LA Food & Wine: Saturday Grand Tasting (Los Angeles, CA)

Saturday Grand Tasting
Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival 2012
L.A. Live
800 W. Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Dining date: 8/11/12

While this past weekend’s LA Food & Wine festival offered a host of options in its 40+ events, the ones that piqued my interest most were the tastings. Food is the centerpiece of almost every event, but there are a few events (Saturday/Sunday Grand Tastings, Live on the Plaza) that offer food from dozens of different restaurants from around the country.

Saturday’s Grand Tasting featured around 30 chefs/restaurants and many more wineries (100+) in all-you-can-eat-and-drink fashion. The event was held during the day at LAFW’s “base” – LA Live. A huge tent shielded patrons from the searing sun, though the AC was overwhelmed by the sheer number of people (and makeshift kitchens) during one of the summer’s hottest heatwaves. Given the heat, water, champagne and cold beer seemed to be in strong demand to go along with the food.

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Each chef/restaurant had its own booth, with many of them serving multiple tastes.

Perfecto Rocher (Lazy Ox Canteen) watermelon gazpacho, jamon iberico, caviar

Perfecto Rocher (Lazy Ox Canteen) watermelon gazpacho, jamon iberico, caviar

jamon

Gabriel Ask (Montage Beverly Hills) corn panna cotta, bacon chips, uni

Gabriel Ask (Montage Beverly Hills) corn panna cotta, bacon chips, uni

Floyd Cardoz (North End Grill) mangalitsa pork, chutney

Floyd Cardoz (North End Grill) mangalitsa pork, chutney

Ernesto Uchimura (Plan Check) fried chicken, smoked milk gravy, pickled okra

Ernesto Uchimura (Plan Check) fried chicken, smoked milk gravy, pickled okra

Mark Estee (Campo) blood pudding, crispy polenta

Mark Estee (Campo) blood pudding, crispy polenta

Andre Bienvenu (Joe’s Stone Crab) popcorn with lobster, shrimp, crab, pork belly; seared ahi with merlot sugar

Andre Bienvenu (Joe's Stone Crab) popcorn with lobster, shrimp, crab, pork belly; seared ahi with merlot sugar

Andre Bienvenu (Joe's Stone Crab) popcorn with lobster, shrimp, crab, pork belly; seared ahi with merlot sugar

Hector Ramirez (Ruth’s Chris) mini filet oscar style; crabtini; sweet potato casserole

Hector Ramirez (Ruth's Chris) mini filet oscar style; crabtini; sweet potato casserole

Hector Ramirez (Ruth's Chris) mini filet oscar style; crabtini; sweet potato casserole

Hector Ramirez (Ruth's Chris) mini filet oscar style; crabtini; sweet potato casserole

Fabio Viviani (Firenze Osteria) pasta with duck sausage and fennel

Fabio Viviani (Firenze Osteria) pasta with duuk sausage and fennel

Anthony Meidenbauer (Holstein’s) pork belly slider

Anthony Meidenbauer (Holstein's) pork belly slider

Joachim Splichal (Patina) summer corn pudding, crab salad, lobster espuma

Joachim Splichal (Patina) summer corn pudding, crab salad, lobster espuma

Rick Tramonto (R’evolution) BBQ shrimp and grits

Rick Tramonto (R'evolution) BBQ shrimp and grits

Jeremy Berlin (Church & State) heirloom tomatoes, balsamic vinegar

Jeremy Berlin (Church & State) heirloom tomatoes, balsamic vinegar

Stephan Pyles (Stephan Pyles) scallop escabeche, red corn, spiced chicharron, huitlacoche foam

Stephan Pyles (Stephan Pyles) scallop escabeche, red corn, spiced chicharron, huitlacoche foam

