I have a history of heading to Los Angeles for New Year’s Eve, and when the opportunity presented itself again this year, yay, I scooped up a fellow former Angeleno pal, and off in my little Fiat we went. I don’t think I could have asked for a better crash pad: my fab neighbor from my UCLA dorm days was out of town and let us stay in his (temporary) apartment that was, oh, in The Colonial House. You mean the historic place from the 1930s on Crescent Heights in West Hollywood where Cary Grant and Bette Davis and numerous other starlets lived? What a dream.
I was long overdue to check out some LA eats (and flea marketing and vintage shopping). Here are some highlights from our whirlwind visit:
Wow, is this place fun. It was our top meal and experience of the trip, by far. You head down a random street downtown (not too far from the warehouses where I used to rave more than 25 years ago) to discover a busy parking lot, with valets directing well-heeled patrons inside (instead of promoters shepherding kids in oversize overalls). Times have changed.
The restaurant is impressively huge, with a bar and lounge, and every seat is coveted. Kudos to the staff for running such a busy room while keeping track of the details—the hospitality here was notable. Ditto the wine list, you’ll get happily distracted by it. Your servers will make some excellent pairing suggestions too.
Chef Ori Menashe’s menu is going to crush you with desire. The veal tartare crostino ($15)—a supped-up vitello tonnato on their housemade bread—was one of the best things I have eaten in awhile; wait until you sink your teeth into the creamy tonnato sauce generously slathered on top. The salad of smoked sea urchin bottarga ($16) grated over chicories, sieved egg, pomegranate, and the punch of pickled chile came together so well, what a brilliant salad. We spaced on ordering the famed gizzards, damn. I’ll be back! But then the housemade ‘nduja pizza ($19) more than made up for it, loaded with tomato, creamy mozzarella, black cabbage, and fennel pollen. Exceptional crust. Complimenti!
There were nine housemade pastas to choose from, we went for the cavatelli alla norcina ($29), plump-chewy ricotta dumplings decadently coated in a heady sauce of pork sausage, black truffle, and Grana Padano. We were stuffed but made a little room for a dessert by Genevieve Gergis, a simple but pretty crème fraîche panna cotta ($9) with winter citrus. Don’t miss this place, and even if you don’t get a reservation, it’s worth trying to walk in and waiting a bit like we did.
While the Bay Area still bemoans the loss of chef Jeremy Fox’s singular cuisine, at least it gives us a reason to hunt him down in LA. The Westside location of this casual restaurant and wine bar reminded me how huge LA is to drive across, but Fox’s earthy and inspired menu made it worth the schlep.
The tables felt luxuriously big, and as soon as the Marcona almonds with lavender sugar and sea salt ($7) hit the table, you’ll be thankful for the extra space, because you’re about to take it all up with shareable dishes like tender Monterey squid ($16) spiked with Calabrian chile, with falafel quenelles and aioli nero—this one really hit the bass notes. The housemade ricotta ($16) with mushroom escabèche and cubes of crispy polenta went for a higher octave. The bright clam pozole verde ($16) is justifiably famed, featuring Rancho Gordo’s hominy with poblano, scallion, and thin slices of “honeydew” radish, with crisp pieces of tortilla in the electric green bowl. Your whole palate gets shaken awake.
A larger dish we tried was the roasted half chicken “mulligatawny” ($29), cue Seinfeld, a homey curry broth with coconut milk coating the pieces of succulent chicken, with slices of “tandoori” carrot and M’Hamsa couscous in the bowl. It was so comforting, the flavors familiar yet exotic at the same time. The menu is quite varied, and it would be a great place to take your vegetarian Westside-dwelling friend who likes big glasses of boutique wines.
The Sycamore Kitchen
Before hitting the Sunday Fairfax flea market, we swung by for brunch at this casual café on La Brea (you order at the counter and your food is brought out to you), but the place has chops: it’s run by Quinn and Karen Hatfield, beloved chefs formerly of SF. This spot would be so mobbed in San Francisco, I couldn’t believe that at 11am on a Sunday we just breezed in, ordered, and sauntered to an outdoor table on the patio without being told there would be an hour wait. Miracles!
I had a weird craving for pancakes for more than a week, so was happy to indulge with the buttermilk-rye pancakes ($11, with salted butter and maple syrup), while my wingman went for the egg tartine ($11.50) with arugula pesto, tomato, and avocado hummus on their housemade bread. Grab some baked goodies for later—our blueberry financier muffin was the business. We were out of there in 45 minutes, one of the tastiest brunches in the shortest period of time I have experienced in years, if ever.
