n/naka (Los Angeles, CA)

n/naka
3455 Overland Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90034
Dining date: 7/15/14

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n/naka opened three years ago in a quiet corner of Palms on the westside. The restaurant and its modern take on the Japanese kaiseki meal, has focused on creating a very precise multi-course meal with seasonal ingredients. Many of those ingredients are grown by chef Niki Nakayama herself in her own garden. I still feel the restaurant is somewhat under the radar; sure, Jonathan Gold has continually mentioned the restaurant in high regard (it was #18 in his 2014 best restaurants list), but I don’t feel like it’s consistently being considered with other high-end restaurants in LA.

While common in Japan, n/naka’s kaiseki-based menu is pretty unique in LA. It’s a carefully-scripted tasting menu often featuring 10+ small plates. Seasonal ingredients (usually simply prepared) are highlighted, and service and plating/decor are as much a part of a meal as the food. The thirteen course menu weighs in at $165 ($150 vegetarian) making n/naka one of the most expensive restaurants in the city (there used to be a slimmed down chefs’ tasting for $110).

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The Royce (Pasadena, CA)

The Royce
The Langham Huntington
1401 S Oak Knoll Ave
Pasadena, CA 91106
Dining date: 7/10/14

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The Langham Pasadena’s main restaurant has gone through a number of changes since I first dined on Craig Strong’s food at The Dining Room. Since then, Michael Voltaggio and David Feau have taken the helm for relatively short-lived chef-driven concepts (Voltaggio left to start ink. and Feau’s The Royce struggled to grasp its regular clientele). Early last year, The Royce was reborn as a steakhouse, a more conservative concept perhaps more reflecting the tastes of its primary customer base.

The Royce boasts USDA Prime cuts, as well as some international wagyu selections, all grilled over a wood fire. A largely seafood-based selection of appetizers and some seasonal side dishes round out the menu. I felt no urgency to try the new steakhouse concept, but being a steak lover I figured a visit was in order at some point. That point was just this past week.

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Tokyo Fried Chicken Co. (Monterey Park, CA)

Tokyo Fried Chicken Co.
122 S Atlantic Blvd
Monterey Park, CA 91754
Dining date: 4/11/14

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Tokyo Fried Chicken Co. garnered plenty of attention when it first opened (almost a year ago) for its fried chicken and Japanese-accented side dishes. Long waits for its no-reservation tables kept me away at first; like most restaurants, the initial buzz died down and a table became much more manageable. Monterey Park seemed like as good a place as any to open up an Asian-slanted fried chicken shop.

While a la carte is available, most order ‘chicken dinner sets’ at a not unreasonable $12.50 per person. It turns out to be about 2-3 pieces per person, a side to share and a bowl of chicken rice. Hungrier eaters can supplement with additional ~$2 for wing/drumstick, $3.50 for a thigh and $6.25 for a breast. Our party of 6 ordered a large chicken set with some supplemental side dishes.

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Kali Dining (Los Angeles, CA)

Kali Dining
Various Locations
Dining date: 6/8/14

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Kali Dining is one of the more well-known of the underground dinners in Los Angeles having been around for a couple of years now. Kevin Meehan is the chef behind the concept, who spent time in the kitchens of L’Orangerie and Bastide and most recently served as Executive Chef of downtown’s Cafe Pinot.

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With Kali Dining, Meehan takes his fine dining background and brings it to a much more casual atmosphere. Dinners have popped up in a number of locations around the city, primarily in downtown and on the Westside. My recent visit was to a dinner at a downtown artist’s loft; it was a gorgeous place for a pop-up dinner, where a communal table sat 20 strangers. All of the Kali Dining dinners are BYOB, ~5 courses, with a recommended minimum donation of $65pp.

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POT (Los Angeles, CA)

POT
The Line Hotel
3515 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90010
Dining date: 4/30/14

So far, Roy Choi’s restaurants have represented a number of cuisines/concepts from Korean-Mexican fusion to Caribbean to Asian rice bowl-centric Chego, but POT is his first deep dive into Korean cuisine. POT is one of a few concepts Choi is in charge of at the new Line Hotel in Koreatown, which also includes the bar (in collaboration with Matthew Biancaniello), cafe and room service.

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The name of the restaurant is sure to get a rise out of many, but it’s a play on words for the restaurant’s focal dish – Korean hot pots. Approximately eight are offered at any point in time – some vegetarian, some with seafood, some with offals. Something for everyone, really, as long as the hot & spicy pots are your thing. Dozens of other Korean items complete the menu with a lot of variety.

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Guerrilla Tacos (Los Angeles, CA)

Guerrilla Tacos
826 E 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Dining dates: 7/12/13, 5/2/14, 5/3/14

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Guerrilla Tacos began almost two years ago and has consistently generated positive attention for its unique approach to tacos. There are so many taquerias in Los Angeles it’s difficult to stand out, but Guerrilla Tacos has done it with its upscale, modern approach to the casual taco. Chef Wes Avila went to culinary school and is classically trained; leveraging many of those principles, he’s really upped the game for the casual taco. Avila uses tortillas as a vehicle to showcase top-notch seasonal ingredients and meats in a wide variety of ways.

The menu changes constantly; I’ve seen few taquerias with such a varied menu. One day may have octopus, Proscuitto di Parma, and fresh squash tacos; the next may have lamb shank and oxtail. Diver scallops, sashimi-grade fish and live sea urchin are commonplace on the menu. Sure the tacos are more expensive than most in LA, but the quality of ingredients are clearly a differentiating factor. A meal can still be had for under $15, maybe $20 for bigger appetites.

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