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.
1710 Silver Lake Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026
Dining date: 1/29/15
Alimento has gained plenty of praise as one of the best new LA restaurant openings in 2014 (see LA Mag, LA Weekly, and GQ). Opened in June, it’s been on my list for some time and I finally got a chance to stop in.
Alimento is on an exciting corner of Silver Lake, just a few steps away from the likes of L&E Oyster Bar, Milk, and LAMILL Coffee. It happened to be dineLa Restaurant Week when we stopped in and the restaurant was offering a special menu of three courses (two choices at each course) for $30. We ended up ordering one of those fixed menus, supplementing it with a few a la carte items.
Love & Salt
317 Manhattan Beach Blvd
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
Dining date: 1/19/15
Love & Salt opened in November in what is a renewed and thriving dining scene in Manhattan Beach (M.B. Post, Fishing with Dynamite, Strand House, Little Sister and Akatora are other notable openings in the past few years). Michael Fiorelli, previously of mar’sel in Palos Verdes’ Terranea, is the chef behind the concept – Italian with Californian accents, made with plenty of love and salt.
The space is beautiful with an open kitchen, a mini chef’s counter, and a large communal table at center.
The menu has plenty to offer from a bread, cheese, and salumi selection to a handful of savory snacks, small plates, pizzas, pastas and large format proteins. We made our way through each section of the menu, ordering one or two from each (except the large plates).
Vegas Uncork’d @ Border Grill
445 S Figueroa St
Los Angeles, CA 90071
Dining date: 1/27/15
This past week, Bon Appetit and Las Vegas hosted a Vegas Uncork’d preview at downtown’s Border Grill. It was a fitting location, given Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger’s restaurant has two locations in Las Vegas and has been a consistent participant in the annual food event. This evening’s event served to garner attention to the April fest, as well as celebrate Border Grill’s 30th anniversary.
Now in its 9th year, Vegas Uncork’d has moved up a little earlier this year to the last weekend of April. As usual, it will amass dozens of big-name chefs cooking their way through various different seminars, tastings, classes and sit-down meals. The 20+ event, 4-day Uncork’d has been a tradition in my family for many years now and I’m looking forward to what 2015 has to offer (see 2014 here and here).