East Borough (Culver City)

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East Borough
9810 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 596-8266
culvercity.east-borough.com

East Borough, a Vietnamese restaurant that’s the partnership of a Costa Mesa restaurant of the same name and the team behind Pitfire Pizza/Superba Snack Bar, opened in Downtown Culver City a little over a month ago to much fanfare. Patrons raved about their lunch offerings of elevated versions of banh mi, bun, com, and other casual traditional Vietnamese dishes, as well as about their dinner offerings of a modern take on the cuisine with creative small plates and progressive large format dishes.

My coworkers and I went for lunch during their first week of opening, and were quite impressed. I ordered the pho baguette, which is basically a bowl of pho in banh mi form.  They don’t serve pho, but this proved to capture all the flavors and ingredients of what you’d find in the soup noodle: beef brisket w/ basil, bean sprouts, and chili (all the contents of a regular bowl of pho), topped w/ a clever sriracha hoison aioli, and served with an even more clever bowl of concentrated pho broth to be used as a dip for the sandwich – think banh mi French dip. A fairly straightforward translation, yes, but it does accurately capture the essence of pho. My coworkers seemed to enjoy their pork belly & egg rice bowl and tofu vermicelli noodles, respectively.

There is one issue most people will have with the restaurant (besides the difficulty of finding parking in Downtown Culver City): the prices. The appetizers are $6-8 (2 pieces of spring roll are $6) and entrees are $12-15 (including the banh mi – the pho baguette was $13). So yeah, not cheap at all. They do use high-quality ingredients, and portions are on the larger side, but that won’t make the prices easier to swallow for most. Some people, including coworker Han, refuse to pay this much for a sandwich that costs $2 in SGV/Little Saigon. It also doesn’t help that their Costa Mesa location, however more fast-casual, has basically the same menu at $3 less per dish. Dinner, which I have yet to try, is also on the higher side ($$$ price range), but at least the direction of the menu reflects that.

For now, East Borough is a great lunch option that isn’t necessarily priced as such. I definitely will be back (I’m especially looking forward to dinner), but during work hours it might have to be on someone else’s dime. Still, it’s by far the best of the Vietnamese offerings on the west side of town (over Nong La and Phorage), and certainly the most progressive-thinking. And they certainly know that they’re hot shit – rightfully so.

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Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
Vietnamese Culver City $$$ N/A

East Borough on Urbanspoon

#HeiKingTacoCrawl (2/8/14)

During this past weekend, food enthusiast friend Andy came down to LA  from NorCal for another weekend of gastronomic expeditions. For our Saturday lunch meetup, his one request was simple: tacos. We all know that tacos suck up north (I didn’t stutter, NorCal people – come at me bros), so this was a request that was forthcoming on one of Andy’s visits to LA. At first, I was a little perplexed – which one place should we go to in order to showcase the best of what our city has to offer, in a city full of amazing taco options. But then it hit me: we don’t have to go to just ONE place – WE CAN CONQUER THEM ALL!!!

My original itinerary began with some of my favorites, and a couple of consensus favorites I have yet to try. After some deliberation, I ended up with six taco joints fairly close in proximity to one another to hit up (in alphabetical order): Guerrilla Tacos, Guisados,  Los Cinco Puntos, Mariscos Jalisco, Mexicali Taco & Co, and Ricky’s Fish Tacos (while I came up with this list independently, I definitely glanced at Midtown Lunch’s post afterwards on how to attack this taco crawl). Okay, so that wasn’t going to work obviously (I just had a 14-course dinner the night before, one where I had so much food I had to run stairs between dessert courses – details to follow, and Andy had gone through a similar experience elsewhere), but we had such high hopes. Oh young Chris…

With my visions of grandeur all but assuredly dashed, we decided to focus on the three Boyle Heights places (Guisados, Los Cinco Puntos, Mariscos Jalisco) and Ricky’s Fish Tacos. We began the #HeiKingTacoCrawl at what has quickly become one of Boyle Heights’ institutions: Mariscos Jalisco.