Ricardo Zarate (Mo-Chica, Picca) grilled paiche miso

Ricardo Zarate (Mo-Chica, Picca) grilled paiche miso

Kerry Simon and Nona Sivley (LA Market) snickers, chocolate peanut butter cups

Kerry Simon and Nona Sivley (LA Market) snickers, chocolate peanut butter cups

Justin Everett (Murray Circle) saison ale peach preserves, oat financier, brown sugar creme

Justin Everett (Murray Circle) saison ale peach preserves, oat financier, brown sugar creme

Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger (Border Grill) summer bean salad tostadita

Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger (Border Grill) summer bean salad tostadita

Hasty Torres (Madame Chocolat) assorted chocolates

Hasty Torres (Madame Chocolat) assorted chocolates

Hasty Torres (Madame Chocolat) assorted chocolates

Magnolia Bakery banana pudding, cupcakes

Magnolia Bakery banana pudding, cupcakes

Magnolia Bakery banana pudding, cupcakes

Mark Ainsworth (Pastry Smart) chocolate cremeaux

Mark Ainsworth (Pastry Smart) chocolate cremeaux

Ryan Morrison (Towne) pig in a blanket with lobster and smoked sausage

Ryan Morrison (Towne) pig in a blanket with lobster and smoked sausage

Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier (Arrows) lobster fried green tomato sandwich

Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier (Arrows) lobster fried green tomato sandwich

Paul Shoemaker (Savory) ribeye, kimchi, umeboshi

Paul Shoemaker (Savory) ribeye, kimchi, umeboshi

Duane Owen (Pechanga) pan seared lobster and crispy pork belly, savoy cabbage slaw, chardonnay reduction, micro greens

Duane Owen (Pechanga) pan seared lobster and crispy pork belly, savoy cabbage slaw, chardonnay reduction, micro greens

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Cold champagne was a popular choice in the muggy tent, and I had more than my own fair share.

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Highlights for me included the dishes from Patina and Lazy Ox Canteen. Patina’s corn pudding and crab salad provided two layers of sweetness in some delicious, cool and refreshing bites. A little bit of lobster flavor provided some extra depth of flavor. Lazy Ox’s dish featured a duo of decadent flavors between the jamon iberico and caviar; the cool, sweet watermelon was a welcome accompaniment to bring it all together. Plan Check’s fried chicken was one of the most popular booths all afternoon and for good reason – the smoky fried chicken was very juicy and flavorful with an addicting crunch from the crispy batter. Finally, Fabio Viviani’s pasta with duck sausage was simple yet well-done, with an al dente pasta and rich duck ragu. I’m always a sucker for a good pasta, and came back for couple more portions.

Aside from stronger air conditioning, I’d like to see more national representation from the chefs and restaurants next year in this event. One of the things that separates LA Food & Wine (and Pebble Beach Food & Wine) from a lot of the other festivals in LA is the fact that it can draw chefs from outside of LA, allowing patrons more of an opportunity to try something new.

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Note: This was a sponsored event.

LA Food & Wine: Asian Night Market (Los Angeles, CA)

Asian Night Market
Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival 2012
Nokia Plaza
800 W. Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Dining date: 8/10/12

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Los Angeles Food & Wine is in its second year, already one of the largest (if not the largest) food festivals of the year in LA. With 40+ events over 4 days, it seemingly has something for everyone from tasting events to cooking demonstrations to wine tastings to some strong power lunches. It’s a sibling festival to Pebble Beach Food & Wine, one of Northern California’s marquee food festivals (which just completed its fifth year).

This year I attended two of the events: Asian Night Market and the Saturday Grand Tasting. Night markets seem to be all the rage in this city recently, with the 626 Night Market and Lucky Rice Night Market also happening in the last few weeks.

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Tickets were $75 ($125 VIP), inclusive of all food & drink, with almost 30 chefs/restaurants represented and dozens more wineries/spirits/bars. While more expensive than competing night markets, this event uniquely offered access to a number of non-LA chefs, including Ming Tsai, Edward Lee, Susur Lee, and Charles Phan.

