The Church Key (West Hollywood, CA)

The Church Key
Sunset Towers
8730 Sunset Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069
Dining date: 10/23/13

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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.

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The large space looks great with a mix of chairs and sofas, multiple dining areas and a large bar.

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Connie and Ted’s (Los Angeles, CA)

Connie and Ted’s
8171 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90046
Dining date: 8/4/13

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Connie & Ted’s was one of the most anticipated restaurant openings in LA this year, opened in June. Having made a name for himself at downtown’s Water Grill and his Michelin two-starred Providence, Michael Cimarusti’s name has become synonymous with high-quality seafood in the fine dining space. With Connie & Ted’s, Cimarusti takes his upscale cooking background and relationships with high-quality purveyors into a more casual, more approachable restaurant inspired by New England seafood shacks.

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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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The Hart and the Hunter (Los Angeles, CA)

The Hart and the Hunter
7950 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Dining date: 1/6/13

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Formerly the pop-up Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, Brian Dunsmoor and Kris Tominaga opened The Hart and the Hunter last October. It’s quickly become one of the most talked-about restaurants in LA over the last few months for its hearty and flavorful food. The cuisine is an interesting mix, a blend of Dunsmoor’s southern background and Tominaga’s California flair. I first heard the buzz when I was in Japan and was eagerly awaiting a visit to the restaurant. Expectations were high.

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The dining room is fairly small, with a couple of large communal tables in the center. An open kitchen provides a glimpse of the action. Continue reading

5×5 Chefs Collaborative @ ink. (Los Angeles, CA)

5×5 Chefs Collaborative Dinner

8360 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90069
Dining date: 9/16/12

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This past weekend was the final 5×5 Collaborative Dinner of the season. I was lucky enough to attend 3 of the 5 dinners, which were some of my most anticipated dinners in LA this year. For this final dinner at Michael Voltaggio’s ink., the guest chef was scheduled to be Chris Cosentino (Incanto, Pigg). However, a late-game change of plans called for a couple of substitutes – Michael’s equally talented brother Bryan and Alex Talbot of Ideas in Food. Given I’ve been wanting to try Bryan’s food and have followed Ideas in Food for some time, I considered this a more than suitable substitution!

Similar to the rest of the dinners, 7 courses were served: 5 from the main chefs and 2 from the guests for $150 a plate.

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ink. snacks tiny bouqet, bbq mushroom, cool ranch ‘doritos’, pho
Michael Voltaggio, ink.

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The first thing to come out of the kitchen was this quartet of amuse bouches. A tiny bouqet of something was unmemorable, but it got more exciting with fresh radishes dipped into a BBQ mushroom sauce. Kind of odd – I enjoyed the deep savory flavor. Voltaggio’s homemade cool ranch doritos were very close to the real thing, while fried beef tendon “chips” (a play on the flavors of pho) were the highlight with Southeast Asian notes and a spritz of lime.

avocado gazpacho hokkaido scallop, king crab, oyster, mariscos cocktail granite
Josiah Citrin, Melisse

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Our first proper course was this seafood-centric avocado gazpacho. An assortment of fresh shellfish and vegetables were scattered at the bottom of the bowl with a creamy, cool gazpacho soup. I found each of the individual components enjoyable, but I’m not sure the dish as a whole came together as well as anticipated.

hawaiian hearts of peach palm heirloom beets, young fennel, candied macadamia nut & beet vinaigrette
Rory Herrmann, Bouchon

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Next up, this dish was centered around a pureed hearts of palm in the shape of a terrine. Crunchy macadamia nuts and a subtle fennel flavor sought not to overwhelm the delicate hearts of palm flavor.

wild monkfish blood sausage, weiser farms piquillo peppers, pickled celery
Michael Cimarusti, Providence

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I think this may have been the best dish of the night. Predictably, the monkfish was cooked to perfection, a moist and flavorful chunk of meat. The accompanying salad had just the right amount of acidity to balance the richness of the fish, while rye-tasting breadcrumbs provided an earthy texture. The blood sausage flavor was lost in this dish, though.

maltagliati di polenta lobster amatriciana sauce
Gino Angelini, Angelini Osteria

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Throughout this dinner series, Angelini has consistently prepared a dish near or at the top of our favorites. The simple, homey cooking was right in line with what our stomachs wanted, and this was no exception. The polenta-based flat pasta still had a slightly chewy texture, smothered in a rich shellfish-based sauce. Small chunks of lobster of fava beans completed the bites.

lambcetta trail mix, smoked almond, cocoa, raisins
Bryan Voltaggio, VOLT & Range

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Bryan Voltaggio’s lamb was cooked perfectly; I’m not sure what cuts were used, but the meat was rolled up in the style of a pancetta. He opted to pair the game with flavors of trail mix – smoky almond here, chocolate there, and the sweetness of raisins there.

blueberry pancakes
Alex Talbot, Ideas in Food

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We finished with simple sounding blueberry pancakes. Of course, these weren’t ordinary blueberry pancakes; instead pieces of a light and airy sponge cake were topped with a vanilla/caramel (and buttermilk?) ice cream, fresh blueberries and blueberry boba. How interesting. I thought the flavors of the pancakes did come through quite well, though not sure how the boba fit in. Plus, some were undercooked yielding a sort of chewy, gritty texture.

After dinner at ink., we decided to sneak in one more course at nearby Tacos Leo, notable for their tacos al pastor.

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I’ve had the tacos al pastor once and found them on the dry side. These were better, though I can’t say I’d go out of my way for them. For a buck apiece, I can’t complain.

If I had to rank this evening’s food among the three 5×5 dinners I attended this season, I’d place this one in between the Melisse and Bouchon meals. There were some good dishes, sure, but nothing extraordinary given the caliber of chefs cooking on this night. On the opposite end, nothing was particularly bad either. These are still some of the most interesting and exciting dinners in LA, so I’ll be coming back next season.

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

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.