Best Of :: Food & Drink
We use the term "hole-in-the-wall" as a folksy cliche, but RiceBar truly is a hole in the wall, a teeny kitchen with a door on downtown's Seventh Street. The entire space — kitchen, storage, fridges, dining area — is 275 square feet. The master of those 275 square feet is chef Charles Olalia, an exceedingly friendly dude who often looks kind of happily stunned to find himself here. It is quite amazing to find him here, given that his last job was executive chef at Patina in Walt Disney Concert Hall, one of the ritziest restaurants in California. Before that, he worked at the French Laundry in Napa Valley and Guy Savoy in Las Vegas. At RiceBar, the focus is not on fine dining but rather heirloom, fair-trade Filipino rice bowls in a variety of flavors. The menu is built around the four large steamers in the front window, each holding a different kind of rice. Kalinga Unoy is a rust-colored red rice, grown on ancient terraced fields in Kalinga in the Philippines, then sun-dried. The flavor is lightly nutty and sweet, and it delicately complements RiceBar's suggested topping, bistek tagalog: tender, pan-seared, soy-marinated beef. There's black rice covered in hunks of lush avocado, crisp radish, sweet pops of marinated grape tomatoes and tiny, pointy, salty, crunchy fried anchovies. Pork longganisa, a sausage that's made in-house, comes sliced and accompanied by pickled veggies; it has an almost floral and aromatic yet funky flavor that leaves a light, fatty sweetness behind. Olalia will recommend you order this over garlic fried rice and also that you add a fried egg. He's a wise man in both regards.
After the success of Maude (which last year earned our Best Restaurant in L.A. award), the world has been watching to see what Aussie mega-star chef Curtis Stone would come up with next. It turns out, Gwen does not disappoint. For the project, Stone brought his brother Luke over from Australia, and became the importer for some serious quality Australian beef that was hitherto unavailable in the States. Fronted by an old-fashioned butcher counter, the restaurant is like a gleaming art deco shrine to meat. On one side of the room, a glass case holds hanging carcasses and charcuterie; in the back of the restaurant, you can watch as animal parts cook over and around various kinds of flame in the open kitchen. The format is a five-course tasting menu, starting with charcuterie and salad, moving on to handmade pasta, and then comes the meat. You might get lamb cooked a variety of ways, or you can supplement the meal with a hunk of dry-aged Waygu. A flurry of vegetables complements the meat course, and the bright rusticism on display in these dishes might be the highlight of the evening. Gwen is not a cheap thrill, and tickets must be bought ahead of time. But, similarly to Maude, Stone has proven again that sometimes spending a silly amount of money on dinner is well worth it.
When a restaurant is built as part of the Broad, one of the most highly anticipated modern art museums in the West, it comes as no surprise that it, too, is a work of art. Otium is an eye-catching masterpiece that pleases your visual palate even before you've tasted chef Timothy Hollingsworth's playful edible creations. The building, designed by architect Osvaldo Maiozzi, is a cubic, modernist shell, and a designer consortium collaborated to outfit it both inside and out. The Studio Unltd firm teamed up with House of Honey to create a modern rustic space. Handmade glass light fixtures by Neptune Glassworks dangle from above, shedding a glow on the yellow wall tiles from Heath Ceramics. The bright colors juxtapose with reclaimed wood from District Millworks, while custom pieces by chef/furniture maker Chris Earl make for comfortable seats in which to watch chefs in the stunning open kitchen. There, they use herbs and flowers from the rooftop garden. And it wouldn't be an art-museum restaurant without an enormous Damien Hirst fish mural on the outside wall, so there's that, too.
The exceptional food served at Providence would be enough to earn Michael Cimarusti the title of best chef in the city. The fact that he brought us L.A.’s best New England–style seafood house with Connie & Ted’s only ups the stakes. But Cimarusti’s dedication to sustainable seafood, his efforts to educate the public about the problems facing our oceans, and his new seafood shop, Cape Seafood, give us even more reason to sing the dude’s praises. Now, whether you’re in the mood for an amazing lobster roll or looking for a beautiful piece of fish to take home and cook yourself, Cimarusti’s got you covered. The best evidence for his talent, though, remains the elegant, measured, gorgeously presented food at Providence, L.A.’s most special of special-occasion restaurants.
Salazar, the wonderfully smoky-smelling new taqueria from chef Esdras Ochoa, has officially put Frogtown (aka Elysian Valley) on the map as one of L.A.'s favorite new dining destinations, thanks to mesquite-grilled meats, homemade tortillas, tequila-heavy bebidas and lots of outdoor seating. But what makes Salazar's patio stand out in a city of many patios is that the entire restaurant is, essentially, a patio — so much so that while sipping a margarita, one might wonder what exactly the owners would do should it rain. The indoor portion of Salazar consists of the bar and only a handful of tables, a small part of the large, unique space. Even the entrance and host area is located outdoors on a gravel lot. Built on the grounds of a former auto body repair shop, the sprawling 100-plus-seat outdoor dining area is replete with trees, succulent landscaping and enough umbrellas to keep the sun-averse shaded. And after the sun sets behind the L.A. River, as the sky turns from blue to pink and stars begin to sparkle overhead, stay for one more cerveza because Salazar stays open late.
Every year, when considering this award, I sit back and think through the last 12 months of meals. Which was the most memorable? Delivered the most pleasure? Made me giddy with joy? And once again, I have to admit — that meal happened at Trois Mec. I’m still dreaming about a bowl containing tender chunks of bay scallop and foie gras swimming in a matsutake mushroom and miso broth, which was flecked with pickled sunchoke and hazelnut oil. Over the summer, the restaurant’s vegetable dishes seemed to draw inspiration from some of the most exciting cooking happening in Paris, with elegant, playful takes on asparagus and citrus, and a chanterelle crudite that was at once foresty and fresh. As the restaurant’s chef/owners Ludo Lefebvre, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo march on to ever more crowd-pleasing projects, it’s nice to know that their most personal little fine-dining spot retains all of its weird magic.