The event was largely outdoors, somewhat a concern in the midst of a sweltering heat wave. However, the sun set pretty soon after the event opened and I didn’t think it was that bad. Plus, it was particularly night being out under the lights at night.

Keep hydrated was key all evening, and smartwater was well-stocked all evening (seriously, I’m amazed how often events like these run out of water). This is exactly what I dream of when I’m hungover.

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Each chef/restaurant had their own booth, serving up their interpretation of an east Asian street food dish.

Ming Tsai (Blue Ginger) tea smoked sirloin with mala oil

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Ming Tsai (Blue Ginger) tea smoked sirloin with mala oil

Roy Yamaguchi (Roy’s) chicken, jade pesto, cherry blossom rice

Roy Yamaguchi (Roy's) chicken, jade pesto, cherry blossom rice

Jet Tila (The Charleston) five spice pork belly bun

Jet Tila (The Charleston) five spice pork belly bun

Bryant Ng (The Spice Table) skate, sambal, coconut rice

Bryant Ng (The Spice Table) skate, sambal, coconut rice

Roy Choi (Kogi)

Roy Choi (Kogi)

Sam Choy (Sam Choy’s, Pineapple Express) loco moco

Sam Choy (Sam Choy's, Pineapple Express) loco moco

Robert Magsalin (Fukuburger) honey sesame fried chicken, okinawan donut holes

Robert Magsalin (Fukuburger) honey sesame fried chicken, okinawan donut holes

Mohan Ismail (RockSugar) short rib rendang sliders

Mohan Ismail (RockSugar) short rib rendang sliders

Edward Lee (610 Magnolia) kimchi rice cakes

Edward Lee (610 Magnolia) kimchi rice cakes

Jorge Mijangos (Nobu LA) tuna tacos and wagyu tacos

Jorge Mijangos (Nobu LA) tuna tacos and wagyu tacos

Hiroshi Shima (Sushi Roku) fluke sashimi

Hiroshi Shima (Sushi Roku) fluke sashimi

Thi Tran (Starry Kitchen) malaysian chicken curry, lychee panda cotta

Thi Tran (Starry Kitchen) malaysian chicken curry, lychee panda cotta

Fluff Ice 18 hour lamill cold brew, condensed milk, raspberries, espresso beans

Fluff Ice 18 hour lamill cold brew, condensed milk, raspberries, espresso beans

Andrew Zimmern (Bizarre Foods) pork ribs, spareribs sliders

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Andrew Zimmern (Bizarre Foods) pork ribs, spareribs sliders

Ricardo Zarate (Mo-Chica, Picca) grilled tuna, asian pesto, camote al hilo

Ricardo Zarate (Mo-Chica, Picca) grilled tuna, asian pesto, camote al hilo

David LeFevre (MB Post) green tea soba, lotus root, shiitake mushrooms

David LeFevre (MB Post) green tea soba, lotus root, shiitake mushrooms

Huge Tree Pastry beef roll

Huge Tree Pastry beef roll

Michael Ginor (Lola) duck slider

Michael Ginor (Lola) duck slider

Charles Phan (Slanted Door) banh nam, dried shrimp and pork

Charles Phan (Slanted Door) banh nam, dried shrimp and pork

David Myers chili crab wontons

David Myers chili crab wontons

Yu Bo (Yu’s Family Kitchen) sichuan pork dumplings

Yu Bo (Yu's Family Kitchen) sichuan pork dumplings

John Lechleidner (WP24) malaysian chicken feet, dan dan chicken dumplings, peking duck roll, ovaltine fudgesickles, passionfruit push pops, watermelon rose icies, galia pandan icies

John Lechleidner (WP24) malaysian chicken feet, dan dan chicken dumplings, peking duck roll, ovaltine fudgesickles, passionfruit push pops, watermelon rose icies, galia pandan icies

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Eddie Wong (Mr. Chow) walnut shrimp, red bean sauce noodles

Eddie Wong (Mr. Chow) walnut shrimp, red bean sauce noodles

Eddie Wong (Mr. Chow) walnut shrimp, red bran sauce noodles

Duff Goldman (Charm City Cakes West) ginger cake, green tea ice cream

Duff Goldman (Charm City Cakes West) ginger cake, green tea ice cream

A host of wines and spirits were involved, but I especially appreciated the lineup of cocktail bars serving up ice cold drinks all night long.

