624 S La Brea Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Dining date: 4/16/15
I first dined at Republique soon after it opened at the end of 2013. That meal had its ups-and-downs but was generally a little disappointing. Since then, the restaurant has been one of the most oft-praised and highly acclaimed restaurants in town over the past 18 months. I was due for a return to the restaurant hoping the kitchen and service had worked out any kinks.
The menu’s changed a fair amount since I was last here, though there are a few menu mainstays. On this visit, the focus was on new dishes getting a sampling of appetizers, a couple of main courses and a dessert (we skipped dessert last time).
Son of a Gun
8370 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Dining date: 3/29/15
Son of a Gun’s been open just over 4 years; this is my third time visiting the restaurant, but really my first time having a full ‘regular’ meal here. My first trip in 2011 was a ‘second dinner’ after a Cafe Boulud pop-up meal at Animal, while my second visit in 2013 was for a Graham Elliot dinner. After quite some time, I was excited for a return to try some of the favorite menu mainstays as well as some new dishes.
The maritime decor reflects the fact that this is a seafood-focused restaurant, though its most famous dish has become its fried chicken sandwich.
6610 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Dining date: 3/27/15
I thoroughly enjoyed my first trip to Chi Spacca. Being a bit of a carnivore, the restaurant is right up my alley and a return trip was definitely in order. Plus, they were out of the beef and bone marrow pie last time…and I had to try it! We returned as a party of four to introduce two others who were new to the restaurant.
220 E 4th St
Santa Ana, CA 92701
Dining date: 3/7/15
I don’t often come to Orange County too often to dine, but Playground has been on my radar for some time. It was probably the OC restaurant I’ve most wanted to try and I finally got the chance when it was chosen for a birthday dinner.
Jason Quinn, probably best known for being a member of The Great Food Truck Race winning The Lime Truck, helms Playground. It’s gotten rave reviews since opening, even leading to the opening of a bakery and a lunch spot just around the corner. The menu changes often, and there’s a sort of attitude about the place. The restaurant encourages trying new things and being adventurous, disclosing on the menu that they will not charge you if you don’t love it (in fact, I observed it in practice on a neighboring table). Perhaps this is the way they’ve been able to get more conservative OC palates to try some of their more forward-thinking creations?
3455 Overland Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90034
Dining date: 2/18/15
I recently revisited West LA’s n/naka. To me, it’s still one of the more unique meals in LA. It’s Niki Nakayama’s modernized interpretation of a kaiseki meal – hyper seasonal, local, intricate food following a traditional progression. LA’s full of great Japanese cuisine but even in the high-end space, it’s primarily sushi-based. n/naka’s multi-course small-plate meal and focus on service really find a great blend between Japanese cuisine/sensibilities and Western ‘fine dining.’
The modern kaiseki runs $165 with a vegetarian option for $150 – both are thirteen courses.
37 E Union St
Pasadena, CA 91103
Dining date: 2/15/15
I often think of Pasadena as a city of chain restaurants (albeit the good chain restaurants), and that relatively conservative palates make it hard for unique chef-driven concepts to thrive here. That may not be true, but there haven’t been many that have tried in the city. Union is one of the more interesting openings in some time, where chef Bruce Kalman (Urbano Pizza, The Churchill) is cooking up seasonal farm-to-table Californian-Italian fare. I’ve never been to The Churchill, though I’d been to Urbano many times and still kind of miss it.
Since the restaurant opened last March, I’ve heard plenty of good things about it including being named LA Mag’s second best restaurant opening of 2014. That, combined with my experiences at Urbano, made Union high on my list of restaurants to try. But, I just never quite got the final impetus to go until I was invited in this past weekend.
Loved this chalk art showing how serious they are about their ingredients.