/restaurants this year (Chris Kostow/Meadowood, Douglas Keane/Cyrus, Tim Hollingsworth/The French Laundry, David Kinch/Manresa). I missed out on the ones with Daniel Boulud and David Chang (and others I’m sure), but it’s exciting to see so many coming to LA to eat, see and cook.
Here, now, my five most memorable meals of the past year:
Wolvesmouth Underground Dining
Dining date: 11/22/13
It’s been a busy year for Craig Thornton and his Wolvesmouth team. His underground dinners have continued to be in high-demand, easily the most noteworthy of its kind in the city (and perhaps country). The success of his underground dinners has spawned collaborations and events across the nation, notably in NYC and his ‘Cut Your Teeth’ residency at the Santa Monica Museum of Art (SMMoa).
I was the lucky invitee as a guest of someone that got a reservation to this public dinner. Held in downtown, the decor of the dinners has continued to evolve, getting deeper into the wolf’s den theme. The SMMoa installments have really delved into connecting the dining atmosphere with the food for a more complete experience, and Thornton has brought more and more of that into his regular dinners.
Orsa & Winston
122 W 4th St
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Dining date: 11/9/13
Orsa & Winston is Josef Centeno’s latest venture in his growing lineup of downtown restaurants. The highly-acclaimed Baco Mercat came first, quickly followed by Bar Ama and now Orsa & Winston next door. All three restaurants opened up within a span of two years and within a block of each other creating quite the Centeno base. For me, Centeno’s food has been a little hit-or-miss, but I was very intrigued by this restaurant given its fine dining concept.
The food at Orsa & Winston is described as fine dining with Japanese and Italian influences. After taking the helm of a few casual small plates restaurants, Centeno is drawing some of his experience during his time as chef de cuisine of Manresa in Northern California. A few menu options are available including a 5-course, 9 course and ridiculous sounding “super omakase” of ~20 courses priced at $60, $95 and $195 respectively. A family style option is also available, 4 courses for $50. Given this was my first time coming in and I haven’t been completely sold on Centeno’s food, we went with the 5-course as a sort of audition for a return trip on a larger meal.
424 E 2nd St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Dining date: 11/12/13
b.o.s. is one of the newest restaurants to open in the Little Tokyo area. Inside the Honda Plaza next to the ever-popular Sushi Gen (and across the way from Men Oh Tokushima), the restaurant has a rather unique focus: beef nose-to-tail dining. Mainstream diners have become more engaged in this concept and I think Little Tokyo is an ideal location for a somewhat upscale opening of this type.
Like most restaurants in Little Tokyo, it’s a small place with the prime seats being a six-seat chef’s counter looking into the kitchen. Chef David Bartnes is the point-man behind the counter; having spent much of his life traveling around the world, Bartnes combines these worldly influences (primarily Asian) with his classical cooking background. The resulting fare is an interesting mix of flavors that change frequently but could include an oxtail ravioli, beef cheek risotto, tongue carpaccio, grilled heart or roasted bone marrow. Both an omakase and an a la carte menu is available; on this first visit, we sat at the chef’s counter and had the 5-course omakase ($55).
David Kinch (Manresa)
1119 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Dining date: 11/11/13
David Kinch, chef of two-star Manresa in Los Gatos, CA, is one of the most lauded chefs in the country. I’ve been to Manresa once many years ago and, quite frankly, don’t remember much about it. For some time now, I’ve been wanting to return to the restaurant to retry some of Kinch’s hyper-local modern American cuisine.
Earlier this week I sort of got my chance, as chef David Kinch cooked a collaborative dinner at Rustic Canyon. The chef was in town to promote his new cookbook (Manresa: An Edible Reflection) and reunited with Manresa ex-chef de cuisine Jeremy Fox, who is now executive chef of Rustic Canyon (with a significant stop at Napa’s Michelin-starred vegetarian Ubuntu in between). I dined on Fox’s food a few months back at Rustic Canyon and enjoyed it; combined with the addition of Kinch, I had high expectations for this meal.
Each chef put together a snack and five courses for what really amounted to 12 different tastes. I thought the $95 price tag offered a lot of value for this kind of meal; drink pairing was an additional $45.
11043 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Dining date: 11/7/13
Hamasaku’s been open for over a decade, although I feel like I only heard about it recently. The restaurant’s had a largely entertainment-based clientele (following its owner Michael Ovitz) and its most notable menu items are fusion sushi rolls, many named after celebrities and regulars. Not exactly my scene, but I’ve lately seen more and more positive reviews on the traditional Japanese items on the menu. Coincidentally, I was recently invited in for a visit.
Hamasaku is located in the rear of a strip mall in West LA, in between Century City and Sawtelle’s ‘Little Osaka’ (perhaps a good representation of the restaurant’s balance between traditional Japanese and American fusion cuisine). The kitchen is run by executive chef Wonny Lee, while head sushi chef Yoya Takahashi mans the bar. Both started at the restaurant within the last two years, injecting some fresh influences.
A chef’s choice omakase menu was on tap this evening.