The Best Things I Ate in 2015

Branzino, Maré

Los Angeles has been a phenomenal place to eat for the duration of 2015. In fact, it’s been really hard to keep up with everything going on in all parts of the city, but what a great problem to have. Better food is available in more neighborhoods, helping raise the standard of dining out in all parts. Hopefully all parts, anyway. We do have our native Roy Choi, doing what he can to make sure such positive change reaches otherwise forgotten neighborhoods, with his and Daniel Patterson’s project, LocaL.

But for all the Fig & Olives of the see-and-be-seen L.A. dining scene, there have been some indisputable favorites of mine to rise to the top. I see 2015 as the year we’ve surpassed the huffing and puffing about authenticity and what that even means for all the history and diversity we have in this city. It’s been exciting to taste how we’ve moved beyond all that to a place and time where chefs can confidently make their mark using flavors from all over the world as their paintbrushes.

So read on, and get to it. 2016 is just around the corner:

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Lunch at POT Moves to The Line Hotel Lobby

Noodle of the Day: Bibim Gooksu (chilled somen noodles, bibim sauce, vegetables)

With the migration of lunchtime at POT to the lobby of The Line Hotel in Koreatown, gone is the enclosed, smoky and cavernous setting that we’ve come to know as the Korean restaurant experience. In the daytime, anyway. It’s a smart move, to be sure, more conducive to the power lunch, and the menu is nonetheless a delightful range of authentic to hybrid, but always tastefully imaginative.

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Piedmontese Beef the Star at Star King BBQ

Tomahawk Piedmontese Steak

Known as one of the only restaurants in Los Angeles that serves Piedmontese beef, Star King BBQ is an unlikely destination for the genetically advantageous, double-muscled, super lean meat. But the truth is that you’ll never find this Italian breed at any other Korean BBQ, and at less than a handful of other restaurants, such as in a burger at Stefan Richter’s L.A. Farm.

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Guinness Menu Items In and Around Hollywood

Guinness Milkshake at 25 Degrees

Last week, I got to enjoy up close a private concert by Paul McCartney right on Hollywood Boulevard. Considering the audience reached all the way back to La Brea Avenue (or, for the first two songs, the audience of the Jimmy Kimmel Live telecast), it was truly an honor when Guinness asked me to be a part, first with Guinness in the makeshift green room and with a great view of Sir Paul on the Boulevard.

Beforehand, we had an early burger dinner at 25 Degrees in the Roosevelt Hotel furnished with none other than creamy Guinness milkshakes. If you haven’t already had one of these shakes, it’s a definite must-try. They’ve other adult varieties like Salty Caramel, but the Guinness is my favorite.

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Giveaway: Tickets to Screening of “Viva Mezcal” with Free-Flowing Mezcal and Oaxacan Antijitos

Viva Mezcal Documentary

What’s better than a documentary about Mezcal accompanied by free-flowing Mezcal and Oaxacan antijitos (street food dishes, if you will)? Probably the setting – which will be the iconic La Guelaguetza in Koreatown.

Viva Mezcal, a film directed by Pedro Jiménez, addresses the current state of the Mezcal industry, complete with interviews from biologoists, agronomes, ‘maestros mezcaleros,” researchers, distributors, bartenders and experts. Following the film, tasty treats by Chef Rodolfo Castellanos will accompany a Mezcal tasting.

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The Great Los Angeles Walk Hits Melrose on Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Great LA Walk: Washington Blvd (2009)

Mark your calendars, walkers, runners, bikers and proud Angelenos. You won’t want to miss the Great LA Walk this Saturday. It’s a 17-mile walk from Downtown LA to the Pacific Ocean. It’s a way to say, “People DO walk in LA.” It’s a day-long appreciation of this city, whether you’re stopping for lunch, walking through one of countless urban enclaves, learning little-known facts about a historical landmark or stopping in to see a shop you’ve never even heard of before. Let’s be honest: It’s also bragging rights.

And this year, it’s a way to really get to know Melrose Avenue.

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Things Learned From Two Years of Going Metro and Bicycling in Los Angeles

Bicycling Los Angeles

People do walk in L.A., but – let’s be honest – they mostly still don’t. People drive alone, and they carpool. They vanpool and they shuttle. They ride their bikes. They Über or Taxi Magic all over town. And yes, we Metro railway. Do you ever get the feeling that just because we’re not New York, that’s the only thing they’re rubbing our noses in?

Which is not to say that I’m not envious of their subway access – and many other things. Yet having passed the 2-year mark living near a Hollywood Metro Red Line stop, I’ve learned a lot in the process about our own public transportation options. The Expo Line has opened during that time. And we’re looking forward to more.  Just experiencing the drastic transformation in how people choose to get around – myself included, and not only on the rail – have provided so many eye-opening revelations. So when Slate says that L.A. is being turned into “America’s next great mass-transit city,” we’ll take that little bit of validation. 

