TBL3 @ George’s California Modern (La Jolla, CA)

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TBL3 @ George’s California Modern
1250 Prospect St
La Jolla, CA 92039
(858) 454-4244
georgesatthecove.com/tbl3

Wow – let’s just say this post has been in OHT limbo for just about the entire year. I have been pessimistic to the point of not even knowing what to say anymore, because I didn’t think my words would do it any justice. Luckily, all that anyone needs to know is that my dinner at George’s in February, specifically the one at TBL3 (a spontaneous 12-to-14 course dinner prepared for one party seated at the best table in the house once a night – see details in link above), has withstood many, many wonderful meals that followed it to remain as my clear choice for favorite meal of 2014.

Chef Trey Foshee and his talented team are just firing on all cylinders when it comes to TBL3, whether it be the bright vegetarian dishes with the amazing product from Chino Farms, to the local shellfish prep with fennel butter than has become one of Chef Trey’s standbys, to the fun and creative desserts, down to a single fish taco which was my gateway drug  to this man and the restaurant – this is classical and technical perfection taken to the next level by local inspiration and sourcing. This is Michelin-star level execution in a warm atmosphere, all while the kitchen is essentially serving THREE different restaurants simultaneously. The serving was befitting of a classic fine-dining institution, yet had the calm and joy that resonated with the nearby sea. And don’t even get me started on what a value TBL3 is.

Conclusion: my favorite meal of 2014, and even better than my meals at 2-Star Michelin restaurants.

Funny story – so I dined solo here, where I had been chatting with the courteous FOH and briefly with Chef Trey. When I had gotten to the last savory dish, I felt EXTREMELY FULL all of a sudden. Those of you who know me know that I can eat a lot (I did eat 36 tacos at Tacolandia this year), and all I ate beforehand were 2 tacos + appetizer at Taco Maria for lunch. But for some reason it all just weighed down on me, as if I just went 8 rounds at a Vegas buffet. So the belt got unbuckled, the shirt untucked. I even started doing stairs inside the restaurant (it’s 3 floors) between the intermezzo and dessert courses. By the time Chef Trey was sending me off I had a feeling that most of the restaurant was laughing at me – with love of course.

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Northern Divine Caviar – white radish

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Celeryroot – smoked apple, Buddha’s hand, Dungeness crab

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Chino Farms Carrot – whey, chamomile, raisin, fresh cheese

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Fish Taco

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Local Spiny Lobster – fennel butter

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Wild Salad

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Black Truffle Omelet – sea urchin, hollandaise

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Braised Cabbage – smoked bone marrow, crispy rice, bacon-kombu broth

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Rabbit – Chino Farms asparagus, rhubarb, black trumpet mushrooms, tarragon

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Pink Trout – chrysanthemum, bonito butter

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Lamb – cauliflower, sage honey

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Apple Celery Consomme – fennel, confit, sheep’s milk frozen yogurt

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Sarsaparilla Rice Pudding – red kuri squash, madarin, curried pineapple, coconut ice milk

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Peach Blossom – chocolate, marzipan

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
American La Jolla $$$$ A+

George's At The Cove on Urbanspoon

Allumette

Photo credit: Allumette

Allumette – CLOSED
1320 Echo Park Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90026
(213) 935-8787
allumettela.com

Another ambitious restaurant that was too ahead of its time? Or one that was the victim of the wrong location and target clientele?

I’ll let you decide. In the meantime, another critically-acclaimed restaurant in town decided to call it quits. On the surface, Allumette closing up shop at the end of June can be perceived as a huge surprise, as the restaurant was named as one of Jonathan Gold’s 101 Best Restaurants and LA Weekly’s 99 Essential Restaurants for 2014, as well as being short-listed for Bon Appetit’s 10 Best New Restaurants for 2013, among other accolades. However, the place was certainly hurting for business, and it was evident when we went the week before it was slated to close, and there were still maybe less than a handful of covers all night.