Mariscos Jalisco
3040 E Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90023
(323) 528-6701
twitter.com/MariscosJalisco

While Mariscos Jalisco focuses on ceviches y cocteles from San Juan de Los Lagos in Jalisco, Mexico, the one thing they’re known for isn’t necessarily something true of the region, but rather something that developed into the food truck’s own identity: the fried shrimp taco known as the taco dorado de camaron. Not too big in size at $1.75 per taco, we each ordered one of these – corn tortillas stuffed with a spiced shrimp filling of sorts, then the taco is folded and deep-fried whole, and topped with a slice of avocado and unique salsa roja. Just genius. There are now multiple imitators of this taco, including a competing truck parked on the very same block (and with maybe 4x the number of patrons), but nothing compares to this one. To this day, the shrimp taco is still the only thing I’ve tried at Mariscos Jalisco, and there is much to be discovered here. But we were on a mission, and the next stop awaited…

Los Cinco Puntos
3300 E Cesar E Chavez Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90063
(323) 261-4084

The next stop might be the most surprising to the casual taco fan. It’s just a plain-old Mexican mom-and-pop deli/market of sorts, frequently by the local families of Boyle Heights. But insiders know that they have some damn good carnitas, and an impressive variety of different beef and pork offal parts. Not a word of ingles was spoken inside of the place until it was our turn at the counter. At first, the friendly tia that served us was caught off guard by the sight of an Asian guy and white guy ordering individual tacos (the vast majority of their orders are of their meats and tortilla sold in bulk), but once I busted out my ordering-level espanol (my Spanish comprehension is actually better than my Mandarin), she smiled and proceeded to stuff our tacos with carnitas, buche (pig stomach), guacamole, salsa, and their amazing nopales. We stood outside of the market, hovered over a counter barely a foot deep and a trash can underneath, and savored all the porky goodness in between the fluffy, almost pita-like tortillas hot off the press.

Guisados
2100 E Cesar Chavez Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90033
(323) 264-7201
guisados.co

After feeling the local love at Cinco Puntos, we had a change of scenery at the original/flagship location of what looks like a future local mini-chain in Guisados (just opened a location in Echo Park, and opening another one in Downtown soon). Despite the expansion, the OG location still holds up very well, albeit one with more hipsters and Asians than I recall. We had been doing one taco each at the previous two stops, but that sampler – it was calling us. Seriously, what’s a better way to try the multitude of options? And you know what? They’re improved the mini-tortillas used for the sampler-sized tacos. Before, they were small, thick discs that held the meats and veggies like a sope, but they were quite difficult to eat. But now, while the amount of masa appeared to be the same, they’ve managed to flatten out the tortillas more, enabling a better grip and bite.

Ricky’s Fish Tacos
1400 N Virgil Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 906-7290
twitter.com/RickysFishTacos

Our last stop was more out of the way, but in my opinion, Ricky’s has arguably the best taco of any variety in LA, so it behooved us to visit (luckily, we had just enough stomach room for one more stop). As more of you know, Ricky’s is back at its old spot on Virgil Ave, but now in food truck form. This was my first time trying them in their vehicular form, and I think they’re doing better than ever. Fish was as good as ever, and I think the shrimp was better than I remembered. Not sure if Ricky was inside the truck himself, but I can safely say that the operation and experience overall has also improved.

Four stops, four different varieties of tacos, four amazing experiences. Mariscos Jalisco, Guisados, and Ricky’s Fish Tacos all continued their excellences, and Los Cinco Puntos – what a pleasant surprise. I had high expectations for them, but they’ve met those expectations…and then some. Definitely have to get a taco of each variety next time – or I can just buy a pound of everything + packs of tortillas. Overall, I thought it was a very successful taco crawl (I hope Andy feels the same way), and I have even greater aspirations to expand and improve the crawl if another opportunity arises.

Oh, and we technically ended the crawl with dessert – at Scoops Westside, sharing ice cream and dining accounts from the weekend with Mattatouille. What a day.

Corazon y Miel

Corazon y Miel
6626 Atlantic Ave
Bell, CA 90201
(323) 560-1776
corazonymiel.com

A destination-worthy restaurant in Bell? Or more likely to be asked: where is Bell again?

For those of you who don’t venture outside of the central/west parts of LA (or SGV for the FOBs), Bell is a few minutes directly south of Downtown.  With regard to restaurants, the most (and for some, only) notable one would be La Casita Mexicana. But last year, Corazon y Miel (“heart & honey” in Spanish) opened in the area, to much critical acclaim. The restaurant labels itself as a Latin American gastropub of sorts, and Chef Eduardo Ruiz’s time at Animal gets brought up over and over again, but at the corazón of things Corazon y Miel is straight-up soulful Latino food that has been taken to the next level with refinement.

