While I caught a peek of the new Marina del Rey restaurant’s interior and fare through one of the Best New Chef reunion dinners brought to Paiche by Food GPS (Portland’s Naomi Pomeroy was guest chef), last night was the first time I got a real taste of Ricardo Zarate’s new menu, taking center stage, thanks to a lucky invite to Friends & Family night.
I didn’t think much of the space just south of The Greek Theatre when Louise’s, the trattoria chain, occupied the space. It was little more than a place-marker for street parking for those summer concerts. It marked the start of the ascent up Hillhurst from Los Feliz Blvd., the alternative to the stacked parking cattle call that was the official Greek parking.
Petrossian, at least in West Hollywood and beyond, has essentially become synonymous with caviar as its flagship Los Angeles restaurant serves wide-ranging clientele in its white-soaked dining room, one caviar-enhanced meal to the next. As Chef Giselle Wellman continues to tinker with the always-excellent, savory-focused menu, she has decided to do something a little different in regards to the more casual, often-ignored boutique and patio area of the restaurant. In the daytime, the beautiful boutique is flooded with daylight, with artful floral arrangements decorating high tops and a cushy, long booth lining the inside front wall.
Caviar is often intimidating to those not yet inducted, but in Petrossian’s quest to make all things caviar-palatable, perhaps the omnipresence of its signature ingredient on the menu has ironically become a barrier, of sorts. There lacked a menu that was evidence that the brand – in its dining room incarnation, at least – was content to not beat the ingredient to death by proving its compatibility with everyday dishes.
If there could exist a niche to fill in between lunch, happy hour and dinner at Petrossian, the newly-launched boutique and patio menu of small plates does exactly that. Because small plates are just the thing for us non-committal diners these days. Of course, this doesn’t detract from the elegance of the dinner menu nor the lightness of the lunch menu – nor the introductory nature of the happy hour menu, that is. There’s a perfect mid-day vibe to this menu, what with vegetables and fruit matching the vibrance and breeziness of the boutique and patio without sacrificing any of the taste.
It’s hard to complain about the asparagus, which turned up perfectly cooked and seasoned. I’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who has said “I hate burrata,” but the apricots, basil and prosciutto make for lovely complements. The nice touch that Giselle brought to the already-delicious olive plate is that she warms the conconction up. You can bite through the tangy-sweet orange peels, while wondering why everyone doesn’t heat up their olive appetizers.
The morels that accompany the farm egg are the menu’s savory sweet spot while the sweet peas are just the perfect sweet touch – and truth be told, I really just can’t get enough of runny eggs. Win-win. The caviar aioli to the pomme frites are basically as “bar food” as you get in the place – but what an excellent version, at that.
And of course, it’s impossible to ignore the Mussels, Fig & Brie sandwiches and Prime Flat Iron Steak Crostinis. The Fig & Brie, with its delicious walnut bread, is like the Thanksgiving you missed last November (because we’d all pick this over Turkey Club leftovers). The garlic aioli atop the uber tender Prime Flat Iron Steak cuts is just the perfect touch. The Mussels are also solid, with the broth being one of those things you just wish was a soup.
You can order from this menu on Mondays through Saturdays from 5 – 11 PM while seated in the boutique or patio – but not the dining room. And if you happen to be there before 7 o’clock on a weekday, you may as well scope their happy hour drink menu as well, including the Caviar Martini.
After all, you’ll want to complement your small plates with a little – or a lot – of caviar.
All food and cocktails were hosted.
Truffle Oil, Parmesan, Pine Nuts, Lemon
Apricots, Basil, Prosciutto
House Pickled Vegetables
Cucumber, Cauliflower, Carrots, Pear Onion, Fresno Chili
Citrus and Herb Marinated Olives, Grilled Baguette
Morels, Fava Beans, Peas, Baguette
Soy Sesame Vinaigrette, Chives, Caviar
Prince Edward Island Mussels
Saffron, White Wine, Fresno Chili, Parsley, Grilled Bread
Trout Roe, Salmon Roe, Caviar
Fig and Brie
Walnut Bread, Arugula, Honey
Prime Flat Iron Crostinis
Watercress, Caramelized Onion, Garlic Aioli
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.
