Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Rum and Coconut from Cana Rum Bar - 213 NIGHTLIFE
  • 213 Nightlife
  • Rum and Coconut from Cana Rum Bar
Weekend one down, weekend two coming up. How will you whet your whistle between gigs in the desert?  This year, Coachella has gone seriously uptown with a selection of craft cocktails to quench your sand-blasted thirst. And, if you aren't headed to that remote inland valley, some of L.A.'s most creative bars still have you covered. This is not your mother's Coachella anymore.

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We give protected designation to buildings, to natural wonders and to battlefields. We do not, for the most part, bestow such honors on bars. This is a shame - especially in L.A., where our vintage bars hold a wealth of culture in their booze-soaked floors and sticky vinyl booths.

One such Los Angeles haunt is the Formosa Cafe, the 89-year-old bar on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Formosa Avenue in West Hollywood. The Formosa has deep history as the favored bar for many, many golden-age movie stars, whose photos line the walls. Made up in part of an old Red Car trolley, the red and black lacquered interior has barely changed since its heyday. In 1991, when the Formosa was threatened with demolition to make way for a parking structure, the city's Cultural Heritage Advisory Board declared it a landmark, cementing the bar's status as a protected pocket of old Hollywood amidst the towering big-box consumerism of new Hollywood.

The problem is that, despite its history, not many people were eating there. And so, recently, an innovative partnership was formed, between Formosa's owner Vincent Jung, restaurateur Adam Fleischman and Red Medicine's chef Jordan Kahn and manager Noah Ellis. The Formosa itself wouldn't change at all, but Kahn and co. would install a chef in the kitchen turning out Red-Medicine-esque food. 

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Nguyen Tran and Michael Voltaggio, with Oreos - COURTESY: OREO
  • courtesy: Oreo
  • Nguyen Tran and Michael Voltaggio, with Oreos
Wonder what your favorite chefs are doing when they're not in their actual restaurants cooking, or running said restaurants or leading otherwise normal lives? Well, some of them are dreaming of strange things to do with Oreo cookies. Like making tortilla chips with them, or coating chicken with cookie bits, or soaking them in bottles of cherry soda to make what can only be described as cookie mud pies. Nope, it's not a secret frat boy club for junk food, although there are certain L.A. restaurants that could be called that.

Oreo recently asked L.A. chefs Michael Voltaggio of Ink, Starry Kitchen's Nguyen Tran and Roy Choi of Kogi, etc. to play with their food in a very pointed way, as part of the cookie company's #OreoSnackHack campaign. Each chef dreamt up a way of using the classic cookie sandwich in a short recipe that was, well, a bit more inventive than just deconstructing it and dunking it in a glass of milk. That being, of course, the time-honored but now obvious method of eating Oreos. 

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Baco Mercat's Amergaz Picada baco - ANNE FISHBEIN
  • Anne Fishbein
  • Baco Mercat's Amergaz Picada baco
"What's the best restaurant in L.A.?" It's the question I get more than any other, the thing people most want to know from a critic. "What's your favorite restaurant? If I were to only eat at one restaurant in L.A., what should it be?"

I tend to dodge these questions, to deflect with counter-questions like "what are you looking for?" or "what genre do you really like" or "it depends very much on what your mood is, the occasion, how much money you want to spend." The truth is, when you write about restaurants for a living, picking bests and favorites is difficult, especially in a city as wide-ranging in its deliciousness as Los Angeles. "Best" restaurants used to be synonymous with white tablecloths and high prices, but that's no longer the case, at least not completely - these days, and especially in L.A., there's so much more to consider. 

While we put out a list of the 99 Essential Los Angeles restaurant every year, those restaurants are not ranked in any particular order. And whenever I talk to anyone about that list, the "best restaurant" question inevitably comes up. So, this year, as a last hurrah to celebrate that 99 Essentials list, we've ranked the 20 best restaurants in L.A. in order. What's the best restaurant in Los Angeles? The best 20? Here you go. 

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The Buffalo Blue at Greenspan's Grilled Cheese - FARLEY ELLIOTT
  • Farley Elliott
  • The Buffalo Blue at Greenspan's Grilled Cheese
Chef Eric Greenspan is running a little leaner these days. The always-quotable chef was, when we last spoke at his sky-high dining venture The Roof on Wilshire in September, working on rebuilding his empire and dropping some weight — without losing his comfort-food sensibilities, mind you.

As of last week, he might be running a bit meaner, too.

Maybe he's just got a lot on his plate right now. Maybe it's the burning need to climb back into the L.A. food ring in a real way. Or maybe it's because every media piece about his new grilled cheese restaurant opens with a snarky line that pokes at how long the place took to open. Whatever it is, chef Greeny is fired up.

