The Anti-Prix-Fixe Valentine’s Day Roundup

Carnival Cabaret at Big Bar

Single or not, you won’t find me exactly chomping at the bit to try any sort of prix fixe menu on, of all nights, Valentine’s Day, only the busiest dining night out all year. A night of fighting the crowds of twosomes to order up one of the multitude of prix fixe menus during a potentially service-distastrous evening is not something I can recommend to you in good conscience, so why pretend? Anniversaries and birthdays are as great as the dates they land on are unique to each couple or person, so when a calendar designates that one particular day is the day everyone is to express one’s affection to his/her significant other, I can’t help but get a little bit apprehensive.

Here are a few fun alternatives to Valentine’s Day that take that icky obligatory feeling out of your profession of love…

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Recap in Instagrams: Angeleno Magazine’s Live and Dine LA, 2013

Hinoki & the Bird’s Black Lobster Roll

Summer food events are a dime a dozen, but Angeleno Magazine manages to present a consistently solid line-up year after year at their steady Live and Dine LA event held at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows. This year, there was no award presentation, leaving a core group of favorites to sample their eats in the courtyard surrounding the gorgeous, 130-some-year-old, 80-foot tall Moreton Bay Fig Tree.

Attendees sipped Brugal Summer Hounds, Pavan Sangria Cocktails, Macallan 12 Fine Oak, iced Handsome Coffee brew, Solsticio Wines, 123 Organic Tequila margaritas and more as they savored dishes from some of the most popular restaurants in the city:

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First Taste: Cooks County Serves Up Stellar Mains

Braised beef cheek, creamed corn & fresh flageolet bean salsa

With the Gastropub Category in Los Angeles having undergone some oversaturation the past couple of years, it’s easy to dismiss the incoming restaurants that effuse that now-cookie cutter, industrial feel, which may or may not serve as a backdrop for small plates served at communal tables.

Pacific Seafood Soup | Mussels, clams, shrimp & rockfish with wild fennel

It’s not to knock small plates. I’ve always been more a grazer than one to focus on the entrée at the center of my meal. I’m not knocking communal seating, either, since I far prefer bar seating myself. Yes, it’s also “farm-to-table,” as much as I loathe how hackneyed that term has become. But it doesn’t discount the restaurants where it’s actually a practiced philosophy – only at those where it’s feigned.

I guess what remains, then, is really how interesting these small plates are, from the appetizers to the medium dishes to the family-style roasts and main events. What the particular chef’s spin on savory might be. Yes, you can guarantee that there are beets and braised meats on the menu – but why come here as opposed to any of the other gastropubs in the city?

Tagliatelle | Braised rabbit, picholine olives & lemon zest

At least one answer would be its advantageous location on Beverly Blvd. Beyond that, though, my lone experience at Cook’s County was a surprisingly stellar one. With Chef Dan Mattern’s previous post being at AMMO (a place I always had a mind about revisiting more often than I have) and his citing Mark Peel, Nancy Silverton and Suzanne Goin as mentors in the kitchen, you’ll find the taste of his dishes reflecting his practice of utilizing fresh produce while highlighting the properties of each dish’s ingredients. Thankfully, no flavors are masked – just beautifully enhanced. Each dish stops just short of going too far but holds its own with each ingredient serving its purpose in the whole. The flavors pop.

Wood-grilled Duck Breast, Brussels Sprouts, Kabocha Squash & Almonds

I really enjoyed the bulk of the mains. The appetizers, which could have doubled as salads, had arugula weaving a common thread through them – though they were mostly tasty in and of their own. Next time, I might order just one under that column and be done with it. Or, I’ll go straight to the mains.

Though I wished the Pacific Seafood Soup was more soup than broth, it was because I was sopping up the last of whatever was in the bowl by the end of the night. Awesome, rich flavor. And it’s not like I haven’t seen Rabbit Tagliatelle before, but this rendition was tops. The freshly made pasta was no detail, and the rabbit was deliciously tender as was the lemon zest a nice seasoning.

Meyer Lemon Angel Pie

The braised beef cheeks were as heavenly as the bean salsa that topped it was unexpected. The accompanying tomatoes made for sweet, little bursts of flavor in the rich canvas. But the wood-grilled duck breast was exceptional. Granted, I do love brussel sprouts all around as I do kabocha squash, but I’d be hard-pressed to find duck that flavorful in all but a few restaurants around L.A.

There’s a modest international selection of beers available but a larger wine list for vinos. I can appreciate the simple menu at Cook’s County, because I’m a believer in too much selection abetting too much indecision (personal quirk). It lends an appreciation for the focus it takes to perfect those delicious mains.

And, they do lunch and brunch. Those are certainly now on my to-do list. I hope Cooks County is here to stay. Though gastropubs are now a dime-a-dozen, this one stands head and shoulders above the rest. It may be named after the county which seats Chicago, but Beverly Boulevard and Hancock Park can be proud (and on the weekends, they can be proud until 1 AM).

P.S. – Don’t forget dessert. That Angel Pie was divine.

Lunch: Mon – Fri, 11:30 – 2:30 PM
Brunch: Sat – Sun, 10 AM – 3 PM
Dinner: Sun – Thu, 6 – 11 PM
Fri – Sat, 6 PM – 1 AM

Cooks County
8009 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90048
323.653.8009