Itâ€™s not to knock small plates. Iâ€™ve always been more a grazer than one to focus on the entrÃ©e at the center of my meal. Iâ€™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 discountÂ 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 areÂ beets and braised meats on the menu – but why come here as opposed to any of the other gastropubs in the city?
At least one answer would be its advantageous location on Beverly Blvd. Beyond that, though, my lone experience at Cookâ€™s County was a surprisingly stellar one. With Chef Dan Matternâ€™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, youâ€™ll find the taste of his dishes reflecting his practice of utilizing fresh produce while highlighting the properties of each dishâ€™s ingredients.Â Thankfully, no flavors are masked – just beautifullyÂ enhanced.Â 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.
I really enjoyed the bulk of the mains. The appetizers, which could have doubled as salads, had arugula weaving a common thread through themÂ â€“ though they were mostlyÂ tasty in and of their own. Next time, I might order just one under that columnÂ 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 tenderÂ as was the lemon zest a nice seasoning.
The braised beef cheeks were as heavenly as the bean salsa that topped it was unexpected. The accompanying tomatoesÂ made forÂ 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 availableÂ 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 forÂ 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.
There’s something really exciting going on over in Manhattan Beach. The cooking is so titillating I’d gladly make the trek to meet a Westside or South Bay friend at M.B. Post, Chef David LeFevre’s exciting and as-yet-still-new venture. It is this that he left Downtown L.A.’s seafood heavyweight, Water Grill, for and it’s a beautiful thing to see his unbridled passion coming out of the kitchen. Call M.B. Post a gastropub, if you will (everyone is doing it), but I can’t remember the last time the small plates in one spot hit it so consistently out of the park. They were playful, but also well-executed.
Each tasty bread selection is accompanied by a sauce of sorts, with maple butter on the side of their crumbly Bacon Cheddar Buttermilk biscuits, a delicious horseradish mustard on the side of the Fleur de Sel Pretzel and a harissa yogurt sauce dippable by naan. And if that doesn’t properly start things, don’t forget the cheese and cured meat selection – and all the accompaniments.
The cocktail menu by Sal Roses, Jerry Garbus, Gregg Wescott, and Beau du Bois is a composition of riffs on old favorites. I was more than pleased with my Manhattan Avenue, made with Sazerac Rye and finished off with bacon dust. The Landing Strip is their Aviation with a Creme de Violet twist. The real stand-out, though, is the Day of the Dead, made with Fortaleza Silver, amaretto, lemon and sage. It’s a refreshing yet boozefully delightful Spanish Fly – and Fortaleza is one of my favorite tequilas. If you’re feeling like an aperitif, go with their off-menu Virgil’s Ascent, a not-so-ordinary Negroni made with Hendricks, Aperol, pomegranate seeds and orange clove nectar. I love that all the cocktails were personalized to M.B. Post with the use natural fruits while still paying proper homage to the classics by being great stand-alone cocktails.
All of the vegetable dishes that we ordered were exceptional, from the Blistering Green Beans with Thai basil, chili sauce and crispy pork to the Yellow Cauliflower with sultanas, mint and caper berries. They also weren’t just roasted iron dishes brought out with different vegetables, but they were all individually constructed dishes, very thoughtfully seasoned with unique flavorings. Enjoy them before or with your seafood and/or meat dishes, because while I have yet to try their fish and shrimp plates, I can vouch that the Steamed Green Curry Mussels are pretty much as solid as others I’ve had elsewhere. While it’s probably more betraying of which piece of the food pie I’m partial to, I thought the meat dishes were the real highlights.
