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First Look

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Albacore sashimi with salsa and pink peppercorn at Akatora - B. RODELL
  • B. Rodell
  • Albacore sashimi with salsa and pink peppercorn at Akatora
The faded red awning still says Katsu Sushi, but inside the building at the corner of Highland and Rosencrans in Manhattan Beach, the scene has changed considerably. What once was Katsu Sushi, a beleaguered neighborhood sushi joint, is now Sushi Akatora, a trendy izakaya/sushi restaurant from restaurateur Michael Cardenas. 

Cardenas, of course, has an important place in the history of trendy L.A. sushi spots, being a founder of Sushi Roku, the hyper-trendy restaurant that has grown into a swank chain since its inception in 1997. Cardenas grew up in Japan, trained as a teppan chef and worked in many of L.A.'s sushi restaurants, including a stint as general manager at Matsuhisa. Now he's just as well-known for being the owner of the Lazy Ox and other L.A. restaurants.

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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Wine list at Marvin - B. RODELL
  • B. Rodell
  • Wine list at Marvin
What makes a wine bar a wine bar? Generally, there has to be a bar, and an emphasis on wine. But is that enough? When is a place a wine bar and when is it a restaurant with a good wine list?

I considered all this during a recent visit to Marvin, the Beverly Grove restaurant that opened in late May and claims to be a wine bar. Yes, there is a bar. And yes, there is a fantastic wine list: European-focused and rife with weird finds that light up the pleasure receptors in the wine geek cortex. There are wines at every price range and in many styles. 

What there isn't is a large by-the-glass selection. The by the glass selection is great, with many options being poured from magnums, showcasing wines that are harder to get a taste of given the format. But fewer than 20 wines, all up, including dessert and sparkling options, are available by the glass. Which, to me, makes this a restaurant with a very cool wine program, not a wine bar, any more than smoke.oil.salt or the Hungry Cat or any other small restaurant with a great wine list and barstools are wine bars. 

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Friday, May 23, 2014

Friday, May 23, 2014

Pizza

Oscars Pizza Delivery Guy Opens Wood in Silver Lake

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Fri, May 23, 2014 at 7:00 AM
Classic Margherita pizza from Wood - B. RODELL
  • B. Rodell
  • Classic Margherita pizza from Wood
When the sign went up a few months ago for Wood on the corner of Sunset and Silver Lake Boulevard in Silver Lake, the neighborhood chatter was mainly about the incredibly phallic nature of the name and logo. If the name was meant to evoke the wood-burning oven to be employed, and the logo a fat-handled pizza slicer, the combination of the two splayed large on a banner outside the building conjured something else entirely. Now open, the name and logo combo can still be seen together on the restaurant's menu, but outside a neon sign with the name only makes at least the exterior of the building a bit less scandalous. 

It turns out that Wood has some notoriety beyond its giggle-worthy signage, which is that it's owned by the Oscars pizza delivery guy. Edgar Martirosyan - who earned 7.5 minutes of fame by delivering pizzas to the Oscars and subsequently being summoned to The Ellen DeGeneres Show to collect his tip - owns Wood, along with his brother Erik. The two have been in the pizza business for years, but this is their first foray into higher-end Neapolitan-style pizza. 

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The "peas and carrots" at Ktchn in Pasadena - B. RODELL
  • B. Rodell
  • The "peas and carrots" at Ktchn in Pasadena
Beer, sausages and sunshine. Is there anything in life that goes together better? It's these three components that make up the bulk of the business plan at Picnik, the new restaurant in Pasadena from chef Eduardo Ruiz (also of Corazon y Miel). The restaurant is in partnership with Jack and Karen Huang, the owners of Bar Celona and Sorriso, also in Pasadena. 

The property, which sits at the western end of Old Town Pasadena's retail strip, is actually a number of restaurant spaces surrounding a large outdoor patio space. In order to get the most out of this arrangement, Ruiz and crew have come up with an interesting model: to ask other vendors to set up shop in the space Picnik doesn't need.

So around the courtyard, other options are slowly cropping up. Some will be pop-ups, some more permanent. So far there's a Bulgarini Gelato stand (operating on weekends for now), and Zona Rosa Coffee, which began serving over this past weekend. There are also plans for cocktail pop-ups in the small upstairs bar space, beginning in a couple of weeks. The first will bring the bar team from Corazon y Miel on Monday nights for Punch at Picnik, which will feature exotic punch offerings by the glass and bowl. Punch will officially debut in two weeks.

But perhaps most exciting is Ktchn, a breakfast operation from Felix G. Barron, who has been popping up in the Gorbals space on weekends for a couple of years now.

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Friday, February 28, 2014

Kashk bademjan at Kashcool - B. RODELL
  • B. Rodell
  • Kashk bademjan at Kashcool
There are few dishes in the universe that could accurately be described as "haunting," but fesenjan, the Persian walnut-and-pomegranate stew, is one such dish. When done right, there's something about it that is almost eerie in its seductive powers. It tastes like some sort of delicious potion that a beautiful witch might consume to keep herself young.