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If I had to choose one main highlight, it was probably one of the most unassuming dishes I tried – the 18-hour cold brew Taiwanese shaved ice from Fluff Ice. The rich, deep flavor of the coffee really came through; almost like a really good coffee ice cream, albeit much lighter. Condensed milk provided some creaminess and sweetness, while whole espresso beans added additional coffee flavor and texture. While it was the perfect thing for a warm evening, I would’ve eaten this anywhere.

Jet Tila’s pork belly bun consistently had one of the longer lines and for good reason. Tender pork belly with a sweet glaze was sandwiched in between an exceptional warm, delicately crispy bun. Sam Choy’s loco moco was another highlight for me. It was a huge portion of hamburger patty, rice, gravy and a fried egg that tasted very well together with a good balance of flavors.  Susur Lee’s puff pastry with duck sausage (unfortunately I forgot to take a picture) was another good one, with a very light, flaky pastry being a difference-maker. Host Andrew Zimmern’s pork ribs were huge, meaty, delicious things that I wanted to rip into teeth-first (though I expected something a little more bizarre, I don’t think he or I were ready for, say, stinky tofu).

I thought this was a lot of fun and probably a good deal as one of the more approachable LAFW tasting events at the $75pp price point. Yes, it’s more expensive than an evening in the San Gabriel Valley, but it’s a whole different type of experience altogether. Though I have one request: can someone please make boba milk tea next year?

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Note: This was a sponsored event.

Water Grill (Los Angeles, CA) (2)

Water Grill
544 S Grand Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90071
Dining date: 7/25/12

water grill interior

Recently, we welcomed a couple of new team members at work. To celebrate the addition, a group of us went out to dinner downtown. Given that many of my co-workers enjoyed Water Grill the last time we went, it was a fairly easy choice for a return visit. This would be my second visit since the remodel (the first visit was captured gorgeously by gastronomyblog), in which the restaurant closed from Dec.-Jan. to change its look. What resulted was a more open layout with a clear view of the kitchen; I think they succeeded in making the restaurant appear less stuffy and a little more approachable.

kitchen

For such a classy establishment, I was surprised to see they served beers by the pitcher. They had a brief but good beer list, highlighted by Ballast Point’s Sculpin IPA. Sculpin by the pitcher? Score!

sculpin pitcher

Coincidentally, it was dineLA restaurant week, $45 for 3 courses. I thought it was a pretty good price point; about half of us ordered this menu with the rest going a la carte.

CRISFIELD, MARYLAND BLUE CRAB CAKE

CRISFIELD, MARYLAND BLUE CRAB CAKE

The crab cake was pretty well done with a crispy crust and sweet, moist crab meat. A little bit of heat permeated the crab, making for some pretty delicious bites.

KONA KAMPACHI TARTARE japanese mustard, green apple

KONA KAMPACHI TARTARE japanese mustard, green apple

This tartare was a little bland and the texture seemed a bit on the mushier side. Mustard and green apple tried to spruce up the kampachi, but I don’t think it was enough.

NEW ENGLAND CLAM CHOWDER manila clams, applewood smoked bacon

NEW ENGLAND CLAM CHOWDER manila clams, applewood smoked bacon

I don’t think this recipe has changed much throughout my visits, something I consider a good thing. The soup was rather light with more of a milky, broth-like consistency with tasty plump clams. Tender carrots and potatoes, as well as smokey bacon rounded out the flavors.

