smoke.oil.salt (Los Angeles, CA)

7274 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90046
Dining date: 4/27/14

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Spanish cuisine has gotten a lot of attention on the global scene in recent years; as diverse as Los Angeles is, we haven’t seen a lot of new Spanish eateries open up. Except for, of course, the megahit Bazaar; opened almost six years ago, it’s still one of the go-to spots for tapas in the city. smoke.oil.salt aims be another premiere Spanish option in LA.

Opened by Adam Fleischman/AdVantage Partners in the old Angeli Caffe location, the food is tapas-style focused on a lot of traditional flavors. Perfecto Rocher is the chef here, who most recently brought his Spanish influences (and resume including stops at El Bulli and Martin Berasategui) to Lazy Ox Canteen. I visited Lazy Ox a couple of years ago when Rocher was cooking and enjoyed it, so was excited to check out his next stop.

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Chi Spacca (Los Angeles, CA)

Chi Spacca
6610 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Dining date: 3/14/14

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Chi Spacca opened last year and is the latest restaurant to join the Mozza corner at Melrose & Highland. It replaced the Scuola di Pizza, yet in a way is a permanent extension of the restaurant. Chad Colby, who used to helm the Scuola kitchen, is also managing the Chi Spacca menu. The restaurant’s probably best known for its house salumi program and catering to a primal way of eating – large slabs of meat cooked over fire. Think 36 ounce veal racks and 42 ounce tomahawk pork chops and beef porterhouses. My kind of place.

I’ve been wanting to try Chi Spacca for some time, but it really felt like a place to try with a large group. We rounded up five for this evening and came hungry. A holdover from the Scuola di Pizza, a completely open kitchen offers visibility into all of the cooking being done between the large steaks on the grill and items coming out of the wood-burning oven.

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Republique (Los Angeles, CA)

624 S La Brea Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Dining date: 12/6/13

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Chef Walter Manzke (Bastide, Church & State, countless collaborative/pop-up events) has become one of my favorite chefs in Los Angeles over the years, so I’ve been eagerly awaiting this opening for a long time. Taking over the location of famed Campanile & La Brea Bakery, Republique’s menu is steeped in French influences with a lot of dishes reminiscent of the classical Bistro fare that Manzke was cooking at Church & State.

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The hottest seats in the restaurant, literally, are the four at the chefs counter. These provide a front-row glimpse into the action in the kitchen, directly opposite of the large wood-burning oven. Even on this chilling Los Angeles weekend, these seats were kept very warm all evening.

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Osteria Mozza (Los Angeles, CA)

Osteria Mozza
6602 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Dining date: 10/5/13

I haven’t been to Osteria Mozza in three years and it’s still one of LA’s most popular Italian restaurants. Since opening in 2006-7, the Mozza restaurants have been consistently popular. I’m amazed at what they’ve been able to do with the property at the corner of Melrose and Highland. Starting with Pizzeria Mozza then Osteria Mozza, it expanded to include the Scuola di Pizza and Mozza 2 Go. The Scuola has now turned into Chi Spacca, creating quite the power corner for the Bastianich/Batali/Silverton trio. Rounding out the options within a block of this hot corner are Hatfield’s, Susan Feniger’s Street, and Trois Mec.

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Even though it’s been open for a while, scoring a prime table on a weekend evening still seems kind of tricky. I stumbled upon a cancellation on OpenTable and snatched up a 2-top this past Saturday night.

The menu consists of a variety of appetizer-like options from the small plates and mozzarella section, pasta, main dishes, and sides. A pasta tasting menu is available, but we opted to choose our own dishes this evening.

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ink. (Los Angeles, CA) [2]

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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Animal (Los Angeles, CA) [2]

435 N Fairfax Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Dining date: 7/7/13

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Even though it’s been open for just over five years now, Animal still seems to be one of the more talked-about and popular restaurants in the city. It’s amazing that it’s evolved to stay current throughout this time, when it seems like dining trends change so quickly. Part of this popularity is what’s kept me from returning as often as I’d like. I feel as if getting a reservation is still not very easy (unless you’re willing to eat early or late), as a result it’s been some time since I dined at the restaurant. My last experience was at the Christopher Kostow (Meadowood) collaborative dinner at Animal in January; the Dotolo & Shook pair really impressed me with their level of refined cooking, trading punches with the 3-star chef. A return to the ‘regular’ restaurant was long overdue – an early birthday dinner was the impetus for the return (stay tuned for subsequent birthday dinners: Hinoki & The Bird, Wolvesmouth, Baco Mercat).

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