Such as the Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Jowl atop a green papaya salad. So tender and flavorful, this pork part is a must-order. The Meyers Farm “Never Ever” Skirt Steak is seasoned with a delicious red chimichurri sauce and comesÂ accompanied byÂ grilled broccolini. It’s got that perfect pink center and it’s as unordinary a skirt steak as I’ve had in recent memory. But don’t forget the Moroccan BBQ Lamb Belly with creamy semolina and cardamom carrots. And if you’re lucky enoughÂ to visit while Chef LeFevre still has the Albondigas on the menu, don’t forget those, either. (Bring your people.) It comes glazed with maple miso on top of garnet yam puree – perfectly delicious compliments -Â and the shishito peppers that top the meatballs make for a slightly spicyÂ garnish.
As far as dessert, there are just enough offerings to satisfy that sweet tooth (admittedly, mine borders on savory), with my personal favorite, the Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake, coming in a sealed jar. But if you love all desserts Elvis, you’re sure to order this “wonderful mess” of peanut butter mousse, carmelized banana, chocolate pudding and bacon brittle. It’s the closest thing to that heavenly Wolvesmouth dessert since I’ve been.
M.B. Post wins as my favorite gastropub in South Bay – and dare I say, even all of L.A. Though I’m loath to let trends (yes, communal dining exists here too)Â filter through my radar, there’s no mistake that I immensely enjoyed practically everything Chef David LeFevre sent out of the kitchen. Then again, is it still a gastropub if there are only two draught beers on tap? To me, it’s not a weakness. It’s indicative of focus. So the end-all is that we can throw away the labels. I have no qualms about calling M.B. Post simply a great place that serves great small plates.
All food and cocktails were hosted.
I arrived to our 7-top reservation on account of an invitation from Josh of Food GPS, but only after first following the noise and crowd into the very popular Don Dae Gam, which was located in the same plaza. I turned to each occupied table (they all were), and when I didn’t recognize one face I went back out the door.
At LaOn, we were one of two parties total that dined there in the duration of our feast. As the only non-Caucasian in the party, I had also learned that before I arrived, the servers verified repeatedly that indeed, this was the restaurant at which they wanted to be, and not next door.
Don’t judge a palate by its cover…
As each cooked or uncooked dish arrived in the practically empty restaurant, it became apparent that we were one of the first to discover this little gem. The best thing about our big party was that we were able to order a lot to ensure getting a bite of everything while not leaving a scrap by the time we were finished.
With the same people behind Park’s BBQ masterminding LaOn, this surprisingly pleasant dining space – though furnished with the obligatory fans above each table – isn’t the spot to court your singularly focused meat-minded friends (often the stigma I’ve found associated with Korean food). Sure, you’ll get an on-table iron charcoalÂ grill on which to cook your skirt steak, beef tongueÂ and skewers (the bacon-wrapped duk, or tubular rice cakes, are a must), but you’d really be missing out if you overlooked the peewee fingerling potatoes in green pepper & green chile sauce to start, the pork/egg/shiitake/cucumber/carrot wrapped in daikon “tacos,” the rice paper-wrapped steak tartar topped withÂ quail egg,Â the garlic abalone dish, the roe-uni stone pot riceÂ … I think you get the point.
With the only included banchanÂ being pickled, thinlyÂ sliced cucumbers and more-than-decent kimchi, it’s clear that this isn’t a Korean restaurant that rests its laurelsÂ on filler. But the servers and chef/owner wereÂ more than courteous – even friendly. Now gone are the days where I had to “corner a Korean” (UCLA proved useful for this) just so I could have a go-to guy that could order for me without the awkwardness of the language barrier and risk of being taken a less-than-courageous customer.Â A nice surprise was a dish that we hadn’t ordered but was gratefully sent out: AÂ kind of chapchae, butÂ made with rice cakes, instead. I would definitely classify this as a staple and would order this next time.