While Corazon y Miel has indeed received its share of acclaim and coverage from a critical/press perspective, I feel that the word still hasn’t truly reached the general public. Very few blogs have covered the restaurant, and mentioning its name to a casual Yelper usually elicits a “huh?” response (not sexy enough I suppose). In fact, the vast majority of patrons at the time of our dinner on a Friday night was local (later confirmed by the restaurant, who was surprised that we were from West LA and Fullerton, respectively – we actually chose the restaurant because it was kind of a midway point between us). But that just means that the rest of town is missing out…

First of all, the dishes are reasonably priced. Appetizers are all under $10, and entrees don’t go past low-$20s. Sure, some may scoff at paying $20-30/person for Latin American cuisine, but c’mon – if Corazon y Miel was located in Downtown or the westside, I can assure you that you’d be paying much more for the same food. Our party of three ate and drank plenty for a little over $30/person. And if that’s not enough food, bring a party of five and “fire the menu” – your party gets one of each dish on the menu for $175 (that’s $35/person, and you save 20+% off menu prices).

But how’s the actual food?

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Jalapeno y Tocino ($6) – bacon, jalapeno, chorizo, street corn salad

This appetizer essentially captures the essence of East LA street food. Here, a bacon-wrapped hot dog is replaced with a bacon-wrapped jalapeno that has been stuffed w/ chorizo. And an elote is a bed of mayo-y corn salad. A nice start.

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Ensalada de Cueritos ($8) – pig skin 2 ways, chili con limon, candied citrus zest, Ommegang Wit Taster

This was my favorite of the night. I haven’t had cueritos (pickled pigskin) many times, but I can say that I’ll be looking it more on menus from now on.  It had a very soft and gelatinous texture, reminiscent of a Korean acorn jelly, but retained a very porcine flavor. Marinated and served like a ceviche, the acidity countered the pigskin wonderfully. And the other way, the chicharron, was textbook execution. Too bad they ran out of their regular ceviche dish, because they certainly do this well.  Came w/ a beer taster BTW.

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Corazon Burger ($10) – beef, bacon, grilled panela, sweet jalapeno onion relish, fries, add fried egg ($1)

This was a very novel attempt at Latin-izing the gastropub burger, but there was just a little too much going on. The patty was meaty and well-seasoned, but combining that with the bacon, the panela cheese, and the aggressive sweet jalapeno onion relish, and everything is kind of fighting against one another for attention. Plus, wasn’t a fan of the cemita-esque bun, but again, I totally get the concept.

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Pan con Chompipe ($18) – 2-pound Salvadoran turkey leg sandwich

This thing was HUGE – imagine one of those mutant legs you eat at Disneyland in sandwich form. Definitely a knife-and-fork sandwich. Came with a turkey gravy on the side, but it was barely used, as the turkey leg was plenty flavorful and juicy (latter surprising for turkey). Plus, fried capers? Genius.

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Borrego ($20) – lamb chops en barbacoa, goat cheese gnocchi, pickled chayote

While the lamb chops were finished on the grill, it didn’t really embody a true barbacoa-style meat. A rather straight-forward dish, but the chops were cooked to a nice medium-rare, and the goat cheese gnocchi were tasty as well.

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Boca Negra ($6) – chocolate cake, chipotle custard, ancho whip

Not necessarily spicy, but definitely smoky. This was very good.

I really liked my dinner at Corazon y Miel. Great interpretation of Latin American cuisine at reasonable prices, executed with the precision and refinement you’d expect from a more modern/progressive restaurant. Yes, it’s in Bell (where again?), but that’s arguably closer for most people than say, the SGV, and there’s a lot of parking. Also, the bar program is pretty damn impressive (shoutout to Darwin). You can make reservations for their fairly long bar, where it’s happy hour 5-7pm & 9-closing (full menu served as well), and you get to interact and sample stuff, etc. If you live on the westside, and your friend lives in the OC/SGV, Corazon y Miel is a great midway point to meet up. If not…still go.

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
Latin American Bell $$ A-

Corazon y Miel on Urbanspoon

Orleans & York Deli

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Orleans & York Deli
4454 W Slauson Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90043
(323) 291-8800
orleansandyorkdeli.com

Once you get a hang of how things work, and used to the people who actively participate in the crowd-sourcing, Chowhound is an excellent source of unearthing new eats in town. I had some initial difficulties in finding new lunch spots near work, but after doing some research, I came across a place that was recommended in the forums and very much nearby: Orleans & York Deli. The name and the menu did worry me a little, since it seems like they’re trying to do both cajun/creole cuisine AND a variety of sandwiches they consider “New York” (hence the name of the restaurant). It also doesn’t help when there’s no restaurant in LA that truly does food from the Big Easy justice, so the place would be charting new waters.

