David Kinch @ Rustic Canyon (Santa Monica, CA)

David Kinch (Manresa)
Rustic Canyon
1119 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Dining date: 11/11/13

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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.

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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.

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Hamasaku (Los Angeles, CA)

Hamasaku
11043 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Dining date: 11/7/13

hamasaku exterior

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.

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A chef’s choice omakase menu was on tap this evening.

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Shunji (Los Angeles, CA)

Shunji Japanese Cuisine
12244 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064
Dining date: 11/4/13

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Chef Shunji Nakao has been around the LA sushi scene for some time now (greater than two decades) being a key plater in some well-known past ventures (Matsuhisa, Asanebo, The Hump). His eponymous and short-lived Shunji’s on Melrose opened a couple of years ago, to be succeeded by this spot in West Los Angeles. Opened early last year, it’s been on my radar for some time but I didn’t make my first visit until this week for lunch.

The restaurant debuted Mon-Fri lunch service last month, offering a more affordable way to try the restaurant’s oft-praised sushi. Regular dinner service offers a la carte, as well as a handful of tasting options: a $50 sushi special (10 pieces + 1 hand roll), a market-priced sushi omakase, a $100 omakase centered around plated kaiseki-like preparations, and a full omakase starting at $140. On this afternoon, we opted for the premium lunch special which offered 12 nigiri and 1 hand roll for forty bucks…a relative deal. Currently, lunch is sushi-only with potential for the full kitchen to be available in the future.

I appreciated that the day’s offering was rather comprehensive, complete with prices. As with many sushi meals, I’ll save comments for the end.

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KTCHN DTLA (Los Angeles, CA)

KTCHN DTLA
The Gorbals
501 S Spring St
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Dining date: 4/21/13 and 10/26/13

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When I think of brunch options in downtown Los Angeles, there aren’t a whole lot that come to mind. Especially without a lengthy wait. There are a number of options that do fairly standard brunch fare, but KTCHN DTLA stands out for its unique twists on traditional egg, potato and toast-based dishes.

Technically a recurring pop-up restaurant, it’s currently open on Saturdays and Sundays inside Ilan Hall’s The Gorbals restaurant. I tend to prefer windows and natural light for brunch, but the setting here is markedly different. Located in the back of the lobby of historic the Hotel Alexandria, its windowless dining room focuses in on the open kitchen.

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The Church Key (West Hollywood, CA)

The Church Key
Sunset Towers
8730 Sunset Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069
Dining date: 10/23/13

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The Church Key opened last week in West Hollywood with chef Steven Fretz (XIV, Top Round) helming the kitchen. The food is modern American small plates combining a regular menu with revolving carts, drawing upon inspiration from State Bird Provisions and dim sum restaurants. The chef makes liberal use of the modern American label, presenting a pretty wide variety of dishes and influences from around the world. The opening menu offers chicken tikka masala and ‘peking quail’ from Asia to pastas, pierogies, and sticky toffee pudding from Europe. I was invited to a preview dinner the night before opening.

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The large space looks great with a mix of chairs and sofas, multiple dining areas and a large bar.

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church key

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Scarpetta (Beverly Hills, CA) [2]

Scarpetta
Montage Beverly Hills
225 North Canon Dr.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Dining date: 10/19/13

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It’s been two years since my last visit to Scarpetta (it really doesn’t seem that long ago at all) and three years since my first opening night visit – still one of the more memorable dining experiences of my life. Scott Conant is still the face of the restaurant, but day-to-day oversight of the kitchen has transitioned to new executive chef Freddy Vargas as of May (who took over from the short tenure of Alex Stratta). This past weekend, I was invited back into the restaurant to get a taste of what’s new. This would be my fourth visit overall.

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The dining room is huge but the best seats in the house are the five at the end of the kitchen. Dubbed the ‘Chef’s Counter,’ it offers a front row seat in the kitchen and interaction with the chefs. As one can assume, it’s a completely different type of experience. My understand is that this isn’t tasting menu-only; a la carte is possible…but some sort of tasting would seem to be the best way to get the full experience.

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