The best part about it? The raw cuts are of quality whileÂ LaOn’s location and audienceÂ in Koreatown prevents the BBQ as well as theÂ small plates from being too precious. Just make sure that in a party this big, you order 2 of most things. Proof: By the end, we were stuffed, and had only spent $34 per person including tax,Â just oneÂ bottle of wineÂ and 20%+ tip (no dessert).
So go forth and visit LaOn. “Small plates” is the arguably hackneyed phenomenon these days, but this little Don Dae Gam-adjacent place in Koreatown is a stand-out gem that does it all so well.Â And for those cravings of theÂ Americanized KoreanÂ tradition of BBQ – there’s more than enough to go around.
Mon – Sat: 5 PM – 1 AM
Sun: 5 PM – 11 PM
1145 S. Western Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90006
Over the past year, Lazy Ox Canteen has been one of my favorite spots to drop in and dally atÂ the bar with a glass of wine and a couple small plates. I very much enjoy the energy of the place, thoughÂ I prefer to not beÂ in the middle of it – or the dining room as part of a 6 top, for example.Â So when Michael Cardenas talked of his upcoming project immediately next door that would be a Japanese eatery, I was instantly curious. I could sense that he alsoÂ wanted a lot of energy pulsing through this adjacentÂ space, and I can now vouch that he’s successfully achieved this element.
There are not one but two bars at Aburiya Toranoko. One, of the spirits variety, rests opposite the restaurant’s trademark brick wall mural – complete with an oversized, looming mirror so diners and drinkers not be deprived of its view.Â This is where theÂ flatscreen is should you want to keep updated on the LakerÂ game.Â The other bar, of the sushi variety, is along the back wall. You’ll receive multiple laudatory andÂ exuberantÂ greetings in Japanese on your way back there, or wherever your seat may beÂ -Â and enjoy it. It’s an induction intoÂ this restaurant and a tone-setter for your meal.
You may find yourself having a hard time narrowing down whichÂ izakaya dishes to order. The courteous and knowledgable waitstaff are an important resource to aid you in doing so. When we ordered uni sushi, our helpful server instead suggested the Yanagita Farms Uni Goma Tofu. I’m glad she did, because itÂ was a perfect starter and a great little dish of savory topped with fresh uniÂ to kick things off.Â
The New UnionÂ FarmsÂ Sizzling Mushrooms with TobanyakiÂ is a must-order. Sizzle, those mushrooms did. You’ll find yourself licking the broth out of the bowl before it’s bussed away. Another one of my favorites happened to be off the special menu: Hakata-style tripe. It had a ton of flavor and I was only used to experiencing this profile with ramen noodles. But the tripe just soaked it all up with its extra soft texture. Its savoriness made me forget that I used to consider tripe as one of those weird things my parents ate…along with chicken feet.
Another favorite was on the regular menu, the braisedÂ Colorado Black Pork Kukuni, which came with a couple broth-soaked daikon slices and was so tender the cut fell apart at the…chopstick. Though you would have to try pretty hard to screw up braised pork, I loved that it wasn’t too sweet with veryÂ little fat and came with a little sliver of extra-potent mustard that broke up the richness withÂ its kick. (I also saw itÂ garnishing other dishes.)
Besides the izakaya, Toranoko also offers kukuni - or yakitori. That is, vegetables and/or meat on skewers. Those of you in the foie gras cult can appreciate the Duck with Foie Gras in White Balsamic Soy Sauce Reduction…on a stick! There’s also a selection of oden, or objects in broth, as our server explained. This was new to me, and we got a tofu purse bundle with mochi inside. It was good yet unsurprising and struck me a bit as a novelty, but I clearly have more to learn about oden. For those more bowl-inclined, there’s aÂ ”rice/noodle/soup” section for that home feel. I hope to try something from this section next time on maybe a cold (for LA) dayÂ - perhaps a bowl of porridge.Â
On my visit, we also ordered a delicious sushi roll but I can’t confidently comment on Aburiya Toranoko’s rawÂ fish without a whole meal of it, and the focus was on the small plates for the night. The outlook on their sushiÂ is auspicious, though, since – for starters – the sushi chefs are indeed Japanese.