FRITTO MISTO mixed fried seafood with smokey marinara and tzatziki

FRITTO MISTO mixed fried seafood with smokey marinara and tzatziki

I had high hopes for a fried seafood platter here at Water Grill. Filled with fish, shrimp, squid and zucchini, this one fell far short. The seafood was overcooked (making for some particularly chewy squid) and the batter felt somewhat uneven. The zucchini was the highlight of the dish, with its juicy, flavorful interior.

WILD BAJA CALIFORNIA YELLOWTAIL blackened with sweet curried cauliflower

WILD BAJA CALIFORNIA YELLOWTAIL blackened with sweet curried cauliflower

This was a denser fish with a fishier taste, cooked well. The blackening spices provided a good depth of flavor as well as a bit of spice. The sweet cauliflower was a nice pairing, counteracting the spice and richness of the fish.

WILD MORROW BAY KING SALMON pan sauteed with asparagus chutney, raw asparagus salad

WILD MORROW BAY KING SALMON pan sauteed with asparagus chutney, raw asparagus salad

WILD CALIFORNIA WHITE SEABASS roasted herb quinoa, grilled macerated peaches

WILD CALIFORNIA WHITE SEABASS roasted herb quinoa, grilled macerated peaches

My coworker Andrew, who eats at his fair share of restaurants in seafood-centric Seattle, found the seabass a little overcooked. I had to agree; the dense fish was still fairly moist but not as much as it could’ve been. Still enjoyable though, particularly with the sweetness of the peaches and the earthy quinoa accompaniments.

Three desserts were available off the dineLA menu, and we were able to try all three.

WHITE MINT FUDGE PARFAIT crispy cocoa

WHITE MINT FUDGE PARFAIT crispy cocoa

KEY LIME PIE pomegranate seeds

KEY LIME PIE pomegranate seeds

CARAMEL BREAD PUDDING alaea sea salt

CARAMEL BREAD PUDDING alaea sea salt

The key lime pie was fairly standard, perhaps in a good way. There was an interesting ice cream alongside, the flavor of which I couldn’t place. The sundae-like parfait had nice chocolate and mint flavors with texture from the cocoa. My favorite of the trio was the bread pudding with croissant and brioche breads being used in the warm, moist dessert. Really comforting and not overly sweet. The cold ice cream was a welcome contrast, as was the rich salted caramel flavor. Quite nice.

There were a number of ups-and-downs in this meal but overall I thought it was pretty good. However, given the price point of a typical meal here, I’d expect more…a similar sentiment to some past meals. Still, for a seafood-centric meal on the company’s tab (or maybe just a pitcher of beer), Water Grill’s probably not a bad way to go.

Night+Market (West Hollywood, CA) (2)

Night+Market
9041 W Sunset Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069
Dining date: 7/23/12

signage

I really enjoyed my first visit to Night+Market nearly a year ago; a return visit has been long overdue. It’s mostly due to the location (on the Sunset Strip) and the fact that I dread driving to West Hollywood more than any other neighborhood of LA. However, a birthday dinner and dineLA were the impetus for this return, and I was glad to be back.

The restaurant continues to garner consistent buzz/accolades; one of the bigger ones recently was chef Kris Yenbamroong being nominated as a James Beard semifinalist in the ‘Rising Star Chef’ category. Not bad for someone with no formal culinary training; however, Yenbamroong has essentially grown up in the family’s Talesai kitchens, something that seems to have suited him very well for this gig.

Night+Market had a special 3-course menu going for dineLA; we opted to mix and match a bit, ordering two dineLA meals and a bunch of la carte items. Everything was served family style.

The restaurant has a pretty well-stocked wine list (and full bar), but this night was a beer night. Go big or go home.

