Check out Jonathan Gold's 101 Best Restaurants on latimes.com
Thursday, May 23, 2013
LA Times' Jonathan Gold's 101 Best LA Restaurants
Such a treasure we have here in Los Angeles with the incredibly talented food critic, Jonathan Gold. Reporting for the Los Angeles Times, he has produced his latest 'list', along with a very cool interactive map. Check out Jonathan Gold's 101 Best Restaurants. Download, embed, bookmark this page! Do whatever you need to do to have this on hand. It is a must for any foodie. My favorite Los Angeles restaurant, Providence, receives the #1 position. If you happen to not have a subscription to the Los Angeles Times, you may not be able to catch the link. Never fear, scroll down below for the list.
Check out Jonathan Gold's 101 Best Restaurants on latimes.com
36Nobody has quite put a name on the new modernist school of cooking popping up at places like Noma in Copenhagen or Coi in San Francisco, a kind of cooking that incorporates intense locavorism, the techniques of so-called molecular gastronomy and a sense of culinary narrative that doesn't end when the plate is put down in front of you. But Ari Taymor's former pop-up has the improvisatory quality of those famous kitchens, and when you make it to the barely marked storefront, next door to a downtown taxi-dance parlor, you never quite know what you're going to find — seaweed-tofu beignets, perhaps, or spare arrangements of foraged greens, or scallops with nightshade berries or shriveled, butter-soaked carrots that somehow manage to taste better than meat. This is a modest but sure step toward the cuisine most often seen in restaurants with six-month waiting lists.
As pure an exponent of urban rustic cooking as there has ever been on the Westside, the wine bar Rustic Canyon more or less functioned as a restaurant arm of the Santa Monica farmers market, a restaurant where you knew that the Persian mulberries or fat Delta asparagus you'd been eying that morning would somehow make it onto your plate. Under new chef Jeremy Fox, who became nationally famous as the chef at the vegetarian restaurant Ubuntu in Napa, Rustic Canyon is still working the farm-to-table thing but has jolted the superb produce into something resembling a cuisine instead of some sugar snap peas on a plate — serving that asparagus with fried pheasant egg and ultra-dense bone-marrow gravy, pumping up a pozole with green garlic or garnishing a profoundly black gumbo with peppery nasturtium blossoms. Fox has been jumping from kitchen to kitchen lately. Let's hope this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Zoe Nathan makes the splendid desserts.
It is sometimes difficult to explain Sang Yoon to people from out of town, who tend to see the chef as a guy who runs a successful burger bar. "But there is bacon marmalade," you tell them, "and he won't allow ketchup. And he started the disclaimer 'Changes and modifications politely declined' thing," but they have already drifted off, and you know it is only seconds before you are asked about the next cool taco truck. But Yoon is important. The whole gastropub phenomenon stems directly from his Father's Office. And Lukshon, his pan-Asian restaurant, is perfected in a hundred little ways that escape the casual observer, including the precise acidity of the sticky Chinese pork ribs, the aromatics in the reinvented Singapore Sling and the deconstructed shrimp toast, which he turns inside out by dredging delicate cylinders of chopped rock shrimp in tiny croutons, then deep-frying them to a delicate crunch. Like Roy Choi, David Chang and Bryant Ng, he is part of a great new wave in American cooking, American-raised Asian guys classically trained in European techniques, veterans of the best American kitchens, who decided to re-project their vision of American cuisine through the lens of Asian street food.
Of the fine sushi bars in Los Angeles, Kiriko is perhaps the least forbidding, a place where you know you can get perfect shirako or sea snail in season but still treats mackerel with great respect, where you can find all the shiso pesto and sauteed monkfish liver you care to eat but still find a half-dozen species of silvery fish you've never before seen. The great specialty of the restaurant is actually cherrywood-smoked Copper River salmon with mango, a dish that certain local sushi masters would rather die than serve. (It's their loss: The dish is stunningly good.) And while great sushi is never cheap, Ken Namba's traditional yet creative sushi and sashimi surpasses most of what is sold at twice the price.
Vincenti was born from the late Mauro Vincenti's Rex, the restaurant that did more than any other to introduce Los Angeles to Italian alta cocina. Its first chef was Gino Angelini of the famous osteria. Its proprietor is Vincenti's widow; its chef, Nicola Mastronardi, is a master of the big, hardwood-burning ovens, of roast porchetta and cuttlefish salad, of the flavors of salt, clean ocean and smoke. Vincenti is the spiritual center of Italian fine dining in Los Angeles.