While they tout their hand-crafted cocktail menu made only with fresh juices and no added sugar, I still found the recipes themselves to err on the sweet side. A good bet would be to stay with the sake. My dining companion and I actually discovered a really delicious, unpasteurizedÂ one that was pleasantlyÂ at the bottom of the price range: Rin â€œOrganicâ€ out ofÂ Fukushima.
Aburiya Toranoko is one of those places that you have to go back to try all the different dimensions of their playbook. If you come with a group, I guess you could play all sections of the field by ordering a little bit of everything. But one thing’s for sure, the place continues to carry out Cardenas’ insistance on playing with his food. Since everyone in partnership, management and the heads of kitchen are Nobu alumni, however, it tends to give the food a more refined take.
Mon – Sun: 11:30 AM – 2:30 PM
Sun – Thur: 5 – 11 PM
Fri – Sat 5 PM – Midnight
Happy Hour: 5 – 7 PM (Food items: $5, Well drinks: $5, Drink items: $3)
243 S. San Pedro
Los Angeles, CA 90012
As Fiona and I finished our small plates and resumed breathing – but realized we were breathing fire – we weren’t quite sure, exactly, where we were, anymore. We cajoled, “Is this restaurant called, ‘The Spicy Table’?”
The Little Tokyo spot has a shrewdly stylish, if still minimal, ambiance with bird cage accents surrounding light bulbs incandescent. The front bar area seems like the perfect place at which to perch around the central wood-fired oven and enjoy a dish or two with the desired size pour of beer or glass of wine. I did wonder if the faces of those who sat at the bar, directly in front of the oven, were burning off or not (I caught a good amount of heat simply from walking by); then again, Downtown LA benefits from any spot proffering warmth to their customers, no matter how literal. Just choose your proximity, I guess, and they’ll just make sure to leave some brick exposedÂ so you’re reminded that you’re downtown and cozy.
Though cost and variety was the reason were the reasons I chose suds (4 oz. beer pours are available for $2; glasses of wine are upwards of $14), light, cold and carbonated was, in retrospect, the perfect thing to wash down all those bold flavors. My Craftsman Hef was a great choice, and you’ll be glad to know that The Bruery’s Orchard White, Abita’s Amber Lager and North Coast’s La Merle Saison – and, true-to-form, the Singaporean Tiger Beer – are all available in 12- and 16-oz. pours as well.
The starting lamb belly skewersÂ ($10), or satay, were singed perfectly while revealing fully flavorful, slightly gelatinousÂ centers. The piquant yet indulgent spread in the Black Pepper Crab Toast didn’t have me thinking that one piece of bread between the two of us wasn’t enough; I simply piled that crab paste onto my toasted triangle about an inch thick.
We were almost to theÂ noodles, by then, but not before the squidÂ special came out. And though we sat in the dining room, this was where I fully appreciated that oven situated behind the bar. The deliciously charred, squid shell was not rubbery but as tender as its sticky rice center, with bits of familiarly rich Chinese sausage and just-as-meaty black mushrooms filling out the tubular vessels. The vinaigrette we spooned on top added the bitter-sweet note we didn’t even know was missing. You may end up wishing that this was a regular menu item.
But then came our fiery hot noodles. The first, the Kon Loh Mee, featured springy, thin egg noodles topped with ground pork, char siu (because one kind of pork is never enough), sambal and choy sum – the lattest of which were, I realized later, the only vegetables short of the garnishes we had consumed the entire night. The egg noodles were superbly cooked; I’m wondering if they were made in-house and regret that I didn’t ask. The entire dish, however, were some of the most punishingly delicious dry noodles I’ve had in some time.