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fried pig tail

fried pig tail

I loved this in my previous visit. My piece was much fattier than I remember, but the meat itself was again so good. Sweet and succulent with a crispy exterior. A little bit of garlic and chilies provided the depth.

som tum | papaya salad

som tum | papaya salad

Cool, crisp slivers of papaya provided a little bit of crunch and reprieve from the spiciness of other dishes. However, this salad had a lingering heat of its own.

hoi nang rom sod | raw oysters on the half shell

hoi nang rom sod | raw oysters on the half shell

These oysters were cool and refreshing, though I felt the fried scallions overpowered the flavor of the oyster.

yum ruam mit talay | seafood yum boiled fish, shrimp, octopus, bird eye, lime, fish sauce, mint

yum ruam mit talay | seafood yum boiled fish, shrimp, octopus, bird eye, lime, fish sauce, mint

A medley of seafood was cooked with bright mint and lemongrass flavors that were nice complements. Thinly sliced Thai chiles provided bursts of heat like hidden bombs.

nam kao tod | crispy rice salad spicy fermented pork, bird eye, ginger, chile jam, fish sauce, lime, peanuts

nam kao tod | crispy rice salad spicy fermented pork, bird eye, ginger, chile jam, fish sauce, lime, peanuts

I liked the texture of the crispy rice in this dish, with meaty chunks of pork and slivers of ginger. A good balance of hot and sour.

gai tod mae chan | mae chan fried chicken upcountry fried chicken thighs, sticky rice, fried shallots

gai tod mae chan | mae chan fried chicken upcountry fried chicken thighs / sticky rice / fried shallots

The fried chicken thighs were tasty and juicy on their own; the richness was cut by the accompanying lime and ginger sauce.

panang en neua | beef tendon panang with roti

panang en neua | beef tendon panang with roti

I’m typically not a fan of the gelatinous tendon and can’t say this had me deviating from that sentiment. I much more enjoyed the warm curry and delightfully crisp roti.

hor ab | catfish tamale

hor ab | catfish tamale

hor ab | catfish tamale

I thought this was an interesting dish on the menu. A soft tamale exhibited the flavor of the fish, but I found it somewhat one-note and in need of some textural contrast.

moo sadoong | ‘startled pig’ grilled pork, basil, lemongrass, fish sauce, lime, bird eye chile, raw garlic

moo sadoong | 'startled pig' grilled pork, basil, lemongrass, fish sauce, lime, bird eye chile, raw garlic

Juicy chunks of pork were complemented by lemongrass and garlic. Strong, bright flavors…and not too spicy!

pad kee mao | drunken noodles with short ribs flat noodles, chile, basil, garlic

pad kee mao | drunken noodles with short ribs flat noodles, chile, basil, garlic

This was another favorite from my previous visit and I enjoyed it just as much this time. It’s a pretty simple dish I suppose, but it always gets me.

ice cream sandwich

ice cream sandwich

One of the restaurant’s most popular dishes is this dessert. Rarely does an ice cream sandwich contain actual bread and even rarer does one contain rice. This one has both with an excellent coconut ice cream and sweet rice sandwiched between toasted bread.

I enjoyed this meal at Night+Market, though it’s pretty damn spicy (it has a way of compounding throughout the meal). The menu clearly states that there is an option to make things less spicy, something I would definitely consider next time (our party in this visit liked the heat). Hopefully I’ll make my return to Night+Market much sooner this time.

Playa Brunch (Los Angeles, CA)

Playa
7360 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Dining date: 7/22/12

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I’ve stepped into Playa a few times for Julian Cox’s cocktails, but this would be only my second meal here (the first was dinner).  I recently had an OpenTable dining certificate about to expire, and picked Playa due to strong brunch recommendations.

Playa is one of John Rivera Sedlar’s restaurants (the other being Rivera in downtown), with food described as “urban Latin.” I’m not totally sure what that means, but the brunch menu is an intriguing mix of traditional brunch plates with Latin influences and some more original ones. Cocktails, crafted by Julian Cox, are top-notch; a wall of liquor and a bar full of fresh ingredients promise good things to come.

playa bar

A Beer & A Ball campari, aperol, grapefruit, sage, lime, hops infused champagne

A Beer & A Ball Campari, Aperol, Grapefruit, Sage, Lime, Hops Infused Champagne

This was one of my favorites from a previous visit. Grapefruit citrus is the main flavor that came through with a little sparkling wine. A little bitter and a little herbaceous.