The walls are covered with red velvet, and the black velvet of the banquettes is punctuated with rhinestones. The chairs are overstuffed. The chandeliers are blinding. If you want to be accurate about it, Shanghai No. 1 Seafood is less a Shanghai-style restaurant than it is an actual Shanghai restaurant, one of a small upscale chain in the Chinese city, that just happens to have been plunked down in San Gabriel instead of a posh shopping center in Pudong. And the restaurant's menu, a thick, glossy document stuffed with glistening pictures of spiked sea cucumber, is the Chinese restaurant menu equivalent of a September Town & Country, except instead of estates, there are red-cooked squid and live fish and fried prawns, reproduced in excruciating detail. The cooking is not altered to suit the Western palate, and many of its most stunning effects may whiz straight over the heads of diners not actually raised in eastern China. So skip the shark-lip casserole and go straight for the crabs fried with chile and garlic; the crocks of Old Alley Pork, braised into pig candy; the smoked fish; the stone-pot fried rice; or the pan-fried pork buns called sheng jian bao. Cantonese-style dim sum, prepared by an entirely different crew, is served afternoons.
Before the downtown Arts District began to resemble an open-air crane showroom, before the influx of bars and fancy coffeehouses, Church and State was a loud artists' bistro, absinthe on tap, strings of Christmas lights hanging all year round, that happened to attract a pretty distinguished series of French-trained chefs. The kitchen is home at the moment to Tony Esnault, a Ducasse veteran who won four stars from the Los Angeles Times for his cooking at Patina, and the bistro cooking is stunning: crisp snapper filets on a meltingly soft bed of razor-thin confit bayaldi, braised pork belly with favas and polenta, and a gorgeous ballotine of rabbit shocked into life with sprigs of fresh tarragon. You can still find the tarte flambé, fried pig's ears, bouillabaisse and roasted marrowbone with radish from the regime of Walter Manzke, and the restaurant will never be without its snails in garlic butter or cheesy onion soup, but the classics are if anything even more carefully prepared. Church and State is still probably the best bistro downtown.
Celestino Drago is an old-fashioned man, devoted to his craft, devoted to the outdoors and devoted to his family, each member of which seems to be running a restaurant somewhere in Los Angeles. Three generations of Angelenos have grown up on his handmade pasta and his risottos. I have never seen him happier than when he was crouched over a long counter, dressing a flock of doves. Drago Centro, opened at the depths of the financial crisis, is among the most majestic restaurants downtown, a double-height dining room looking out onto the cityscape, a view that is about command. The cooking here, led by chef de cuisine Ian Gresik, includes both handcrafted pasta — the pappardelle with pheasant and the handmade spaghetti with Sicilian almond pesto are wonderful — and the meatier pleasures of steak, fish and duck.
Sotto is a different kind of Italian restaurant, a nominally southern Italian place dedicated to local produce and sustainable and artisanally produced meat, and a shrine to the awesome heat of its 15,000-pound oven. You can get the hot, fresh bread with headcheese or puréed lardo instead of olive oil; clams cooked with fresh shell beans and the awesomely spicy Calabrian sausage 'nduja; or a Sunday-only porchetta practically radioactive with fennel and garlic. Chefs Steve Samson and Zach Pollack may be pizzaioli in public, and the wood-oven pizza is pretty good, but they really seem to be abbatoir jocks instead. If you should happen across a special of lamb innards or one of the gigantic sweet-sour braised pork shanks, make sure to order one the second you sit down. Even the pastas tend to be southern things we haven't seen locally, like the twisted noodles called here casarecce (which means nothing more than "homemade") with a thick paste of simmered lamb thickened with egg yolk and sheep cheese.
If you are keeping score at home, you can probably divide the history of Koreatown barbecue into the era before Park's and the decade or so since Park's opened its doors. There has always been decent Korean barbecue in town, but the modernist Park's may have been the first place equally devoted to aesthetics and to food, where the fragrance of hardwood charcoal in the tabletop barbecues went into the meat and not into your hair, where patrons sprung for ultra-prime Wagyu beef and where the pork came from a special Japanese breed. The quality of the galbi, the pork belly and the spicy galbi soup is superb. Park's, distantly related to a Seoul restaurant known for its celebrity clientele, pretty much has the top end of K-Town barbecue to itself.