The Laksa, a coconut curry broth enveloping rice flour noodles, mussels and fish cakes and topped with coriander and a slice of soft-boiled egg, was almost as punishing. The creaminess of the coconut recanted some of that direct sting. It was enough of a break to entice us to press on, breathing in and out, while admiring that the restaurant didn’t pull any punches for The Stereotypicallly WeakÂ White Man’s Palate. (Or, gave our Stereotypically Tough AsianÂ Woman’s PalatesÂ their fair treatment – either way.) It even came with a hefty portion of sambal, which is allegedly traditional but something we had no intention of actually adding! The soup was thankfully delicious as it stood. I loved all the textures of the rice noodles and fish cakes while the mussels – let’s face it, I love shellfish – were that extra kick in the flavor pants.
If they brought out the spicy dishes last for a reason, I have an inkling on what that reason is: Dessert.
It worked. Well done. (Okay, and, there’s always a valid argument for palate fatigue, right? Anyway.)
Our Kaffir Lime Custard wasÂ a refreshing, fluffyÂ yet tart reprieve. The perfect, thematicÂ ending to an adventurous meal by a former Mozza chef featuring Vietnamese and Singaporean flavors in a Japanese district calledÂ Little TokyoÂ in DowntownÂ Los Angeles. That is all.
Love this town.
Hollywood is an awesome place to live. Not because of the bottle service and certainly not because everyone drives in from The Valley and Orange County on the weekends for the purposes of said bottle service.
It’s a great place because of the very spots that are overlooked in favor of bottle service and bass. Currently entering the second month of its operation, Wood & Vine is a two-story, neighborhood spot at which you can meet up with your friends and enjoy wine, beer, cocktails and/or food in a pleasant setting with wood furnishings and sage interior. There’s also a beautiful patio in the back – complete with lighting, ambiance and open flame – that may give you inklings of New York City thanks to the surrounding Hollywood “skyscrapers.”
The food is created by Gavin Mills, who was last sous at Bastide under Joseph Mahon (see previous post). As done in more and more eateries out there, he employs snout to tail and locally sourcing philosophies in that small kitchen and does a great job doing so. All the charcuterie, pates and rillette are made in-house, and together with cheese, start at $8 for three, $12 for five and $15 for seven.
I sampled about half of the small, manageable menu (I’m all for quality execution over spreading oneself thin while indulging indecisiveness) and, of everything I tried, came up with a handful of favorites. The chicken and waffles was a refreshing rendition, with fluffy breading surrounding a sparingly syruped quarter-chicken over a bona fide, house-made Belgian waffle. The maple-roasted squash was delicious, too, with the $14 serving being none-too-sweet. Just perfect, actually.
The gnocchi were savory pillows, accompanied by pea tendrils, spring garlic, confit onionsÂ and just a touch of truffle. Beautifully simple and delicious. And if you want a little twist on traditional lasagna, Wood & Vine’s oxtail variety comes in its own, adorable Pyrex glass with horseradish and house-made ricotta – and packs a subtle, but muchÂ appreciated,Â kick.
But oh, those scallops. Granted, you have to screw things up really bad if you turn out bad scallops, but not only are these huge babies perfectly seared (with that crispy,Â barely-charred exterior), they come accompanied with Jerusalem artichokes uponÂ some deliciouslyÂ truffled grits. There was nothing left on the plate when I was finished – not even a smear of grits.
I have yet to go back and try more cocktails (headed up by Jason McBeth)Â on for size.Â The Manhattan I ordered was good once I requested that it be served straight up (since it was initially served on-the-rocks), but I’m thinking that since I went early, they’re still getting their program squared away. However, their brown (whiskeys, ryes, bourbons, what have you) selection looks somewhatÂ extensive, so I can’t wait to take a closer look. The dessert menu looks enticing, too, if also humanitarian, with proceeds from the sales of profiteroles going directly to the Los Angeles Youth Network – a cause that the owners care about. Another dessert that caught my eye: Butterscotch pot de creme with salted caramel ice-cream. Mmm.