While Orleans & York isn’t a full-scale cajun/creole restaurant, the food they serve that is within the realm of the cuisine is excellent – this po’ boy here can’t get enough of them po’ boys! The fried catfish one is very good, but it’s all about the fried shrimp po’ boy. Plump, well-seasoned and fried pieces of shrimp (they could be as large as 21/25, which is unprecedented for such a casual restaurant), fresh house-baked baguettes, and DAT HOT SAUCE – so hot. The sandwiches aren’t necessarily cheap – the po’ boys are $9-11 each, but they’re essentially footlongs, so you’re getting plenty for what you’re paying for. I haven’t tried the “New York” side of the menu, but my coworkers seem to be fairly satisfied with some of the offerings. But it’s like what my man Bubba said in Forrest Gump: “shrimp is the fruit of the sea” – and it’s plenty fruitful here.

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
Cajun/Creole View Park/Windsor Hills $ B+

Orleans and York Deli on Urbanspoon

dineLA Winter 2014 (1/20-1/31) Picks

I know I’m a little late in posting this,  but I was bedridden all of the past weekend, and some restaurants still haven’t posted their dineLA menus online (as of Monday morning). For this season’s dineLA picks, there will be 18 new selections, some of which are classic standbys that I’ve previously failed to acknowledge, as well as some restaurant week rookies that appear to be taking the court by storm. I’ve also tried to include a sentence or two about my reasoning behind each selection, and some random notes scattered throughout the post (about past selections, observations, etc.).

First of all, however, a minor rant. I have no idea if the number of participants is lower than last summer’s, but in terms of the number of options that appealed to me seem much lower, particularly at the lower price points at lunch and dinner ($15 & $25, respectively). Of course, that’s just personal opinion. I’m sure that there are plenty of other options not mentioned here or that I dismissed that would please plenty of others.

Second, there is a group of 6 participants entering at a new dinner price point of $85. These are essentially your fine-dining restaurants that are offering a 4-to-5-course prix-fixe at a discounted price. I thought that this was a great idea, as it gives us a commoners an easier way of approaching these places without necessarily lessening the experience. Also, specifically with Patina/Spago, it eliminates the need for $$$$ restaurants that want to participate to dumb and cut down the menu, all while avoiding the massive crowds that would’ve flocked to the $45 price point.

(all photo credits below belong to Discover LA unless otherwise noted)

LUNCH:

$15

The Larder at Burton Way
(American, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Fri 11am-5pm)
Optimal Lineup:
- market lettuces, cucumbers, radishes, herbs
- the argentine
- seasonal fruit buckle
Estimated Savings: $9
Notes: pretty standard American fare a la sandwiches and salads that is plentiful in these parts of town, but this is a Goin/Styne restaurant (the original Larder is attached to Tavern in Brentwood, which I previously recommended as a $25 lunch option). At $15, you’re basically getting the salad and the fruit for free – it’s arguably the best deal at this price point, but I’m sure that’s just Chef Goin’s way of getting people to eat healthier (ha).

Messhall
(American, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Fri 11:30am-3pm)
Optimal Lineup:
- corn fritters
- fried chicken sando
Estimated Savings: $7
Notes: I haven’t heard much about Messhall since it first opened, to the flurry of reviews and blog posts, but their dineLA menu does seem to be a great value (you’re saving almost 50%). And fried chicken? People who know me know that those two words are like aphrodisiac.

Next Door by Josie
(American, dineLA menu, website, Tue-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm)
Optimal Lineup:
- brandied chicken liver mousse crostini
- sloppy roast pork sandwich, fried rapini, aged provolone
Estimated Savings: $4
Notes: the more casual of the two restaurants by Chef Josie LeBalch, right next door each other (get it?). The menu is actually more gastropub-ish than I expected – I was expecting more along of the lines of The Larder (then again, I’ve never been to Josie, so how would I know?). Assuming the crostini is along the lines of what Freddy Smalls served last dineLA, a $4 savings sounds right. Plus, that sandwich sounds pretty good right about now.

Previous picks: Fundamental LA, TLT Food. It doesn’t look like you’re saving as much at Fundamental this time around (probably only $2 max), but I continue to push it as a great lunch option in Westwood (I’ve certainly missed it since our office moved down to Culver City). TLT Food’s deal is just as good as the last one – just don’t go ordering two veggie tacos, and you’ll win out. As of Monday morning, I still haven’t seen Short Order’s menu online, so I can’t speak of its value.

$20

FIG
(American, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Sat 11am-2pm)
Optimal Lineup:
- warm quinoa salad
- brick-grilled chicken
- chocolate panna cotta
Estimated Savings: $23
Notes: that is not a typo – you’re saving $23. Sans the panna cotta, all of the dishes on the dineLA menu are on their regular one. Assuming portions are similar, you’re saving a lot of money at this critically-acclaimed farm-to-table restaurant. Dinner appears to be just as good of a value, too. I’m glad I waited until last-minute for the menus, because FIG’s became available online during the weekend. Go. Now.