Guelaguetza been a part of L.A. life for so long that it is easy to forget how special it is: a serious Oaxacan restaurant serving impeccable pre-Columbian cuisine in the heart of Koreatown, a mezcal selection with distillates you rarely see this side of the border and a center of Oaxacan dance where a show comes along with dinner. Hungry for green, yellow or red mole, or chile-fried crickets? They've got those too. At Guelaguetza, you'll find tlayudas, like bean-smeared Oaxacan pizzas, the size of manhole covers; thick tortillas called memelas; and delicious, mole-drenched tamales. The black mole, based on ingredients the restaurant brings up from Oaxaca, is rich with chopped chocolate and burnt grain, toasted chile and wave upon wave of textured spice.
Suzanne Goin's wine bar has been an institution for so long that it seems almost odd to drop into its new grown-up location with its big patio, like running into a high school crush who has become a renowned oncologist. Ordering the same old bacon-wrapped dates feels a bit awkward. But then you settle in with a bowl of wood-oven clams with green garlic and a glass of Sancerre, and it seems like old times. Or Spanish fried chicken with cumin, pappardelle with nettles and asparagus, suckling pig confit with lemongrass, and then maybe a second glass, of Faugères, just because. Is it still hard to land a table? You bet.
If you want to know whether Salt's Cure is serving the lamb neck with mussels, which it should, always, you go over to its Twitter feed and click on the newest link, which takes you to its Facebook page and a picture of the current blackboard menu posted on the restaurant's wall. It is what art critics used to call low-tech futurism. And Salt's Cure is pretty low-tech, just a dining counter, a few tables and Zak Walters and Chris Phelps at the range: two guys, a bar back and an astonishing quantity of meat, charcuterie ranging from potted duck with blueberries to the intense house-cured bacon, and a menu of simple food, butchers' food, steaks, chops and braised animal parts; half chickens and the occasional fish. The most popular meal at Salt's Cure is probably the weekend brunch: smoked fish on toast, sweetly dense oatmeal pancakes and cinnamon rolls drenched in butter.
If it is 7:59 a.m. on Friday and you are an ambitious foodist in this town, you are probably at your computer, worrying whether it is set to precisely the right time. Because at 8 a.m. sharp, and not a second sooner, Trois Mec releases its tables for the week, and if you don't get through within a minute or so, you'll be sitting at the counter at an undesirable time or possibly shut out from dining at all. You don't make a dinner reservation, you buy tickets, as if you were going to see a hockey game. There is one set menu per night, although vegetarians can be accommodated. If something comes up or you don't like duck, you can give your tickets away, but you can't return them: You're stuck. There could not be a less convenient way to dine. But it may be worth the trouble to get into Trois Mec, a miniature, unmarked restaurant in a barely converted pizzeria. Ludovic Lefebvre is one of the greatest pure chefs ever to cook in Los Angeles, a protégé of Pierre Gagnaire and Alain Passard who came to California to take over the stoves at the late l'Orangerie and whose short run at Bastide showed Angelenos things they had never tasted before. He introduced the concept of the pop-up, and his 10 short runs in L.A. bakeries and diners were both oversubscribed (he famously crashed Open Table) and rapturously received. Trois Mec is the first place that has ever been his own, like a private club that happens to serve barbecued carrots with yogurt and braised lamb belly with deconstructed harissa, and a mashed potato dish he devised to exorcise the demons he experienced working in the potato-intensive kitchens of Joel Robuchon.
I don't think I'd let Red Medicine babysit my kids. If you were planning a surprise party, they'd blab to the honoree. As they have shown with their Internet vendettas toward both no-shows and my estimable colleague, the rules of restaurant decorum don't seem to bother them much. And the sound levels frequently top 90 decibels. As they say on the reality shows, they're not here to make friends. Yet of all the local chefs who aspire to the global circuit, the one where scraped meat and woodruff and a sense of culinary narrative that could be lifted from a Christopher Nolan film, Jordan Kahn is the one who gets it. And even though his detractors, and there are plenty of them, fail to see what New Nordic presentations and ingredients like buttermilk, uni and sequoia shoots have to do with the nominally Vietnamese-based cusine, Kahn keeps it weird and proud, and the results are often as delicious as they are startling.