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Mirak Serves Up Really Good Korean Goat Stew

Goat Stew at Mirak

I’ve never pegged myself as the most adventurous rib on the rack of food bloggers. So for those of us to whom the dish is new (including myself until a few weeks ago), it is necessary to resist that initial reaction we get upon hearing “goat stew” referred to in an appetizing way.

Fried Rice Finale

It is imperative, because in this case and as with many, the fact that it’s not just goat but “stew” is probably even more important than the actual meat in question. In fact, it’s evidence that as long as you make something into a stew with just the right herbs and seasonings, practically anything becomes delicious. Then again, I’ve always been a broth lover, putting more emphasis on the soup than the contents that sit submerged in it. To me, broth is the foundation.

Yumso tang, as it’s called in Korean, is best appreciated by those who have a certain spice for life – so be prepared to order the heat level keen to your tolerance. And save for my love of broth, the meat was actually delicious. Tasty. And tender.

This tabletop, gas-fired brew begs the question, “When was there ever a Korean flavor I didn’t end up loving?” The stew is vibrant, even, thanks to the spice and plenitude of onions. Each person gets a condiment dish with chili, mustard, onions and perilla seeds for ultimate customization. And as should be the case with Korean comfort food, expect to spend not a whole lot of money for a whole lot of food. Fiona and I shared a hot, steaming $30 pot that came with a good number and variety of banchan (appetizers) as well as its own Korean hostess to serve the stew out. We even had leftovers to take home.

Just don’t forget to make the most of your stew and request that your remains be supplanted with rice and the provided extra seasoning for the ultimate fried rice finale. Make sure that your rice develops that delicious, crispy crust before devouring. In some time, you’ll find yourself thinking or even saying, “I am really craving goat right now.”

Mirak
1134 S. Western Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90006
323.732.7577

Los Angeles Bars That Don’t Belong

R Bar - Photographed by: Alen Lin (www.alenlin.com)

We all love Los Angeles for the diversity it affords in all cross-sections of life. (Or, at least I hope you do.) But let’s be honest. When it comes to food, fashion and yes, even drinking, sometimes we’ve come to expect a certain type of scene based upon the neighborhood that we’re in.

You’ll find flip-flops accepted and even expected near the beach while they’ll likely be shunned as you head eastbound. Moustaches and more indie music? East. Button-downs over straight-cut slacks? West. Dress code? All over (unfortunately).

But recently I found myself in a few bars where the interior and auras had me confused – as if I really were in a different neighborhood. Here’s the rundown on my impressions – along with my favorite cocktail at each bar:

Del Monte Speakeasy: Located in Venice, but feels like you’re in Silver Lake

The PSA

Recently outfitted with Brandon Ristaino’s elaborate cocktail menu, Del Monte has upped their game with some pretty fancy – and complicated – recipes. With a new focus on housemade ingredients, the speakeasy menu has some wacky combinations in their drinks. It’s brave and takes risks, which I admire, but unfortunately I didn’t like the majority of the cocktails. While reading the ingredients of a drink off the menu would usually provide enlightenment in my enjoyment of the cocktail, the explanation of each drink was simply confusing as many of the components seemed to clash.

The speakeasy area downstairs, however, has a ton of charm – and has only very recently legally reopened. There’s a filled-in tunnel from the Prohibition days in their stock room and the stairs are so old that you best be looking down as you descend – lest you trip down the rabbit hole into this bar that doubles as a music venue! Recommended cocktail: The PSA, made with Pisco, Aperol, citrus, house prepared demerara syrup, egg white & Peruvian bitters (Caroline on Crack explains why).

Naya Sunset: Located in Silver Lake, but feels like you’re in Hollywood

Naya Sunset Interior

Granted, I was at the media opening, but I’m thinking from the dim lighting, loungey seating and 4-on-the-floor house music, Naya Sunset’s intent was to bring the club to Sunset Junction. With a side of Indian food and a little Southeast Asian flavor mixed in, that is. Thing is, Joel Black’s cocktails are better than most others’ available in the vicinity, so if you’re craving one of the aforementioned – or both – it’d be a mistake to pass Naya up should you happen to be in the neighborhood.

My favorite cocktail: The Rocky Patel is a down-and-dirty mix of Chivas 12 Year blended Scotch whisky, Laphroaig 10 Year Islay Scotch whisky and espresso bean infused Zaya 12 Year old rum with espresso bean garnish. The smokey flavor of the Laphroaig blended beautifully with the subtle coffee flavors of the rum. Delicious. Also don’t forget to try the others on for size, such as the Spa in Goa – a refreshing cocktail utilizing Aviation Gin, fresh lime juice, Persian cucumbers, fresh thyme and agave nectar. It tastes just like it sounds, except even better (gin always has a benefit over vodka, no?).