Little Dom’s
(Italian, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Sun 8am-3pm)
Optimal Lineup:
- rice ball of the day
- poached eggs w/ shrimp, mirliton hash & creole hollandaise
Estimated Savings: $4
Notes: The casual version of Dominick’s, an Italian institution, Little Dom’s doesn’t lack in the classy vibe, but it just does it more comfortably and with a creole twist. I’ve been hearing great things about the restaurant for years, and this might just be way to get me in. Classic Italian + creole touch + breakfast for lunch = quite interesting. Re: the rice ball though: is it just one arancini?

The Pikey (photo credit: Serious Eats)
(British, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Fri 11:45am-2pm)
Optimal Lineup:
- pig’s head terrine w/ watercress, pickled onions & grain mustard
- grilled trout w/ roast fennel & marinated olives
Estimated Savings: $5+?
Notes: it’s hard to determine actual savings here, because these dishes aren’t on the menu – I basically guessed based on average prices. Normally that’s not a good sign, but in this instance, they actually look as good as the ones on the regular menu, and perhaps even more British gastropub-ish, as the restaurant is such.  Plus, I kind of have this place on my mind, because my ex-coworker who’s a huge food enthusiast just raved to me about it recently.

Previous picks: Lazy Ox Canteen, Mo-Chica. These two have almost identical savings compared to last summer. Lazy Ox’s menu, in particular, is pretty much the same as last time (and pretty much the same in general for a long time), but it is a very good deal. No mention of Sotto, because they’ve discontinued lunch.

$25

AOC
(American, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Fri 11:30am-3pm)
Optimal Lineup:
- spanish fried chicken, romesco aioli & chili-cumin butter
- farmer’s lunch
Estimated Savings: $3
Notes: this is the first time I’ve seen AOC doing dineLA, and it’s only for lunch. You actually might save more if you choose the charcuterie + cheese, but you know…fried chicken calls. Save 10% and eat well with sexy people around you. And with this selection, I think I’ve inadvertently featured every Goin/Styne restaurant in my two dineLA features…

Bouchon
(French, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm)
Optimal Lineup:
- “porchetta” (+ $5)
- coq au vin
- riz au laut
Estimated Savings: $20+
Notes: bistro fare at fine-dining prices – what did you expect from a Keller restaurant? He’s not going to dumb it down, not even with the Bouchon bistros. It’s a bit difficult to determine actual savings, but I think it’s safe to say that you’re saving $20 during dineLA, which is really good for a $25 lunch. Take those savings and splurge at the bakery.

Drago Centro
(Italian, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm)
Optimal Lineup:
- veal carpaccio, crispy parmesan reggiano, toasted capers
- polenta stuffed quail, baby kale salad, barlett pears
- chocolate & olive oil terrine, salted caramel gelato, almonds
Estimated Savings: $10+?
Notes: Drago seems like an excellent place for Downtown workers to grab a power lunch, and dineLA makes it an even better choice. I’m going to guess ~$10 in savings based on average prices on lunch menu, so it’s a very good value.

Previous picks: Rivera remains a good value at this price, at ~$3-8 in savings (and regular menu dishes for the most part). Tavern’s value isn’t as sexy this time around – I estimated $2 max. So maybe no go for this round. As of Monday morning, I still haven’t seen Paiche’s menu online, so I can’t speak of its value. Note: JiRaffe and Vincenti’s dineLA menu are VERY good deals ($20+ in savings each), but they only offer lunch on Fridays.

DINNER:

$25

Blue Cow Kitchen & Bar
(American, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Sat 5:30-10pm)
Optimal Lineup:
- pink eggs & ham
- duck wings
- steak & smoked spinach
- strawberry butter tart
Estimated Savings: ~$10
Notes: Blue Cow is like a more sophisticated, grown-up version of Mendocino Farms (same ownership I believe), and the menu reflects that. I’ve never been, but I’ve heard good things about the place in the past when it first opened. And it hasn’t really been in the spotlight since, so call this my dark horse pick – or better yet, my Hei horse pick.

The Corner Door
(American, dineLA menu, website, Sun-Thu 5pm-12am, Fri-Sat 5pm-2am)
Optimal Lineup:
- pappardelle
- smoked mussels
- frozen coconut meringue
Estimated Savings: $15
Notes: I actually went to The Corner Door for dineLA last summer, since it’s conveniently located from my friends’ apartment (and right next to A-Frame and Waterloo & City), and was pleasantly surprised at what I had (particularly the drinks). Instead of a prix-fixe format with 2-3 choices for each course, this time it’s choose-3 of anything on the dineLA menu, choices that basically encompass the restaurant’s entire menu. As long as you don’t just choose the cheapest dish + desserts, double-digit savings await. Buy a drink with that.