Meanwhile, this Silver Lake joint had SF-style lines all over it. It’s the tiniest spot, quietly chic with a marble communal counter running down the middle, and people scootched up against narrow counters along the wall and windows, hovering over their brioche toast (anointed with owner Jessica Koslow’s notable jams) and cappuccinos. I know, toast. We had breakfast toast ($7.50), a thick slab of buttery and golden brioche, topped with a fried egg, kale (the jokes, they write themselves), tomatillo, and lacto-fermented hot sauce (I think it was the first time I saw a hot sauce listed as lacto-fermented on a menu). But they could easily be charging more than $10 for that action and people would pay for it.
I wasn’t quite sold on the whole mob scene until we got a couple of spoonfuls into their malva pudding cake, and then I was a devotee. It’s sticky and decadently textured, with the surprise of some apricot jam inside. A must. Ask them to warm it up. Okay, okay, you won me over, I’ll be back!
For some reason I thought maybe, just maybe, we’d be able to score an eggslut sandwich for brunch without too much of a line since it was the holidays and all, but no. It was DMV in the eighth circle of hell long. So, Bäco Mercat to the rescue. This casual downtown joint made its name with chef Josef Centeno’s trademark bäco sandwiches, a flatbread of sorts, filled with all kinds of pleasure-focused fillings that pull from a variety of cuisines.
We had the toron ($15), a burger-like patty of oxtail hash with cheddar melted on top, plus a hash brown-like layer of crisp potatoes, the richness cut by fresh greens, pickles, and horseradish yogurt. Pretty hefty and fabulous. We also took our server’s advice and went for THE SLAYER ($19), because, when something is on the menu in all caps, you gotta do it. It was a baked bäco, all bready and golden, topped with a punchy tomato salmorejo, pork belly, and a fried egg. The contrasting temperatures took a bit to get used to, but ultimately it came together and was quite delicious. There are a bunch of small plates at lunch, many of them vegetarian and with interesting spices and flavors—would be fun to come with a four-top and crush the menu. Well-selected wine list and friendly folks, too.
Connie and Ted’s
We were peckish one afternoon (oh shopping, it’s so exhausting!) and needed a pit stop. Connie and Ted’s to the rescue. This California-ized seafood shack in WeHo from Michael Cimarusti is conveniently open all day Wed-Sat. We explored some unique oyster selections (they had Belons!) although sadly our shucker lost the liquor on a few, and then we moved to some fresh (as in cut open before your eyes) Santa Barbara urchin ($18).
The siren song of the lobster roll ($26) was hard to ignore, and I’m so glad we heeded it, because let me tell you, a glass of Champagne with their damn good fries and textbook-perfect lobster roll was in the pocket. This place is doing some good things with seafood, and the postmodern LA look adds a fun twist to an otherwise classic East Coast (with a whirl on the West Coast) seafood menu.
I can’t go to LA without paying a visit to one of my favorite crackly pizzas. And this was shockingly kind: they were open on New Year’s Day. Grazie, Nancy Silverton and crew! The room was full of red balloons from the night before, and now was packed with our fellow bleary-eyed and hungry diners. We perched at the spacious wood bar, shared the insalata rossa ($14, bitter and tender chicories with bacon, egg, and a fluffy mountain of Parm), and then it was pizza time: nettles and finocchiona with cacio di Roma ($18), and a bianca ($18), a perfectly sized sea of Fontina, mozzarella, sottocenere, and crisp sage leaves, so deliciously paired with their trademark golden and blistered crust. No one does pizzas like Pizzeria Mozza does.
We didn’t save room for the trademark butterscotch budino, and the menu even admonishes us to do so, but it’s good to know it’s always there.
Harris Ranch One more item to note: of all the years I have driven up and down the I-5 (I went to UCLA, so it was a frequent haul back and forth to San Mateo for the holidays and summer), I have never stopped at Harris Ranch. Big, big mistake! That place is classic! Was so charmed with the old-school rancho-meets-jockey club vibe, and the service could not be nicer—we melted for our server Lynn, who took such sweet care of us.
I ordered the classic ranch burger ($15.95), the well-seasoned patty cooked to a perfect medium rare and served on a house-baked bun. They were quick to whisk away my cold fries for fresh and hot ones, with a pile of apologies. (Note for the future: tablehopper readers reportedly love the tri-tip Caesar, steak and eggs, and desserts.) I found my new I-5 oasis, complete with the cleanest bathrooms too.
A few quick takes
We had a blast catching up with friends over quality beers at the The Glendale Tap (which lives up to its name, with 52 taps—I enjoyed exploring the beers from Eagle Rock), decked out with vintage bar signs and other eclectic finds.
I will never, ever go to LA again without booking a massage at Sunset Foot Spa. This place worked us OUT for so cheap. Full body (including feet) in a cushy chair for $50 for an hour, whut?
And it’s not a visit to LA without a night at The Dresden for a show with Marty and Elayne. They perform every Tuesday through Saturday, I don’t know how. Everything about that place, from the roller chairs to the vintage pendant lights, it could only exist in LA. La la love you!
You can view my entire photo album of our long LA weekend getaway here.