That’s a shame. While I’m not ready to bow down to the genius of Chef Miles, the talent is there, and Allumette had nowhere to go but up as time passes. A lot of the dishes were indeed very ambitious and loaded with multiple flavor components and textures. It was just a bit too…busy for me at times. But the vision is there – just needs time and editing (and restraint, to a certain extent). Unfortunately, this version modern American cuisine, one being targeted at a more approachable level and price, is not working in LA. Red Medicine, a restaurant I consider to be the finished product of what Allumette was headed towards, is closing at the end of this month, and from my visits (after the first time) there I can confirm that they were never nearly as busy as it was assumed.

As a town that has diminished the importance of Michelin-esque fine dining in favor of cuisines that capture a more approachable, global essence reflecting the melting pot that is LA, this type of cooking should be something that we self-proclaimed sophisticated diner should strive to accept. We don’t need another farm-to-table restaurant, or a gastropub. We need to start pushing the envelope, or else LA as a culinary haven will be left behind once again, and this time rightfully so.

Snacks:

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Potatoes a la Plancha – furikake aioli, parmigiano-reggiano, katsuobushi

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Potato Chips – smoked whitefish, uni cream, chive

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Baby Torpedo Onion Panisse – meyer lemon mustard, hibiscus, cilantro

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“Bread & Butter”

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Mini Lumpia

1st Course:

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Cucumbers – apricot fennel compote, ripe & unripe berries, white chocolate

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Blue Prawn – vinegar meringue, rice paper, leek

2nd Course:

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Summer Squash – white corn fondue, june garlic miso, sage

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Arrowtip Squid – pistachio ponzu, cherry, black mint

3rd Course:

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Octopus – za’atar yogurt, okra caviar, plum

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Ivory Salmon – soured celtuce, radish, beet syrup

4th Course:

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Branzino – shellfish tapioca, fried broccoli, lemon

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Pork Collar – pho charcoal, eggplant mayonnaise, pickled wasabi

5th Course:

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Toasted Barley Pot-de-Creme – jasmine, strawberry, rosemary

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Lemongrass Bavarois – hibiscus, oat, tangerine

Grade: B
Cuisine: American
Neighborhood: Echo Park
Price: $$$

Allumette on Urbanspoon

Maude

Photo credit: Eater LA

Maude
212 S Beverly Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90212
(310) 859-3418
mauderestaurant.com

This was unexpected…

TV chef Curtis Stone, most recently known as the host of Top Chef Masters and Top Chef Duels, opened Maude in Beverly Hills at the beginning of the year. But if you’re expecting a large, corporate, tourist trap of a restaurant that usually comes with the territory of being a celebrity chef, then you’d be completely wrong. What we have here is a passion project of sorts for the chef, a small, quaint spot neatly tucked away on the southern part of the city’s Restaurant Row.

Despite spending more of his career on screen than in the kitchen, Stone’s culinary resume is fairly impressive. And at Maude, he’s assembled a staff that can tout similar levels of experience. The restaurant focuses on a primary ingredient every month, and constructs a tasting menu (only option available) of 10-14 courses around that, at a reasonable price range of $75-95/person. For the month of June, the ingredient was morel mushrooms, so the tasting menu was $115/person.

What I really liked about the focus and progression of our dinner at Maude was that the restaurant never tried to force the issue of reminding the diners that morels was the main ingredient, and that it needed to be the centerpiece of each course. Rather, there were courses where morels were barely utilized or creatively integrated, but were there because they fit well within the scheme of things. That’s what a great fine dining restaurant tasting menu strives for – having a central focus, but keeping a nice progression, and taking chances here and there.

By those accounts, the morels menu at Maude definitely knocked it out of the park. And from everything I’ve heard from previous and future months, it seems as if the restaurant has maintained that high level of creativity and execution throughout. And by creativity and execution, the kitchen has done a good job tip-toeing between respecting the classic approaches and exploring the more progressive formats. It’s a very smooth integration of both – none of the tongue-in-cheek executions you’d see at modernist places.