Hostaria del Piccolo
(Italian, dineLA menu, website, Sun-Thu 5-10pm, Fri-Sat 5-11pm)
Optimal Lineup:
- costicine
- pollo
- tiraminsane
Estimated Savings: $16
Notes: I’ve been told that the fancier Piccolo has been a great deal during dineLA for years (truffle supplements at no extra cost), but I believe this is the first year little brother(s) is featured. And it’s a great deal, too, at both the Santa Monica and Venice locations. Lunch is just as good re: savings. You’ll be saving money with any combination during both meals, I guarantee it.

Previous picks: Post & Beam is still decent at this price point, saving ~$3-6 this time around. As of Monday morning, I still haven’t seen Lukshon’s menu online, so I can’t speak of its value. Do note that Lukshon has a very good history during dineLA, so I have faith that it’ll deliver once again. And Freddy Smalls is now offering dinner at the $35 price point, which is still an amazing deal (~$10).

$35

Black Hogg
(American, dineLA menu, website, Tue-Sat 6-10:30pm)
Optimal Lineup:
- pork belly taco
- duck bun
- jerk chicken & coconut rice
- butterscotch custard
Estimated Savings: ~$10
Notes: the range of savings for this Silver Lake restaurant is $4-12, so any combination works really.  I still haven’t been here, but the menu seems to be quite appealing (if not all over the place), especially to those who love meat dishes and an Asian flare to things (we won’t use the “f” word here).

The Gorbals
(American, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Wed 6pm-12am, Thu-Sat 6pm-2am)
Optimal Lineup:
- beets, burrito, sea beans, crispy barley, honey malt vinegar
- coulotte of beef, sweet potato galette, radish, turnip
- sticky toffee pudding
Estimated Savings: $6
Notes: it feels as if The Gorbals has been around forever, and even longer when you realize that Chef Hall won Top Chef in Season 2 (it’s now 11). From what I remember from dinner years ago, it was good, and the restaurant has now been flying under-the-radar for the last few years. But the menu still looks good (think Animal’s nose-to-tail approach with a touch of Jewish/British-Irish), and that sticky toffee pudding is up there with Waterloo & City’s.

Gusto
(Italian, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Thu 6-11pm, Fri-Sat 6-11:30pm, Sun 5-10pm)
Optimal Lineup:
- polipo
- brasato al barolo
- panna cotta
Estimated Savings: $20+
Notes: another newish trattoria in LA? Gusto, unlike some of the new Italian hotness (see: The Factory Kitchen, Maccheroni Republic), hasn’t really gotten much love from publications and bloggers alike. But the few that have been have said very good things about the restaurant. And now you get to find out for yourself, at a very good price ($20+ in savings!).

Previous picks: Night+Market is again trying some new things during this dineLA season (had the tub hwan a couple of months ago when it was a daily special, and it was amazing), and I’ll most likely be going once again. Waterloo & City remains one of the most consistent performers with regards to savings, and that looks to be the case again this time around. R.I.P. The Spice Table.

$45

Allumette
(American, dineLA menu, website, Tue-Sun 6-10:30pm)
Optimal Lineup:
- kurodai sashimi
- branzino
- octopus confit
- chocolate ganache
Estimated Savings: $11
Notes: regardless of its hipster location or wunderkind chef, Allumette is definitely an intriguing restaurant. Menu looks extremely promising – reminds me a bit of Red Medicine in more ways than one. And this dineLA menu, if you go with what I chose for optimal lineup, is actually a better deal than their standard 5-course tasting (that saves you $5).

The Bazaar
(Spanish, dineLA website, website, Mon-Sun 5:30-11:30pm)
Optimal Lineup:
- “philly cheesesteak”
- jamon serrano fermin
- sea scallops
- seared quail
- “pan con chocolate”
Estimated Savings: $30+
Notes: my opinions are somewhat mixed on The Bazaar. I’ve been twice – once with a group of friends when it felt like we weren’t sexy enough to be seen and heard at such a place and pretty much disregarded, and another time when the food and experience was better. But there’s no denying the savings here, especially if you order a jamon platter. Not sure if they’ll let you double up on it (and you probably shouldn’t anyways, for your health), but you might be able to save as much as $45(!). And all the dishes are from their regular menu, and there are plenty of choices.