The guys behind Wood & Vine, despite the big space, did a great job at creating a warm ambiance and concentrated food and cocktail menu with only the necessities. It’s the place that nightclub birds walk past on their way to Hi-NRG spicy tuna wonderland while you’re inside, cozy while nibbling cheese and sipping on your Aviation – perhaps alone, perhaps in a group (because it’s big enough for that).
Please, keep walking.
All food, wine and cocktails were hosted.
Welcome to my first blog entry on an establishment in Marina del Rey. Yes, it’s true – I’m rarely in the area except to visitÂ fabulous divorcee girlfriends and out-of-town friends being put up in corporate housing. ButÂ VÅ«, located inside a curiouslyÂ named hotel called Jamaica Bay Inn (in an area that is the antithesis of Jamaica), is one of those destinationÂ islandsÂ in a marina wastelandÂ where you’ll find surprisingly unique and delicious bites inÂ VÅ« of a beautiful waterfront.
Â There are more than a few reasons to visit. Caroline on Crack covers a huuuge one – that, of course, being the simple yet imaginative cocktails by the talented, self-taught Jolie Klein. She only uses the freshest and natural ingredients, only bridled by the desire to create a cocktail that caters to the guest’s palate. My favorite cocktail of the night had to be the White Manhattan, made withÂ a spirit from my own home state of Wisconsin. Deathâ€™s Door White Whiskey – that is, newly distilled whiskey -Â is accented with Luxardo maraschino liqueur and The Bitter Truth Jerry Thomasâ€™ Own Decanter Bitters. I am a whiskey girl, and that also includes new make spirits. What a deliciously simple cocktail.
Now, places with a solid cocktail program definitely merit a visit (make sure Jolie is there to make your drink), but VÅ« also offers interesting, avant garde small plates by Chef Kyle Schutte. My favorites happen to be a spin on Southern specialtiesÂ (curious enough since Kyle is a Southern transplant). The Root Beer Jello atop Pork Belly and Crispy Grits actually evokes a chicken fried steak – just with some super flavorful pork belly in the middle.Â The root beer jello is, of course,Â the novelty of the bite but its temperature,Â flavor and consistency reallyÂ complements theÂ richness of the other two elements.Â WhatÂ Caroline and I thought it could be paired with was Jolie’s is Beer After Branca, essentially Fernet Branca, Canton liqueur and Averna chased by ginger beer. Yes, I am a fernet fan, and ginger beer is an appropriate, spicyÂ back to the fernet’s bitternessÂ - so perhaps it was a bit unfair to call this a shoe-in (sue me!). But altogether, the bite and cocktail would be a great voyage in sweetness andÂ richness, counteredÂ by the bitter fernet and finished off with the ginger beer. I could go all the way to Marina del Rey for another, and another.
Speaking of chicken fried steak, how about some Chicken Fried Watermelon? The buttermilk batter surrounding the cubes of watermelon made the entire bite savory and sweet – while the pickled watermelon rind was just the perfect, barely-sour twist. I displayed probably my most thoughtful facial expressions as I piled in bite after bite.
Another one of my favorites were the Thai Mussels, which came on spoonfuls sitting in Green Curry Broth, Hamachi Salad, Coconut Jello, Scallion and Micro Cilantro. Curried mussels come and go, which is really no fault of anyone’s,Â but I appreciate the addition of the hamachi and coconut, which lightens things up and keeps the bite interesting.
The entrees are quite a jump, price-wise, from the various crudo, small plates (hot and cold) and cheese and charcuterieÂ that VÅ« has to offer. But that really shouldn’t bother most because the smaller items on the menu are the most interesting, offering the biggest range during a night at VÅ«.