30801 Coast Hwy
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Dining date: 3/29/14
I’ve known about Studio for a while and always figured it to be a good option if I was ever in need of a nicer restaurant in the southern part of Orange County. Just recently I found myself on a weekend trip to OC and decided it was time to try it. The restaurant is located on the Montage Laguna Beach property (which is beautiful, I might add), right on the edge of the resort by the water. I’d recommend a pre- or post-dinner walk to take it all in, including the garden where the restaurant grows much of its own produce and herbs.
The chef here is Craig Strong, who came to Studio four years ago after helming the kitchen of the Ritz-Carlton/Langham Pasadena (and was replaced by one Michael Voltaggio). Strong’s modern Californian/French cooking is available in a six-course tasting menu ($125), but we elected to do a la carte on this evening.
712 S Santa Fe Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90021
Dining date: 3/28/14
Located in between popular daytime options Bread Lounge and Stumptown Coffee and just around the corner from always-popular Bestia, Fifty Seven is the latest restaurant opening in the red hot Arts District. The restaurant, which opened this past week, is to me one of the more intriguing recent concepts. The format has been compared to the old Test Kitchen and its revolving door of chefs creating their own menus. Whereas Test Kitchen stints typically lasted just a few days, Fifty Seven will welcome a new chef every few months to come in and create an entirely new menu. To me, the success of Fifty Seven will ultimately be dependent upon the quality and excitement of the chefs they are able to bring in.
David Nayfield is the chef in residence and the first chef to craft their own menu. Nayfield has a strong pedigree, most recently coming from the highly acclaimed Eleven Madison Park. He brings his progressive American cuisine in the form of a $48 three-course menu with a handful of additional a la carte snacks available. Three different options were available for each course; between the two of us, we were able to sample two-thirds of the options and added on two snacks for good measure.
1104 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Dining date: 1/24/14
Melisse, like the restaurant of my last post Providence, is oft-considered one of the best restaurants in the city for its French-Californian cuisine. It’s truly one of the few refined fine dining destinations that has survived through all the food trends Los Angeles has seen since it’s opening in 1999. Like Providence, Melisse garnered 2 Michelin stars in the last guide; while I have been familiar with Providence ever since it opened, my first visit to Melisse didn’t come until a relatively late 2010. I’ve now had a few meals here (including a very memorable Farewell to Foie last year) and have thoroughly enjoyed them.
The impetus for this dinner was the restaurant’s participation in dineLA’s new $85 price level, an opportune time for 4 friends’ first visit. As with many dineLA options I wondered – what type of meal would Melisse provide at this lower price point? Would it still reflect a ‘regular’ Melisse experience? I was pleasantly surprised on both counts.
2224 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Dining date: 11/29/13
My first two visits to Commonwealth were excellent. The food was creative, well-executed and delicious within a very well-priced tasting menu ($65 at the time with $10 going directly to a local charity). Given I don’t spend as much time in San Francisco as I used to, it’s taken me a full two years to make a return. While in town for Thanksgiving, the family returned for a post-Thanksgiving dinner.
Not surprisingly, the price of the tasting menu has risen but I think it’s still priced well at $75 for six courses (and on this evening, two amuse bouches). A la carte is a legitimate option (all plates priced in the teens); with our party of 4 we easily could’ve ordered one of everything on the menu and gotten more tastes for less money. However, we ended up getting the best of both worlds, ordering the tasting menu and adding a few supplemental a la carte courses. The restaurant still allows for the addition of these supplements at the a la carte pricing, effectively waiving any split-plate charge and will seamlessly integrate the courses into the progression of the meal. I love the idea. The wine pairing of six pours was an extra $40.
David Kinch (Manresa)
1119 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Dining date: 11/11/13
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.
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.
The Church Key
8730 Sunset Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069
Dining date: 10/23/13
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.
The large space looks great with a mix of chairs and sofas, multiple dining areas and a large bar.