Craft
(American, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Sat 5-10pm)
Optimal Lineup:
- albacore tuna, kumquat & beets, baby gem lettuce, cranberry & avocado vinaigrette, smoked chicken rilette
- salmon creek farms pork, polenta & brussels leaves
- butterscotch panna cotta, lemon souffle tart
Estimated Savings: $20+
Notes: pretty much a dineLA HOFer (that’s Hall of Fame for those who don’t follow sports) at this point, I’ve never given much thought to the restaurant despite working so close to it these past few years. But I’ve heard way too many good things about Craft re: dineLA to not give it a proper shoutout. You’re getting plenty of appetizers/desserts to share in addition to your main, and I heard they’re plenty generous with amuses, etc. as well. Definitely not getting a “dineLA experience” here.

Previous picks: Fogo de Chao, Lawry’s The Prime Rib, and Lucques all remain excellent choices (saving $14, $15, and up to $16, respectively). I would like to mention that the $45 dinner price point is by far the most-stacked during this dineLA season – there are a number of good options. Looking at my spreadsheet very quickly, some are: Petrossian, The Royce, Scarpetta, Scratch Bar, Vincenti, and Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air. So yeah, quite a few choices here. Note: Kiriko isn’t doing dineLA this season. It has always been a great value, but I felt that the restaurant always became a shitshow every time – not the food, but the experience, because it’s a small place and everything becomes chaotic. Plus, you shouldn’t want to go to a high-quality sushi restaurant like that and order the least of what they can offer (which is basically what their dineLA menu was like IMO).

$85

CUT
(Steakhouse, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Thu 5:30-10pm, Fri-Sat 5:30-11pm)
Optimal Lineup:
- maine diver scallop “ceviche”
- slow braised oxtail consume
- pan-roasted maine black sea bass
- dry aged new york sirloin steak
- chocolate decadence
Estimated Savings: ~$40?
Notes: pet peeve about Wolfgang Puck restaurants’ website – they never list prices on the menus. I had to use MenuPages just to roughly estimate that $40 figure, and who knows how outdated those prices are. But I do think that’s the ballpark of how much you’re saving, and at least you’re getting a steak (albeit not wagyu). 5 courses at $85 is pretty damn good at a place like CUT – I spent ~$200/person last time I was there.

Melisse
(French, dineLA menu, website, Tue-Thu 6-9:30pm, Fri 6-9:45pm, Sat 5:45-9:45pm)
Optimal Lineup:
- naked cowboy oyster
- wagyu beef tartare
- chatham bay cod
- tea smoked & grilled beef ribs
- chocolate, peanut butter & coffee
Estimated Savings: $40
Notes: Melisse had an unofficial dineLA menu at this price point last season, so maybe the $85 price point was partly inspired by the restaurant’s efforts. Therefore, it’s only right to include it here. Like with CUT, I think you could be saving ~$40 here. And the dishes looks like it could be part of the regular menu (that wagyu tartare is actually a +$10 supplement on the regular tasting menu, so that helps).

Patina
(French, dineLA menu, website, Tue-Sat 5-9:30pm, Sun 4-9pm)
Optimal Lineup:
- amuse gueule
- american caviar
- wild striped bass
- slow braised kobe shortrib
- valrhona chocolate terrine
Estimated Savings: $20+
Notes: I’m completely guessing here, based on average prices on the dinner menu and of similar-sounding dishes, but I actually came up with a range of $26-35. Patina was always a popular place during dineLA at the $45 price point, and now they get to flex their muscles a bit without having to compromise anything.

The inaugural class of the $85 dinner is small – six restaurants total (the others: mar’sel, Spago, Valentino). All six presumably are great deals, but I didn’t choose these three because the savings for mar’sel and Spago are more ambiguous, and Valentino’s savings are a little less than the rest at ~$15 max. Mar’sel’s savings should be slightly higher than Valentino’s, assuming you don’t choose the “cheapest” appetizers + desserts. I really have no idea how much you can save at Spago, but 5 courses at $85 (exactly the same as CUT) sounds like a deal for the restaurant.

So there you have it – 18 new choices from yours truly. Enjoy these next two weeks!

P.S. no more statement credits for dining out AMEX?!? And I thought cutting down to a single $5 credit for last season was bad enough…

Manresa (Los Gatos, CA)

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Manresa
320 Village Ln
Los Gatos, CA 95030
(408) 354-4330
www.manresarestaurant.com

Short summary: a great meal. However, with all the accolades and such, this dinner was more of a technically precise meal with impeccable ingredients used than a mind-blowing one that has me thinking about it for days. In the end, I respect Manresa more than I love it, but I sure do like it a lot. The restaurant is like one of those beautiful girls that are perfect both physically and mentally, but given a choice between her and your flawed true love, you still have to follow your heart. Manresa is the restaurant for those who follow their brains.