Also, I was also very impressed at how light the food was. By light, I don’t mean that it’s under-seasoned or healthy, but rather in comparison to how each course appeared and the components involved. I was eating this huge raviolo with consumme (a course that was brought out by Chef Stone himself), expecting it to be very heavy. But it was actually rather refreshing, and the broth even balanced out the dish – just an example.

So yeah – definitely very impressed with what Chef Stone has accomplished with Maude. It’s pumping out Michelin-quality cuisine at a reasonable entry price and neighborhood-esque comfort level. Despite that, the front of the house is extremely professional, knowledgeable, and runs like clockwork without being stuffy (I’m talking about you, Manresa). I’m definitely looking forward to future meals…if I can even get a reservation.

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Risotto – citrus butter, chicken mousse

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Kampachi – avocado, herbs, passion fruit snow

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Scallop – wild garlic, watermelon mind, roe

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Duck Egg – summer squash, horseradish, smoke

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Raviolo – consomme, truffle crumble, watercress

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Pork Belly – jalapeno, daikon, carrot

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Lamb – green garbanzo, eggplant, leek

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Taleggio – onion, charred peach, nasturtium

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Ice Cream Bar – coffee, chocolate, cocoa nib

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Black Forest Floor – dark cherry, chocolate, hazelnut

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Mignardises – blueberry financier, tropical fruit tart, raspberry bonbon

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Morel salt

Grade: A-
Cuisine: American (probably appropriate to say Californian, to be more specific)
Neighborhood: Beverly Hills
Price: $$$$ (June tasting menu featuring morels was $115/person, but excluding that and most likely the upcoming November menu featuring truffles, the price range of the menus is $75-95/person)

Maude on Urbanspoon

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

Alma

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Alma
952 S Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90015
(213) 444-1422
www.alma-la.com

It’s good to be Ari Taymor these days. You have your own critically-acclaimed restaurant in Downtown LA, praised in particular by Jonathan Gold, who named Alma one of his 101 Best Restaurants in LA + having one of his 10 best dishes of 2012. And now, you’re on the national stage, being named as THE Best New Restaurant in the entire country by Bon Appetit. All of this accomplished at the age of 27 (same as me!), armed with an impressive resume that includes the likes of Bar Tartine and Flour + Water in SF, as well as the pop-up that led to the current restaurant of the same name.

Alma had been high on my to-dine list for quite some time, and one day in early August I decided to just pull the trigger on OpenTable for a solo dinner, as a treat to myself for all the fine work I’ve accomplished (ha!). The process wasn’t very difficult – there were tables available online during prime hours for a weekday, and I was going to go at around their 6 pm opening anyways (plus I was a solo diner sitting at the bar). I was beginning to fear that LA diners might not appreciate dining of this caliber and execution, as the restaurant’s style always felt like it belonged more in SF in my opinion.

However, the Bon Appetit honor was released less than a week after I made my reservation, and the atmosphere during my dinner definitely reflected the restaurant as the sudden new hotness. I arrived at around 6:10 pm for my dinner, and the restaurant was already more than half full. By the end of my dinner, there were at least a dozen people waiting to be seated out front, most of them patiently waiting with a glass of wine in their hands, happy to have a chance to dine at a nationally-acclaimed restaurant.

The restaurant has an a la carte menu of roughly over a dozen of dishes, most of them on the smaller side. There is also a tasting menu available, which consists of 10 courses at $90. The latter is at a very reasonable price point in my opinion, as a similar restaurant in SF serving a tasting of this length would probably be closer to $150. Despite some of the a la carte-only dishes sounding very promising, I went with the tasting. Please note that after November 29, the restaurant plans to nix the a la carte option, and go to prix fixe only: 5 courses for $65, or a longer tasting menu for $110 (length not specified).