Suzanne Tracht is one of the most versatile chefs in Los Angeles, adept at both the urban rustic style of cooking that is still packing them in at places like Bestia and Rustic Canyon, and at Asian-accented new American cuisine. So it is almost odd to find her at what she is now calling a modern American chophouse, a place whose specialties include pot roast, Kansas City steaks and an iceberg wedge salad frosted with blue cheese. But she's not slumming. Jar, which looks like a set from a Doris Day movie, is as timeless as a well-fitted A-line skirt. This is to say, your grandparents would have liked it, although they may not have understood why the chicken was scented with kaffir lime leaf or why they had just been served sautéed pea tendrils instead of actual peas.
Los Angeles has not been kind to formal French restaurants, to heavy tablecloths, to kitchens that work as if Michelin stars are at stake. If you're splashing three bills on dinner here, you're probably not going for sushi. So it is almost by force of will that Josiah Citrin's Mélisse, which may well be the most formal restaurant to open in Los Angeles since the 1980s, maintains its momentum. The luxury ingredients and luxury prices seem not to dissuade diners who are happy to face down $175 asparagus dinners, showers of truffles and caviar, and even the standard $125 prix fixe, which is a bargain only by Parisian standards. Citrin's customers look like the parents of the people who go to Animal.
David Myers' cooking at Sona was ethereal — dreamy. Hinoki and the Bird, the luxe Century City restaurant he runs with chef Kuniko Yagi in a Bond-villain skyscraper basement, is more muscular, a fusion of complex, ritualized Japanese kaiseki cuisine with modern California small-plates cooking: black cod served under smoldering sheets of the Japanese cedar hinoki, roast pumpkin on toast with miso and goat cheese, plain grilled rice balls, and lobster rolls made with buns dyed black with charcoal-enriched flour. In Singapore, locals would ride a half-hour on the subway to experience a grilled skate wing like the one served here, crusted with a fragrant paste of chiles and fermented seafood. Desserts here lean toward Japanese austerity, and the odd Japanese-influenced cocktails, designed by Sam Ross, are among the best in town.
How good is Bestia? It is a restaurant that makes beef-heart tartare seem not only possible but desirable; that makes a craveable specialty of pork boiled with cabbage; that grills Mediterranean sea bass, serves it with a heap of boiled rapini and otherwise leaves it alone. A roaring wood oven is at the center of the arts district restaurant, and a big curing room is filled with charcuterie, but what Ori Menashe's cooking represents is a new, anti-California cuisine, a style of Italian food whose flavors are neither amplified nor perfected but are simply presented as themselves. You may think the chunky cavatelli pasta tossed with chopped black truffles, sausage and cheese is rather bland. I think it may be one of the most purely Italian things I have ever tasted in Los Angeles, food from a region where truffles are as common as onions. The sentiments do not necessarily contradict one another. The pastry chef here is Genevieve Gergis, Menashe's wife, and her signature dessert is an intensely chocolatey budino finished with olive oil, sea salt and caramel.
Rotgut Mekong whisky, stinky natural Gamays from the Loire, fearsome yet delicious nam prik, pounded salads from the area around Chiang Mai: Night + Market is the most unlikely of L.A.'s great Thai restaurants, a specialist in northern Thai street food in the nightclub district of the Sunset Strip, orchestrated by young chef Kris Yenbamroong. (Visiting superstar chefs often visit when they are in town.) Pig's ear has become almost a cliché everywhere in town; here you will also find fried tail, braised hock and Isaan-style grilled "toro," fatty collar, as well as practically every other part of the pig, served out in portions carefully calibrated to the consumption of Thai beer. Care for an ice cream sandwich for dessert? It will be served Thai-style: a scoop of ice cream captured inside a thick slice of charcoal-grilled bread.
Although Hunan and Shanghai and Dongbei dining rooms have been flourishing in the San Gabriel Valley recently, fueled by a rush of immigration from China's north, ambitious Hong Kong-style seafood palaces, often thought to be the pinnacle of the Chinese restaurant experience, have all but disappeared. If you're a chef good enough to manage an enormous seafood kitchen at this point, you can probably make a better living in Shenzen. But Sea Harbour, related to restaurants in Vancouver, Canada, and Hong Kong, delivers in every way a seafood house can deliver, with tanks full of spider crabs, exotic reef fish and Santa Barbara spot prawns ready to be dispatched for the table, a kitchen prepared to braise sea cucumber and sun-dried abalone to unsurpassed lusciousness and a team specializing in barbecue. The morning dim sum is the best in Southern California, a riot of color, texture and exotic tastes ordered by checking them off a paper menu. If you want to spend, you can blow thousands of dollars on conpoy and bird's nest here, washed down with vintage Bordeaux, but if you stay away from the allure of the tanks, you can get away for very little. It is the best of Hong Kong that we've got.