The world (or at least the United States) is riddled with versions that are too sweet, or that hold back on the bitingly bitter walnut edge. So it was gratifying to find a terrific version at Kashcool Kitchen, a Persian restaurant that opened just a few days ago in Woodland Hills. 

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Friday, February 21, 2014

Friday, February 21, 2014

First Look

Adam Fleischman's Roadhouse LA: Our Version of Epcot's Texasland?

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Fri, Feb 21, 2014 at 11:10 AM
The exterior of Roadhouse LA - COURTESY ROADHOUSE LA
  • Courtesy Roadhouse LA
  • The exterior of Roadhouse LA
Adam Fleischman has a knack for gimmicks. The guy who launched the Umami Burger empire and recently announced that he'll be opening a chocolate-flavored fried chicken joint is no stranger to super concept-y concepts. And so, when he announced that Roadhouse LA, his new venture at The Improv, would be "international BBQ" it was easy to assume that there'd be more concept than substance here.

But if anyone's going to teach us that it's quite possible to have both gimmick and substance, it'll be Fleischman. The first good sign was bringing on chef Robbie Richter, who was the original pitmaster at New York's Fatty Cue. The second good sign is that on first look, the food is pretty damn tasty. 

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Mexican pulled pork sandwich at the Torta Company - B. RODELL
  • B. Rodell
  • The Mexican pulled pork sandwich at the Torta Company
As a concept for a fast food chain, it's pretty amazing the torta hasn't already been widely commodified. With all the appeal of a sandwich but much of the allure of a burrito, in many ways the torta is a perfect candidate for the drive-thru, or at least the food court. But tortas have thus far remained mainly the purview of small family shops. 

You can see the world-domination ambitions behind the Torta Company, the new project from Jimmy and Andrew Shaw. The brothers, who since 2002 have grown their Loteria Grill from one to six locations, have opened the first outpost of the Torta Company at Taste, the food court inside the Fig at 7th shopping center downtown. The Torta Company, which is adjacent to the newest Loteria Grill, began serving to the public last week. 

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

First Look

L.A. Chapter at the Ace Hotel Might Be the Future of Downtown

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Wed, Feb 12, 2014 at 9:51 AM
The exterior of L.A. Chapter - B. RODELL
  • B. Rodell
  • The exterior of L.A. Chapter
It's been said before, about other restaurants and cafés and stores, but when sitting on the outside patio of the new Ace Hotel's restaurant, L.A. Chapter, there's a real sense of a future downtown L.A. that has yet to fully come to fruition. Located near the corner of Olympic and Broadway, the Ace resides in the old United Artists Theatre, and the restoration of this absolutely stunning piece of architecture gives a glimpse into the treasures that lie behind the boarded-up façades of some of these old downtown buildings, which have gone unused for so many years. 

The Ace's interior is by far its greatest asset, but the collection of brass-topped tables and black-and-white chairs on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant space is a great place to marvel at the grungy grandeur of the surrounding buildings. It looks and feels very much like a Paris café but with an L.A. backdrop. 

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Monday, February 3, 2014

Monday, February 3, 2014

Lunch

First Look: A Fantastic Lunch at DTLA Cheese

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Mon, Feb 3, 2014 at 11:17 AM
Pork loin sandwich at DTLA Cheese - B. RODELL
  • B. Rodell
  • Pork loin sandwich at DTLA Cheese
The list of places where you can eat lunch at downtown's Grand Central Market is growing by the day, or so it seems. Apart from the multiple stands that have been serving Chinese, Mexican and Middle Eastern food for years, the new crop of places that signal the market's resurgence continue to open. Horse Thief BBQ and Eggslut are going strong, and Wexler's Deli looks like it will be open any minute. 

The most recent great lunch I've found is at DTLA Cheese, the cheese counter that opened in late December. Owned by Lydia and Marnie Clarke, who also own Cheese Cave in Claremont, DTLA Cheese has plenty of picnic supplies, a varied range of domestic and imported cheeses, and all manner of jarred and pickled things to accompany those cheeses. The counter service is exuberantly helpful, and they're happy to let you sample whatever you'd like. 

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Duck confit mole at La Ventura - B. RODELL
  • B. Rodell
  • Duck confit mole at La Ventura
Jeffrey Saad is a chef with a lot of TV time under his belt. He was the host for three seasons of The United Tastes of America on the Cooking Channel. He was the first runner-up on The Next Food Network Star. He came in second place to Marcus Samuelsson on Chopped All-Stars. His website says of him, "Jeffrey Saad is a rising star ready to ignite the globe with his inspirational cuisine." For now, at least, he is hoping to ignite Studio City with his new Mexican restaurant, La Ventura.

La Ventura, which opened in mid-December, is certainly an attractive spot. The light airy space is punctuated by pops of bright color: a yellow wall here, yellow metal barstools, red flowerpots and a huge metal green light fixture hanging over the center of the room. On one of these oddly gorgeous winter afternoons, the patio, which sits along Ventura Boulevard, was a fantastic spot to eat lunch.  

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