Snacks:
oyster with herbs
brown butter bearnaise with corn silk
seaweed & tofu beignet, yuzu kosho, lime
English muffin, uni, burrata, caviar, liquorice herbs

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The tasting menu began with 4 snacks, 2 of which are available to order as a la carte. The fresh oyster came with an herb foam/mousse of sorts, and tasted quite…herbal. With the brown butter bearnaise, it was kind of interesting to see a sauce/condiment as the central component of a dish. But those 2 bites were just warm-up pitches. The seaweed and tofu beignet is probably the restaurant’s most well-known dish. It kind of looked like a darker version of the fried seaweed fish you’d find at Chinese restaurants, and it was heavier/thicker than I expected. But the acidic components of the yuzu kosho and the lime aioli worked well with the beignet’s creamy tofu filling. And you really can’t go wrong with a combination of uni + burrata + caviar on top of that housemade English muffin. Alma’s baked goods are really something.

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“summer vegetables”

The first real course was this vegetable medley, which also included a corn fritter, in a “BBQ sauce” (that’s what they called it according to my notes). Simple and effective. This is just a dish that allows the ingredients to shine, most of which were picked from the restaurant’s own garden in Venice.

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tomato, watermelon, black garlic, macadamia nut, epazote

Next up was this composed salad. The cubes you see are compressed watermelon, brushed with black garlic oil. Quite interesting. The highlight here was the fresh heirloom tomato – ridiculously sweet and juicy.

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mackerel, plum, succulents

The same said about the heirloom tomato above can also be applied to the plum here, which was also presented here as a consomme. The consomme and actual pieces combined to give off a very…canned fruit type of flavor, and I meant that in the nicest way possible. What I’m trying to get across is that those plum bits were absolutely juicy and sweet, as if they were concentrated. Would’ve been great as a base for a dessert. As a result, the mackerel got lost in the dish. It was also not as briny as I like my mackerel.

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chicken liver, smoked maple, coffee

This was an interesting take on the traditional chicken liver you’d find at Jewish delis. I didn’t mention it previously, but despite its reputation for being ingredient-driven, Alma is quite the “progressive” restaurant. Much of the kitchen’s repertoire involves such gadgetry and techniques (the liquid nitrogen was busted out frequently, in particular). This dish had the traditional flavors, but was presented as frozen crumbles, which melted into a creamy mousse as you ate it.

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summer corn soup, vadouvan, nasturtium

And here is a soup, in the middle of a tasting menu. Meh, right? But wait just a minute – this was actually the best dish of the night, no joke. This summer corn soup, which also included the corn kernels, was just a good, hearty bowl of deliciousness. The vadouvan added plenty of depth, and the nasturtium ice cream acted as the cooling chaser (like a yogurt or raita) to counter the soup. A deceptively sophisticated dish.

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housemade bread with cultured butter ($5)

During the soup course, this additional plate was brought out. What a great idea, as the bread was nice for dipping into the soup and sopping up the last drop, and it was a nice gesture. In fact, it appears that every diner who ordered the tasting menu received the bread as part of the course. Not sure if it was intended, or if the restaurant was kind (a couple of a la carte diners received an extra course as well). But the bread, hot upon arrival, man was it good. There was a beer & rye bread to the left, and a squid ink epi to the right, served with a wonderfully whipped cultured butter. Both were crusty, then soft, with each bite. More people should be talking about the bread at Alma.

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roasted abalone, shellfish, zucchini

The shellfish here, besides abalone, were clams and mussels. They, along with zucchini and summer squash, were served with a “soup” (what they said), which I assume was made from the shellfish present here. Very mild, especially following the previously course.

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“Tisane of Terroir”

The palate cleanser (oddly served before the main course) was an herbal tea infused with grapefruit and dashi. Had a weird sweet and savory flavor to it (along with the grapefruit’s bitter aftertaste).

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dry aged rib-eye, alliums, sunflower

A straightforward dish, but well-executed. The 45-day aged ribeye was cooked to a perfect rare, and went well with the sunflower & onion puree. There was also onion done 3 ways here. Despite the 45-day age, the meat was actually rather mild, but at the same time quite meaty still.