A few years on, I think we can finally dismiss the rumor that The Tasting Kitchen was essentially Casey Lane's performance art project, a pop-up slated to disappear after 100 or 200 or 420 days. When it opened, it seemed odd that a restaurant like that would make plain bread and butter seem like the most desirable dish in the world, refuse to serve G&Ts unless somebody remembered to make the tonic water or serve only the kinds of Italian reds that might show up on a Masters of Wine exam. Even if you'd been eating pasta your entire life, you were probably confused by the appearance of corzetti with fennel pollen or gigli with squash blossoms in the dreamlike candlelit room. The basic impression is of Italian cooking translated into an odd American dialect, in which grilled anchovies are laid so beautifully on the plate that you rather suspect there's an art director. At least they've stopped embossing the menus with a number indicating the day of service. It reminded me a bit of a convict counting his days left until parole.
A Bäco is Josef Centeno's signature creation, a kind of flatbread sandwich halfway between a Catalan coca and a taco pumped up on 'roids, slicked with a goopy, vaguely Mediterranean sauce and stuffed with things like fried veal tongue, spicy fava bean fritters, or a combination of pork belly and crunchy, porous cubes of what Centeno calls beef carnitas. On the days Centeno put his Bäcos on as a special at Opus or Lazy Ox, news flashed across social media like a comet. So the fact that Bäco Mercat has an actual menu of Bäcos should be enough. But Centeno's kitchens were where the local convergence of haute cuisine and pub food began, and his menu here reads almost like a graduate exam in culinary post-structuralism, mixing flavors and structures from Spain, France and western China; Mexico and Peru. There are craft cocktails, with a special emphasis on homemade soda pop and the 18th century cooler called the shrub.
Do you want to see excessive concentration? I mean hand-wringing, micro-focused, Kobe-on-the-bench concentration? Then you should probably get a kitchen-view seat at Ink, where Michael Voltaggio agonizes over every gram of sea-bean chimichurri on the beef tartare, every plate of potato charcoal with crème fraîche and every scoop of wood-smoke ice cream that leaves the line. Voltaggio, whose snarling passion, good looks and devotion to his chef brother have made him a hero to people who have yet to taste a single mouthful of his cooking, could probably get by as a celebrity chef, but the devotion to craft at this anti-meat-and-potatoes restaurant with black-stained walls is staggering.
The Spice Table, one hears, is slated to close sometime this year, evicted to make way for a Metro station. And although the restaurant is certain to endure in some form — Bryant Ng's highly spiced grill cooking, inspired by Singapore's satay masters, is both vital and popular — it will still be a big loss for the city. The warren of dining rooms in the old brick building, scented with turmeric and wood smoke, feel a bit like a grand steampunk machine dedicated to turning out roasted bone marrow with laksa leaf, kon loh mee noodles with barbecued pork, skewers of grilled lamb belly and crunchy fried chicken wings tinted with south Indian curry. Ng cooked at Campanile and Daniel, and was the opening chef de cuisine at Pizzeria Mozza — he knows his way around a pile of logs. And if somebody should mention grilled tripe — it often runs as a special — don't hesitate. It draws a lot of smoke and crunch from the flames.
If food writers covered chefs the way that sportswriters cover the Lakers, John Sedlar would be in the paper as often as Pau Gasol — planting a roof garden, collaborating with Baja chefs, taking a stab at Chinas Comidas, starting a tamale museum, closing one restaurant, bottling high-end tequila and diving back into Rivera, his home base, with renewed vigor. Sedlar was a prime mover behind modern Southwest cuisine, Latin fusion, the pre-Columbian revival and the ubiquity of tequila in bottle-service bars. Rivera sometimes operates with five menus at a time, each exploring a different aspect of Mexican or Spanish cuisine. You don't want to turn your back on him for too long. He treats his tortillas, with flowers pressed into them as if into a scrapbook, as seriously as he does his sweetbreads with huacatay or his snails with Jabugo ham. And past the kitchen, past the bar, past a casual-dining area where you can stop for a bite of corn flan with squash blossoms and one of Julian Cox's cocktails after a game at nearby Staples Center, lies Sedlar's inner sanctum, a hushed, intimate dining room lined with glowing tequila bottles.