Dramble aged dark rum, fresh lemon, simple syrup, all-spice dram, muddled raspberries

Dramble Aged Dark Rum, Fresh Lemon, Simple Syrup, All-Spice Dram, Muddled Raspberries

Raspberry and citrus (from the lemon) were the main flavor profiles in this refreshing cocktail. Loved the presentation.

Tortillas Florales con marmeladas y conservas

Tortillas Florales Con Marmeladas y Conservas

This is one of the signature items at both Rivera and Playa. These tortillas were easily discernible from the store-bought variety in their texture, and I liked that the edges were a bit crispy. Still though, they were just tortillas, albeit really nice looking ones. Butter and two sweet fruity marmalades were served alongside.

Flan De Elote quinoa, flores de calabaza

Flan De Elote quinoa, flores de calabaza

I thought this was a very strong dish. A light flan was sweet and savory with some earthy quinoa providing a little bit of bite. Bitter arugula was a nice change of pace.

Piquillos Rellenos gruyere, chorizo, golden raisins

Piquillos Rellenos gruyere, chorizo, golden raisins

Sweet peppers, meaty bites of chorizo and a creamy gruyere came together for some tasty bites. I didn’t think the raisins were needed since the piquillo provided enough sweetness.

Huevos Polenta lardons, rajas, calabacitas, queso cotija

Huevos Polenta lardons, rajas, calabacitas, queso cotija

Huevos Polenta lardons, rajas, calabacitas, queso cotija

Creamy polenta was topped with a poached egg and cheese making for a very savory flavor combination. Fried lardons added some meatiness as well as crunch, while a subtly spicy sauce brought it all together. A nice dish.

Duck Hash weiser farm fingerlings, peppers, 63° egg

Duck Hash Weiser Farm fingerlings, peppers, 63° egg

I thought each of the individual components were good between the potatoes, tender duck and poached egg. However the dish wasn’t anything more than that; I was missing some of the Latin influences that we saw in other plates.

Playa was a good brunch, but I wouldn’t say it was great. I thought most of the dishes were pretty unique, or at least a unique spin on a classic brunch dish (except for the duck hash). I’m always down for something different when it comes to brunch. With a strong cocktail program and a dining room full of natural light, it was a nice spot for a weekend brunch.

Ray’s (Los Angeles, CA)

Ray’s
LACMA

5905 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Dining date: 7/13/12

ray's exterior

Ray’s (and connected Stark Bar) has been a place I’ve wanted to try for some time now. Opened a little over a year ago, it’s somewhat quietly gained some strong accolades including being named a Best New Restaurant in 2011 by Esquire. It’s uniquely located on the LACMA campus in mid-city; on a Friday evening the place was bustling. There were a lot of people walking around (something was going on…still not sure what it was), making for an interesting place to dine and people-watch.

LACMALACMA

Given the restaurant is attached to a museum, the restaurant has some artsy touches of its own. One of these was the dining room table, which included drawers that opened up with silverware. How fun! I’m just glad the server pointed it out before we inquired about missing silverware.

silverware

The chef at Ray’s is Kris Morningstar, someone who’s been bouncing around LA for some time now (Blue Velvet, Casa, District). The concept is farm-to-table featuring a wood-burning oven and grill. The menu is pretty condensed with a number of appetizers, a few entrees, two pizzas and a few sides. We ended up ordering a bunch of items to share.