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watermelon & gin

Now to the desserts. We have a scoop each of watermelon and gin-flavored sorbet (though one of them might have been a semifreddo – sorry don’t remember). Those compressed watermelon cubes (sans black garlic oil, obviously) come back in play here, and the combination makes for a refreshing dessert.

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“frozen summer”

This is a very ambitious dessert. The components here consisted of the vegetables from their garden, served as a chamomile semifreddo, sorrel sorbet, and other grassy goodness. It was indeed a green dessert. But while I appreciate the effort in this farm-to-table dessert, it was kind of like eating sweet wheatgrass ice cream. Nice try though.

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plum & tarragon pate de fruit

I enjoyed my dinner at Alma. However, I would say that I appreciated and respected my meal more than truly loved it as is. Ingredients were served at the prime of their availability, and execution was in top form. But most of the dishes just didn’t wow me as much as I thought they would – I only just liked them (with the exceptions of the summer corn soup and breads). There was also the dilemma of the a la carte menu’s presence. I felt that some of the dishes and desserts there were more interesting by menu description (and from what I read on various blogs, that proved to be somewhat accurate). But I almost always go the tasting route when available – who am I to say that I know a restaurant’s best dishes and progression more than its own?

The restaurant itself isn’t very big, and that kitchen is just downright small for the number of chefs working in it. Decor was extremely simple, like a living room layout you’d find in IKEA catalogs. The interior was kind of dark after the sun set, but gave off a very homey feel, which I attribute to the IKEA look. The service was warm, but I think the increased business got to them with regards to the front of the house execution and timing. I would wait a few minutes for one course, and wait 20+ for the next. Also, not that I need the attention, but for those who really care, they do disappear at times. Some are short with the descriptions, while some are extremely detailed. Not a big deal at all, but just a FYI…

I think Alma is only going to get better as time passes. It feels as if they’re still trying to find their stride, as some things just don’t appear to be fully thought-out or composed. But the blueprint is there, and the talent is definitely there. The move to a tasting-only format should help with the menu’s focus, and I think that Taymor has a bright future ahead of him. For a while, it felt like a restaurant that was appreciated more by out-of-towners than the locals (see: Red Medicine). But with the recent honors, Alma definitely has the opportunity to attract more diners, and will do well to keep them coming back as they progress themselves.

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
American Downtown $$$ B+

Alma on Urbanspoon

Seasons 52 (Century City)

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Seasons 52
10250 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90067
(310) 277-5252
www.seasons52.com

My boss was sad that Houston’s closed in the Westfield Century City mall – like, REALLY sad. But it seems as though he found solace in Houston’s replacement…

When my boss offered to take me out to lunch for a job well done (regarding moving boxes, for the most part lol), he said that he had a new lunch spot in the mall, which turned out to be Seasons 52. I had read about the restaurant’s opening earlier this year, and am aware of the mini-chain’s (they have around 40 locations nationwide, headquartered in San Diego) philosophy regarding their “seasonally-inspired and award-winning international wine list” that fits right in with the city’s embrace of farm-to-table cuisine.

Upon entrance, Seasons 52’s decor doesn’t look or feel all that different from its predecessor. It’s a bit more wide-open, due to the main dining room being open to the patio (it’s definitely brighter, but it could just be the time of day), but for the most part, it definitely has the look (and the service that goes with it) that is fitting of the clientele in Century City. The dining room was nearly full, all professionals in formal attire. The only things that seemed out of place were the gardens in front and next to the lobby that demonstrated their farm-to-table dedication.

I didn’t want a big lunch, so I just ordered a “prime” tuna burger. The tuna appeared to be seared and then coarsely chopped a la tartare, and served with an Asian slaw, along with a wasabi aioli and a Thai sweet chili sauce. Not bad, but probably not worth the $13. The majority of the menu is stated to be under 500 calories/dish, so for those of you who are health-conscious, this is a nice place to do lunch, just be aware that the dishes are priced like the farm-to-table restaurants that it strives be. And indeed, the food tasted very “clean” here. Again, not bad, but nothing exciting obviously.