Even by local standards, the home of Shunji, a Depression-era building in the shape of a chili bowl, is unusual for a sushi bar. But what is served by Shunji Nakao, one of the original Matsuhisa chefs and founder of Asanebo, is pretty unusual for a sushi bar too —perhaps a fat, sliced sea scallop in a miso emulsion; a tangle of slivered sardines with a few drops of a soy-ginger reduction; a bowl of creamy sesame tofu with a crumpled sheet of house-made yuba, tofu skin; or an arrangement of vegetables in a bit of lightly jellied dashi. Nakao's sushi is excellent, but you can get through an omakase meal of exquisitely sourced Japanese fish here without seeing sushi at all. You expect expensive wild sea bream to be treated reverently at a sushi bar. You do not expect the same care to be taken with a carrot.
Into pain? Jitlada, in a way, marks the triumph of the Los Angeles way of dining: a popular Thai restaurant frequented mostly by non-Thais who come not in spite of the difficult, insanely spicy regional dishes but because of them, endorphin bombs and all. I'm sure that the chicken satay is ordered more often than the mudfish curry, the mint leaf beef more than the beef sautéed with explosively fragrant cassia buds, but probably not by much, and you will sometimes see famous actors and musicians convening over the crunchy fried fish with homegrown turmeric, mango salad lightened with coconut water and soft-shell crab with the legendarily stinky sataw bean, which tastes like lima beans but smells like a bad day at the petting zoo. Regulars, even the vegans, know to skip past the regular menu to the typed pages at the back, which lists the southern Thai specialties of Sungkamee (call him Tui) and his sister Jazz Singsanong, including the curried acacia blossoms served over a Thai omelet.
Where would you take a Chinese billionaire just passing through town? I submit the answer is Cut. The restaurant, designed by superstar architect Richard Meier, is as precisely aligned as a linear accelerator, and the Tom Cruise-looking guy three tables over is probably Tom Cruise. Dana Farner's wine list hides some great reds from Spain and Argentina but is deep in Bordeaux and cult California Cabs, and the staff won't blink when your friend pulls out the bottle of Opus One (it is always Opus One) he picked up yesterday in the Napa Valley. You'll have Wagyu sashimi, bone marrow flan and thinly sliced veal tongue in salsa verde. Then the steak sommelier comes around to the table with the real Kyushu beef wrapped in black napkins, and while the $160 rib-eye is rich enough to satiate four people easily, he'll order one for himself (you'll settle for the 35-day-aged Nebraska beef) plus a spaniel-size truffled lobster just to taste. He will feel like the most important man in the world.
Animal roared into existence as what seemed like a practical joke: a pig-fixated restaurant on a kosher-intensive stretch of Fairfax Avenue; a center of dude-friendly, maximally caloric munchies in an area known for skate shops and comic book stores. Whatever Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo served had one ingredient too many, and that ingredient was usually bacon. If you have paid for fried pig's ear, loco moco or fried pigtails with an American Express card in the last few years, you have experienced the influence of Animal. As it turned out, Animal's spicy tendon chips and kung pao sweetbreads were what the public wanted to be eating, especially other chefs. Shook and Dotolo have a pretty good sense of what tastes good, be it melted cheese with chorizo or calves' brains with the French curry vadouvan, even if it doesn't exactly come from Escoffier. It may go without saying, but Animal is not quite the place to bring your vegan friends.
There may be more influential chefs than Suzanne Goin, but her smart, light pan-Mediterranean cooking with occasional hints of North Africa has become the lingua franca of a certain kind of California cafe, and you see copies of her book, "Sunday Suppers at Lucques," in a surprising range of homes. Her resinous herbs and precise splashes of acidity make vegetables dance and bring out the deep, fleshy resonances in braised pork cheeks and her notorious short ribs. Everybody should try to make it to one of her famous prix fixe family suppers at least once.
I don't care if you were born here: You're not an Angeleno if you haven't headed to a deserted parking lot late at night, pulled a cold drink out of a paper bag on the floor of your ride and waited for the appearance of the Kogi truck, from which you will soon purchase Korean short-rib tacos, kimchi quesadillas and other edible symbols of the city's famous inclusiveness — enormous, great-tasting plates of food drawn straight from the city's recombinant DNA. Kogi auteur Roy Choi, once top of his class at the Culinary Institute of America, is probably the only dude to win one of Food & Wine's Best New Chef awards for his cooking on a truck. Followers keep track of Kogi's whereabouts on a frequently updated Twitter feed, twitter.com/kogibbq, and the sudden materialization of hundreds of people is an impromptu nightclub, a taco-driven hookup scene with much better food.