Warm, crusty bread was the first thing out of the kitchen. The first batch was excellent but the second one suffered from uneven reheating.

bread

sorrel soup, lemon creme fraiche, marcona almonds

amuse

The kitchen sent out this amuse – a sorrel soup. The flavors were mainly grassy and tart, and the amuse as a whole was kind of refreshing.

calf’s brain haricot vert, hazelnut brown butter, preserved lemon

calf's brain haricot vert, hazelnut brown butter, preserved lemon

The calf’s brain was seared nicely leaving a silky soft interior. Some hazelnuts and waxy green beans rounded out the dish nicely.

corn agnolotti stuffed pasta, hazelnuts, lime brown butter, wild arugula, hen of the woods mushrooms

corn agnolotti stuffed pasta, hazelnuts, lime brown butter, wild arugula, hen of the woods mushrooms

Good chewy agnolotti pasta was filled with a sweet corn filling. The pasta was covered in a rich butter sauce; arugula did a good job of balancing it out with a fresh, peppery bite.

bottarga squid ink bucatini, calabrian chile, mint, cherry tomatoes

bottarga squid ink bucatini, calabrian chile, mint, cherry tomatoes

I thought the pasta was kind of soft (overcooked?), but I enjoyed the flavors. The squid ink and bottarga provided the sea flavors while fresh mint really brightened things up.

calabrian pizza fiery salami, parmesan, garlic, mozzarella

calabrian pizza fiery salami, parmesan, garlic, mozzarella

I thought this pizza was pretty well done. A thin, charred crust held up a zesty tomato sauce and some pretty good salami.

farro broccoli di cicco, shiitake mushrooms, green onions, chili sauce, slow cooked egg

farro broccoli di cicco, shiitake mushrooms, green onions, chili sauce, slow cooked egg

Loved the textures in this dish between the chewy farro and oozing egg yolk. Juicy cherry tomatoes packed a punch, while some chiles brought a lingering heat. There were a lot of components to this dish and I thought they all came together very well.

branzino potato gnocchi, piquillo peppers, sugar snap peas, olives

branzino potato gnocchi, piquillo peppers, sugar snap peas, olives

The branzino had a crispy skin but the meat may have been slightly overcooked. The small gnocchi were nice touch, while the snap peas provided some texture and sweetness.

chicken roulade anson mills grits, collard greens, roasted turnips, sea island red peas, crispy shallots

chicken roulade anson mills grits, collard greens, roasted turnips, sea island red peas, crispy shallots

This simple chicken dish may have been the highlight of the night with its succulent and tender meat. It was pretty juicy and packed with herb accents, and the creamy grits were a good earthy accompaniment.  Very nice.

hanger steak grilled scallions, charred onion puree, sungold tomatoes, smokey blue cheese, crispy bread, smoked marrow

hanger steak grilled scallions, charred onion puree, sungold tomatoes, smokey blue cheese, crispy bread, smoked marrow

This hanger steak was cooked well and really exuded a smoky aroma. Juicy tomatoes made a repeat appearance, adding some sweet and brighter flavors. I’m not sure I caught the marrow flavor, though.

We also ordered a couple of side dishes to go along with the entrees,

macaroni gratin, comte gruyere, buttered bread crumbs

macaroni gratin, comte gruyere, buttered bread crumbs

The pasta was a little bit soft, but overall this was a good enough dish. The bread crumbs were an integral part of the plate for me.

frites josh’s ranch

frites josh's ranch

This side didn’t fare quite as well, with many of the fries being rather oily and soggy. Ick.

bto

BTOs

Lastly the kitchen sent out some sweets, dubbed BTOs (Better than Oreos). I’m not sure I fully agreed with the title; they were different with a soft, crumbly cookie and richer cream filling.

The food at Ray’s was overall pretty good, particularly for something considered a ‘museum restaurant.’  The dishes seemed fairly simple in concept, allowing them to shine (or falter) pretty clearly. Given the most expensive thing we ordered was $25, I thought the prices were pretty reasonable; I’d come back if I were visiting the museum.

LACMA lamps