Akiko’s Restaurant (San Francisco, CA)

Akiko’s Restaurant
431 Bush St
San Francisco, CA 94108
Dining date: 12/2/13

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I’ve always found San Francisco to have a surprisingly lackluster Japanese food scene, made very noticeable once I moved to Los Angeles. Comparing some of the most oft-eaten Japanese foods like sushi and ramen – SF hasn’t really had any noteworthy standouts. However, I do think it’s been catching up in recent years.

One example is Akiko’s, a restaurant that’s been around for almost 20 years but just underwent an ownership and chef change. My mom’s been following the restaurant closely ever since a stellar Michael Bauer review in September. The food’s more serious and passionate now and features a pretty extensive menu. Typically I feel like the jack-of-all-trades Japanese restaurants lack focus on any one particular item but Akiko’s seems to be able to handle it. Fried foods, grilled foods, noodles, rice bowls and a vast sushi/sashimi selection make up the menu. My mom went with the a la carte option while my dad and I opted for the omakase priced in an $80-100 range (with a few supplements). The $10 corkage was pretty sweet.

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Orsa & Winston (Los Angeles, CA)

Orsa & Winston
122 W 4th St
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Dining date: 11/9/13

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Orsa & Winston is Josef Centeno’s latest venture in his growing lineup of downtown restaurants. The highly-acclaimed Baco Mercat came first, quickly followed by Bar Ama and now Orsa & Winston next door. All three restaurants opened up within a span of two years and within a block of each other creating quite the Centeno base. For me, Centeno’s food has been a little hit-or-miss, but I was very intrigued by this restaurant given its fine dining concept.

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The food at Orsa & Winston is described as fine dining with Japanese and Italian influences. After taking the helm of a few casual small plates restaurants, Centeno is drawing some of his experience during his time as chef de cuisine of Manresa in Northern California. A few menu options are available including a 5-course, 9 course and ridiculous sounding “super omakase” of ~20 courses priced at $60, $95 and $195 respectively. A family style option is also available, 4 courses for $50. Given this was my first time coming in and I haven’t been completely sold on Centeno’s food, we went with the 5-course as a sort of audition for a return trip on a larger meal.

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b.o.s. (Los Angeles, CA)

424 E 2nd St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Dining date: 11/12/13

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b.o.s. is one of the newest restaurants to open in the Little Tokyo area. Inside the Honda Plaza next to the ever-popular Sushi Gen (and across the way from Men Oh Tokushima), the restaurant has a rather unique focus: beef nose-to-tail dining. Mainstream diners have become more engaged in this concept and I think Little Tokyo is an ideal location for a somewhat upscale opening of this type.

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Like most restaurants in Little Tokyo, it’s a small place with the prime seats being a six-seat chef’s counter looking into the kitchen. Chef David Bartnes is the point-man behind the counter; having spent much of his life traveling around the world, Bartnes combines these worldly influences (primarily Asian) with his classical cooking background. The resulting fare is an interesting mix of flavors that change frequently but could include an oxtail ravioli, beef cheek risotto, tongue carpaccio, grilled heart or roasted bone marrow. Both an omakase and an a la carte menu is available; on this first visit, we sat at the chef’s counter and had the 5-course omakase ($55).

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KTCHN DTLA (Los Angeles, CA)

The Gorbals
501 S Spring St
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Dining date: 4/21/13 and 10/26/13

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When I think of brunch options in downtown Los Angeles, there aren’t a whole lot that come to mind. Especially without a lengthy wait. There are a number of options that do fairly standard brunch fare, but KTCHN DTLA stands out for its unique twists on traditional egg, potato and toast-based dishes.

Technically a recurring pop-up restaurant, it’s currently open on Saturdays and Sundays inside Ilan Hall’s The Gorbals restaurant. I tend to prefer windows and natural light for brunch, but the setting here is markedly different. Located in the back of the lobby of historic the Hotel Alexandria, its windowless dining room focuses in on the open kitchen.

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Patina (Los Angeles, CA)

141 South Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Dining date: 10/10/13

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Patina’s been a fixture in the Los Angeles fine dining scene for decades, celebrating its 10-year anniversary at the Walt Disney Concert Hall this month. To celebrate, the restaurant offered a special menu of 10 courses for $10 each on October 10th.

I first dined at Patina relatively “early-on” in 2006; this would be my third visit. While I’ve found many of the Patina Group restaurants to be a little boring and overpriced for what they are, I’ve felt that the flagship Patina bucked that trend with its strong execution grounded in classical French and modern American cuisine. It’s been just over a year since my last visit; new Executive Chef Charles Olalia had just taken over the kitchen from the exiting Tony Esnault. At the time, the menu still had much of Esnault’s touches – this would be my first meal with Olalia fully at the helm crafting the menu.

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Alma (Los Angeles, CA)

952 S Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Dining date: 8/20/13

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Ari Taymor opened up Alma in the middle of last year, after having brought his pop-up restaurant slowly east from Venice to Silverlake and finally opening permanently in downtown LA. Taymor has had a relatively brief cooking career (he’s only 27), having spent time in San Francisco’s Flour+Water and Bar Tartine, but has really exploded onto the scene in recent months.

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Last week, Alma was named the #1 best new restaurant in America by Bon Appetit, beating out even the vaunted Saison. The restaurant has been a critical darling since opening (JGold/LA Times, Besha/LA Weekly), though it currently maintains a relatively pedestrian 3.5 star rating on Yelp. I dined here towards the end of last year and placed it in the ‘good but not great’ category, but figured it was time for a return.

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