R Bar: Located in Koreatown, but feels like you’re in Eagle Rock

Don’t look for signage, because it doesn’t exist. And…you need a password to get through the door. Yes, it initially feels a little off-putting, like a douchey dance club, but the password can be found out either on their Facebook or Twitter. And once you’re in, you’re pretty much in dive bar paradise. Heavy-hitting jukebox, check. Stiff pours, check. Old, wooden booths and furnishings with sweet nothings and loud somethings etched into said wood, check. Other than the name, it’s not a pirate bar by the strictest standards, but sometimes I just want a no-nonsense bar with a campy, divey feel.

Play Action Trivia on Tuesdays, or if you really were jonesin’ for that part of K-town, you can also karaoke on Mondays (albeit on-stage, rowdy style and without the private rooms). As far as drinks, stick to the 1:2 pours or just go with whiskey neat. I’d be wrong to recommend it, but they do offer a “mystery shot” to bravely hapless drinkers.

***

I love unpredictibility. And I’ve always had a soft spot for outcasts. These little gems spread across the city offer scenes that are totally unexpected given the neighborhoods they occupy. Stop by one and prepare to be at least a little bit surprised.

Townhouse/Del Monte Speakeasy
52 Windward Ave.
Venice, 90291
310.392.4040

Naya Sunset
3705 W. Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026
323.663.8268

R Bar
3331 W. 8th St
Los Angeles, CA 90005
213.387.7227

This Week: Open House at Valerie Confections

Petit Fours

If there ever was a good time to visit Valerie Confections, this week would be it. Valerie Gordon and Stan Weightman are hosting a week-long open house starting today with different selections being featured each of the five days. Peep below to see which sweets suit your fancy, then go visit the shop! Do note the varying shop hours.

  • Monday, October 31st
    Debut and Sampling of SUPER-CHOC-O-FOOD

Valerie has teamed up with Commune Design to create SUPER-CHOC-O-FOOD, which combines stunning packaging enveloping an over-sized darkened chocolate bar filled with a hint of caramel but loaded with dried pears, apricots, golden raisins, macadamia nuts, cashews, almonds, sunflower seeds and peanuts.

  • Tuesday, November 1st
    Hot Chocolate and Cookie Assortment

Cookie flavors include Gingersnap, Oatmeal Raisin, Matcha White Chocolate Macadamia and the crowd-pleasing milk chocolate and almond filled Durango. Wash it down with some hot chocolate for the perfect combination.

  • Wednesday, November 2nd
    Chocolate Dipped Fruits and Mendiant Assortment

Locally sourced, organic dried figs, pears and oranges are hand-dipped in either bittersweet or darkened milk chocolate. Spices, cocoa nibs, teas, organic nuts, unique salts and dried and dehydrated fruit are blended atop disks of chocolate.

  • Thursday, November 3rd
    Preserves with Cheese and Charcuterie Pairings

I love Valerie Confections’ preserves, and apparently so does Los Angeles Magazine, which named them “Best in LA.” They’re hand-made using locally sourced fruit. Flavors include White Fuji Apple & Vanilla Bean, Blenheim Apricot, Plum Ketchup and Mango Jam. Enjoy them paired with a wide array of fine cheeses and charcuterie at this open house.

  • Friday November 4th
    Mint Petits Fours and the debut of the Valerie Confections Tea Assortment

Specially blended by American Tea Room for Valerie Confections, the new line of premium loose leaf teas are inspired by and meant to complement the line of preserves and treats. Signature flavors include Black & Blue, Moroccan Mint, Blushing Berry, Toasted Fig, Sweet Sencha and Blood Orange & Black tea. Each Mint Petits Fours are a modern take on the classic confection, with three layers of dense chocolate cake and two layers of rich white chocolate mint ganache, all covered in bittersweet chocolate and topped with an organic candied mint leaf

  • Saturday, November 5th
    Seasonal Sweet and Savory Pies from the Market

Seasonal sweet and savory pies are available in full size or hand-sized versions with flavors like Apple & Salted Caramel and Cinderella Pumpkin, Padron Pepper Potato & Fontina and Kabocha Squash & Blue Cheese. All of the pastries are sealed with a buttery, flakey crust.

With holiday season coming up (or is it already here?) – this is a great opportunity to survey really thoughtful gift ideas for your loved ones.

See you at Valerie!

Monday – Tuesday: 10 AM – 6 PM
Wednesday – Friday: 10 AM – 6:30 PM
Saturday: 11 AM – 6 PM
Sunday: CLOSED

Valerie Confections
3360 W. First Street
Los Angeles, CA 90004
213.739.8149