There are very good reasons why just about everyone in the world sings Manresa’s praises. Having one of the most talented chefs in the country heading the place, using only the best-quality ingredients available, classic fine-dining atmosphere and service – it’s only logical. But for me, the whole package can feel a little stiff for a culinary-uneducated individual like myself. The service issue has been debated before by others, and I understand that they’re striving for that 3rd Michelin star (French fine dining standards), but it’s too TTH for me personally. Still, the service is indeed extremely knowledgeable and attentive. Just not as…happy?

But don’t get me wrong – Manresa is an amazing restaurant. Next to my meals at Red Medicine, I’ve never appreciated the vegetable-centric dishes more at a restaurant. Every dish we had was indeed delicious and executed to near perfection from the technique and plating perspectives (except for the loin in the lamb dish – overcooked). The butterscotch dessert was one of the most inspired ones I’ve had this year, but I wouldn’t say that any of the savory dishes had a similarly lingering effect. It’s less of “man this dish was fucking awesome and I need to have it again now” and more of “oh okay that was a very good dish, but it’s supposed to be.”

These little imperfections at a “perfect” restaurant keep it from getting my “perfect” grade. Yeah, this post makes the restaurant sound somewhat indifferent, but that’s because an “A-” is disappointing for what is considered an “A” restaurant that has “A+” aspirations. Still, if you got the money, Manresa is still one of the flag-bearers of New American fine dining cuisine, and should be on every enthusiasts’ to-dine bucket list.

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Red bell pepper pate de fruit, black olive madeleine

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Gazpacho, 25 tomatoes

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Local milk panna cotta, Monterey Bay abalone, breakfast radishes

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Moroccan octopus, summer beans

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Fava bean risotto, porcini mushroom, sheep’s milk cheese

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“Into the Vegetable Garden”

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Black cod, tomatillo, cassava, roasted bone sauce

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Lightly smoked albacore

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Roasted duck, fennel, fig, milk, honey

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Napa Valley spring lamb, dates, olives

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Butterscotch, plum, buckwheat

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Raspberry, chocolate, tonka bean

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Strawberry pate de fruit, chocolate madeleine, cocoa & basil bonbon

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Chocolate brioche

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
American Los Gatos $$$$ A-

Manresa on Urbanspoon

Republique

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Republique
624 S La Brea Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(310) 362-6115
republiquela.com

A group of us went to the new hotness that is Republique during opening week late last month. While it’s not the fine-dining haven that most were hoping for with regards to seeing what Chef Walter Manzke can really do, it certainly does bring back pleasant memories (for most – I’ve never had the pleasure of dining at a Manzke restaurant before my dinner at Republique) of chef’s days at Church & State. Our foursome sat at the chef’s counter, which provided an excellent view of the open kitchen, but was a bit too warm for my liking, as it was directly facing the wood-burning oven. Still, a great setting for a promising meal.

The food here is just bistro fare, but there’s plenty to like on the menu. It appears that the menu has been changing on an almost-daily basis, but the highlights of our meal include: the cote de porc, the charcuterie, and the beef tartare. Definitely order those if you see them (I’m sure the charcuterie will be). Everything we ordered was at least solid, but a couple of dishes were on the saltier side (I personally have a high-sodium tolerance though, so this is more of a warning for others). Desserts were simple, but solidly executed.

I didn’t really want to go into detail because it was opening week, but let’s just say that Republique is very promising. I’m looking forward to seeing what the restaurant can do once it settles down and takes off from a creative perspective (also, there’s supposed to be a more formal, tasting-menu aspect of the restaurant forthcoming). Really can’t go wrong with the meat dishes here – the house-made charcuterie is already one of the better versions in the city, and that cote de porc was downright delicious. Will definitely be back for a more extensive experience in the future.

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Grass-Fed Beef Tartare ($18) – tarragon aioli, pickled red onion, potato chips

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Warm Baguette (*on request*) – butter

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Eggs on Toast ($16) – Santa Barbara uni, soft-scrambled eggs

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Crispy Pork Rinds ($12) – chili-vinegar dip

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Charcuterie Board ($24)

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Cook Ranch Pig’s Head ($12) – lentils, bacon, frisee, farm egg

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Red Wine Braised Short Rib ($32) – potato gnocchi, red swiss chard

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Cote de Porc ($58) – Berkshire pork chop, belly & sausage, salsify, fuji apple, spatzle, peppercorn sauce

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Sage Panna Cotta ($10) – butternut squash, pumpkin seeds

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Bomboloni ($12) – hazelnut ice cream, chocolate sauce

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Caramel Pot de Creme ($9) – roasted almonds

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Passion Fruit Tart ($?) – mascarpone sabayon

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
French Mid-Wilshire $$$ N/A

Republique on Urbanspoon

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