Maru (Santa Monica, CA)

Maru
12400 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Dining date: 8/15/13

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Maru opened a couple months ago in Santa Monica (on the border of Brentwood), a relocation of a restaurant in Valencia. The man behind the food is chef Jason Park, who mixes the Japanese/Korean influences of his childhood into his classically trained cooking background. A wide variety of sushi and sashimi is offered (which the restaurant self-describes as ‘world-class’), as well as an extensive menu of his Asian-influenced Californian cooking. Desserts are a big part of the menu as well and could stand on their own (as Park’s recent opening of dessert shop Ramekin in Los Feliz earlier this year is proving).

I’d heard good things about the restaurant early on and was invited in for a tasting. On the menu on this evening was a small sample of sushi and sashimi, as well as a good glimpse into Park’s cooking.

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ink. (Los Angeles, CA) [2]

ink.
8360 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90069
Dining date: 8/7/13

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Michael Voltaggio’s ink. was one of the biggest restaurant openings in 2011; I visited the restaurant twice on its opening weekend but it took almost two years to make my next visit (not counting my visit for the 5×5 collaborative dinner last year). While the restaurant’s popularity has cooled a bit since then, it remains a popular choice for Voltaggio’s modern American cuisine. While Voltaggio’s cooking has a strong fundamental base in classical cuisine, he blends a restrained molecular gastronomy flair which he developed during his time as chef de cuisine of The Bazaar.

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Timothy Hollingsworth @ The Strand House (Manhattan Beach, CA)

Timothy Hollingsworth
The Strand House: Culinary Masters Series
117 Manhattan Beach Blvd
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
Dining date: 5/20/13

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Considering he spent the past 12 years at The French Laundry (the last 3+ years as Chef de Cuisine), represented America in the Bocuse d’Or (placing sixth in 2009, the best American placement to date), and won the James Beard Award for Rising Star Chef in 2010, there are few chefs as young as Timothy Hollingsworth with such a strong resume.

On the heels of Douglas Keane’s (Cyrus) dinner at The Strand House, Hollingsworth was the next guest of the monthly Culinary Masters Series. Having just recently moved to Los Angeles, Hollingsworth will act as a consulting chef on The Strand House and sister properties (The Zislis Group) while figuring out what his own concept will be.

Being a huge fan of The French Laundry, I was excited to be a part of Hollingsworth’s first post-TFL meal. I wasn’t the only one; the dinner sold out in just a few hours – we were lucky to be one of the first ones off the waiting list. The menu was five courses, inclusive of wine pairing by B Wise Vineyard, for $200. A brief look around the dining room clearly indicated that plenty of wine would be served this evening – a solid indicator of a good evening ahead.

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State Bird Provisions (San Francisco, CA)

State Bird Provisions
1529 Fillmore St
San Francisco, CA 94115
Dining date: 12/28/12

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This was one of the restaurants I really wanted to try while I was in San Francisco (probably #1 on my list). Opened on the last day of 2011, it was named to numerous lists for best new restaurants of the year, including being the number one best new restaurant in America according to Bon Appetit. Stories of hours-long lines (yes, multiple hours) and consistently strong reviews fueled the buzz throughout the year.

Not surprisingly, reservations are still very difficult to come by, probably one of the most difficult in the city. I checked their website multiple times per day for a couple of weeks, and the best I could do was a party of 2 at 5:30 (looking for any availability over a week span). The day before, some cancellations yielded a 10:30 table for 4; very late, but it allowed our whole family to dine together.

One of the distinctive features of the restaurant is its use of a dim sum-like cart. It’s loaded up with a variety of dishes and pushed through the dining room, letting diners get a glimpse of the dishes before choosing.  And, if you don’t see what you want, anything can be ordered off the menu to be directly delivered to your table. It’s a fun concept that really works with a small plates restaurant, one I would expect to see duplicated…and not just in Chinese restaurants.

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Oola (San Francisco, CA)

Oola
860 Folsom St
San Francisco, CA 94107
Dining date: 12/27/12

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This past year for my grandmother’s birthday, my cousins and I took her to dinner at Oola in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood. It’s a tradition we’ve been doing a number of years now, and something I look forward to each holiday season. This year, my cousins chose Oola, somewhere they’ve been a number of times and raved about.

Opened in 2004, the restaurant calls its food “San Francisco cuisine” and a blend of chef Ola Fendert’s Swedish background and French/Italian training. The menu appeared to offer a number of upscale takes on American comfort food classics such as chicken and waffles, burgers, and the restaurant’s signature dish – pork baby back ribs.

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Rich Table (San Francisco, CA)

Rich Table
199 Gough St
San Francisco, CA 94102
Dining date: 12/26/12

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Rich Table was one of San Francisco’s bigger restaurant openings of last year and continues to be one of the hot tables in town. Evan and Sarah Rich are the couple behind the restaurant, whose collective resumes include San Francisco’s Quince, Michael Mina and Coi. Reviews about the restaurant have been very positive, including an impressive 3.5 star review from the SF Chronicle’s Michael Bauer.

A decision to dine at Rich Table was kind of a last-minute one. While planning to meet with a friend for dinner the day after Christmas, we scrolled through OpenTable openings and Rich Table popped up with an available table. Knowing that we kind of lucked out finding one, we snatched it up.

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Contrary to what the name of the restaurant may suggest, the food isn’t too rich at all. Of course, ingredients are local and seasonal, and the menu is divided into a number of small ‘bites,’ appetizer plates, pastas and main courses.

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