There used to be a guest book at Pizzeria Mozza in which customers were invited to leave comments about their meals. Most of the comments, as you might expect, were pretty positive, but there were more than a few, usually written in Italian, complaining that the pizza wasn't Italian at all. The fact that it was, with Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, the best pizza in the United States, didn't seem to matter. It didn't match up with any of the pizza that the visitors knew as "authentic." And in a way, that's the magic of what some people call the Mozzaplex, the complex of three restaurants and a takeout counter overseen by Nancy Silverton with Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich. The cooking, whether the puffy pies at Pizzeria Mozza, the perfected northern Italian dishes at Osteria Mozza, the charcuterie and grilled meats at Chi'Spacca or the focaccia at Mozza2Go, comes from a Italy of the mind, as if the corner of Highland and Melrose were its own denominazione di origine controllata. (Full disclosure: Silverton is a family friend. Feel free to ignore any of this.)
The first responsibility of any great restaurant is to keep you in the bubble, the soft-serve cocoon of illusion where you forget the world exists for anything but your pleasure. And the newly redesigned Spago, from the moment you toss your keys to the valet to the moment you stagger back out again, gives good bubble. The thick prime rib steak sings with the flavors of blood, age and char; the tagliatelle with white truffles perfumes half the observable universe when its glass dome is whisked away. Sommeliers beam at the brilliance of your wine selection as if it weren't the sixth bottle of that Austrian Riesling they'd sold that evening. Spago, the most famous restaurant in the observable universe, might have coasted forever on its 1980s-era fame, but Wolfgang Puck and his new chef, Tetsu Yahagi, reinvented it for the second time, as a proto-modernist restaurant on the international model: sea urchin served in its shell with a bit of rice porridge and a splash of foamy yuzu kosho, sautéed black sea bass with crisply fried scales, "marrow bones" stuffed with veal tartare, and cold soba noodles with lobster. But you are still at Spago. All is right with the world.
You will pay more than a thousand dollars for dinner for two, sometimes way more if you have expensive tastes in sake, and your experience will be directed with a severity of which other sushi chefs can only dream. The sashimi is presented on a kind of carved-ice stage and glows as if it were in a Terrence Malick movie. You will eat beef and chawan mushi and other things you may not associate with sushi because this is less a sushi bar than a kind of kaiseki restaurant, exquisitely seasonal, where you will experience translucent petals of fugu, odd crabs and delicately scented Japanese leaves when they enter their short seasons. The sushi comes only at the end, in a concentrated spurt of shellfish and shiny things that leaves you gasping for breath. Dine at Urasawa, and you will know what the weather is like in Osaka. It has been years since Masa Takayama abandoned this high-toned Beverly Hills sushi bar for the high life in New York, years since his protégé Hiro Urasawa made the tiny, luxurious place his own, but you will still find no better evocation of Japan in America. There is, one senses, an enormous effort to maintain uninterrupted flow of bliss.
Why Providence? We are down with pop-ups, and with food trucks and with chefs who shock the world with their inside-out hard-boiled eggs. We like great bar snacks. We realize the difficulties inherent in operating a Los Angeles restaurant as if it were in Seoul or Wuxi, and we marvel at how persuasive the results can sometimes be. Our lives have been enhanced by chefs who go it alone. But there is also something to be said for the old-fashioned model, the great regimented kitchens that function as a single, marvelous machine; a symphony orchestra as opposed to a recital for trumpet, horn and bassoon. And while Michael Cimarusti is a supremely creative chef, his restaurant has many of the classic virtues: crisp, white tablecloths; a lovely but understated dining room; and a staff intimately acquainted with his cuisine. Cimarusti operates within the context of modernist seafood, which means his raw materials come from all over the world, but his sense of seasonality, his easy multicultural flavor palette and his unfussy use of California produce plants his cooking solidly in L.A. He is at home with modern techniques, with sous-vide, hydrocolloids and mini-smokers, but unobtrusively, unless you start to think about the wisps of smoked cherry with the eel. He doesn't make a big deal out of it, but he serves only sustainable seafood. You will never see shark or bluefin here, as much as his customers might desire them. And his cooking is frankly delicious, especially as expressed in the relaxed arc-form of a tasting menu.