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A fried green tomato sandwich - FLICKR/KTHREAD
  • Flickr/kthread
  • A fried green tomato sandwich
If you think of green tomatoes only as the favorite side dish of Southern gal pals who serve up abusive exes as barbecue (H/T Fannie Flagg), think again!

A new study has found that a compound in green tomatoes, tomatidine, not only boosts muscle growth and strength, it protects against muscle wasting caused by illness, injury or aging. (Guess Popeye should've been popping fried green tomatoes instead of cans of spinach if he wanted to take down Brutus once and for all.)

A research team at the University of Iowa found that healthy mice given supplements containing tomatidine grew bigger muscles, became stronger and could exercise longer. Even better, the mice did not gain any weight due to a corresponding loss of fat, suggesting that the compound may also have potential for treating obesity. Nice bonus.

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday, April 14, 2014

New Restaurants

Oyster Bar Tipple & Brine Opens in Sherman Oaks

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Mon, Apr 14, 2014 at 11:31 AM
  • Moretti Photo
Finally, another reason to fight the traffic on the 405. Tipple & Brine opens today on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks.

Yes, it's in the Valley and and the name is a bit, well, precious, but this is a restaurant with a great deal of talent behind it. Executive chef Mike Williams has cooked with Casey Lane at The Tasting Kitchen and now-shuttered gastropub The Parish, as well as top San Francisco restaurant Boulevard. Daniel Zacharczuk of Honeycut and The Varnish put together the drinks list. And owner Richard DiSisto has proven success up in the Valley: He started Lucy's 51 in Toluca Lake 10 years ago.

The place is an oyster bar, emphasizing equally both the "oyster" part and the "bar" part. Its signature item, commemorated with a big chalkboard illustration, is the oyster luge: You eat an oyster, then pour some Scotch into the briny liquid left in the shell (tipple and brine, get it?).

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World Beer Cup 2014 - ERIKA BOLDEN
  • Erika Bolden
  • World Beer Cup 2014
The World Beer Cup is the Olympics of beer. There is no better way to describe one of the biggest and most prestigious commercial beer competitions open to breweries from around the world. Held in Denver on Fri., April 11, at the end of the Craft Brewers Conference, the World Beer Cup awards ceremony was well-attended by a gathering of feverishly-excited brewers and industry professionals. Los Angeles County craft breweries had their best year, with one medal each going to Beachwood BBQ & Brewing (Long Beach), Ohana Brewing Co., (Downtown) and Haven Brewing (Pasadena).

2014 had the most competition entries to date, with 4,754 beers from 1,403 breweries representing 58 countries - a 21% increase in number of entries since the last Cup in 2012. 94 categories of beer were evaluated by 219 judges from 31 countries. 

But the best statistic of 2014? Only 26 breweries won two awards, and only one brewery took home three. "This is the most diverse set of winning breweries in any World Beer Cup," said Competition Manager Chris Swersey. The broad spectrum of representation and winnings was partly due to a new lottery system that determined each brewery was limited to entering four beers.

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Jake the Snake, a Grilled Cheese Sandwich - RACHAEL NARINS
  • Rachael Narins
  • Jake the Snake, a Grilled Cheese Sandwich
This past Sunday, April 12, was National Grilled Cheese Day, and on that day, the Final Grilled Cheese Invitational took place at Los Angeles Center Studios in downtown L.A. Or  maybe it wasn't the last one. A few slices of crispy buttered bread with molten cheese can be mighty addictive and this annual event is even more so. With four heats of roughly 50 teams competing for the coup de grâce in one of four categories, it was a hearty, heady, orange-tinged afternoon, and one people won't soon forget.

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  • Farley Elliott
  • Chef Bobo Ivan at CiBOTECA
There are plenty of foods currently in the national zeitgeist, from locally-milled grains to Santa Barbara uni. Sandwiches, on the other hand, act as a sort of constant. A decent sandwich is never far away, and great ones still manage to inspire the sort of lust that makes driving to Bay Cities from East L.A. on a Saturday afternoon seem like a reasonable idea (it isn't). So why would chef Roberto Ivan (better known as Bobo) want to branch out from his upscale Piccolo Venice operation to open yet another Italian deli? Because he thinks most places simply don't do things the right way.

With CiBOTECA, Ivan is trying to change things, if only just a bit. A quirkily-shaped, sunny space on the ground floor of one of Santa Monica's countless new mixed-use apartment complexes, CiBOTECA is part marketplace, part deli and part sit-down sandwich shop, with a beer and wine license in the works. There are pre-made salads that make a nice addition to a home-cooked meal, simple pastries for a morning bite and more substantial fare that can be enjoyed on site, but nobody is confusing this quick-service shop with Piccolo Venice, or even it's more subdued stepchildren, Hostaria del Piccolo in Venice and Santa Monica.

We recently sat down with Ivan to talk about the transition into fast-casual, why Santa Monica might just need a simpler sandwich shop and just who exactly their ideal customer is going to be.

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