Seasons 52 has a novel concept that seems to have plenty of fans in the Century City area, and I’m sure the other locations are just as well-received by the locals. If I was the beautiful person I should be, living in West LA, I would probably appreciate the restaurant and its proximity to my office.

Wild Prime Tuna Burger

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
American Century City $$$ B-

Seasons 52 on Urbanspoon

Animal [2]

Animal
435 N Fairfax Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Neighborhood: Mid-City West
(323) 782-9225
http://animalrestaurant.com/

Animal has been deemed by many as one of the most important and influential restaurants in LA, if not the country, since its opening back in 2008. This small-plates, ingredient-focused, manly-cooking concept that is prevalent in the city now – it all started with Animal. It’s been a glorious 5 years, and there are no signs of the restaurant slowing down. In fact, reservations at a reasonable time are still difficult to obtain (the same can be said for sister restaurant Son of a Gun, which I returned to recently), despite LA diners’ propensity to gravitate towards the next hot new opening (including new sister restaurant Trois Mec – partnership with Chef Ludo, who’s running the show – which is where I’m going in 2 weeks!), which occurs more often than you think.

I’ve been to Animal half a dozen more times since my first visit in 2008. There have been some up and down moments, but I’ve never wavered in my love for the restaurant (funny enough, the visit I chose to write about was on the lower end of my visits – not going to link to it because my writing was even worse back then). Before my most recent visit last Sunday, I had gone in March with Han and Daniel Z. As always, it was a very enjoyable meal, and I’m glad both of them considered the dinner one of the strongest ones they’ve had in the city, but as someone who’s had some of his favorite meals at the restaurant, I was again somewhat critical in my thoughts, if only because I’ve seen the restaurant at their best.

Well, those fond memories returned last Sunday. I had no plans to visit the place originally, nor did I have any in the near future. But Han really wanted to take his girlfriend, since she had never been to the restaurant, and their time together is precious (both of them are very hard workers, whose schedules conflict with one another). So on a whim, they invited me along to see if we can get a table walking in if we arrived at the restaurant before the 6pm opening. Lo and behold, we were rewarded with the seating. But it was only the beginning of what ended up being a great meal. Below is a rundown of what the 3 of us ordered, with some comments following the photos (I don’t want to do a dish-by-dish take, since just about every blog in LA has covered the restaurant in some form):

santa barbara uni, heirloom cucumbers, za'atar, fried cheese, hb egg

santa barbara uni, heirloom cucumbers, za’atar, fried cheese, hb egg ($18)

chicken liver toast

chicken liver toast ($3/each)

kampachi tostada, herbs, fish sauce vinaigrette, peanut

kampachi tostada, herbs, fish sauce vinaigrette, peanut ($15)

charred octopus, rancho gordo bean, pistou, dandelion

charred octopus, rancho gordo bean, pistou, dandelion ($16)

crispy pig head, short-grain rice, bulldog sauce, soy egg

crispy pig head, short-grain rice, bulldog sauce, soy egg ($16)

barbeque pork belly sandwiches, slaw

barbeque pork belly sandwiches, slaw ($14)

smoked turkey leg, celery root, apple, white barbeque

smoked turkey leg, celery root, apple, white barbeque ($30)

balsamic pork ribs, grilled heirloom squash, yuzu, green chili

balsamic pork ribs, grilled heirloom squash, yuzu, green chili ($24)

strawberry, cheesecake, rose geranium, graham, basil

strawberry, cheesecake, rose geranium, graham, basil ($9)

bacon chocolate crunch bar, s&p ice cream

bacon chocolate crunch bar, s&p ice cream ($8)

Everything just clicked that night. The mainstay and returning dishes (i.e. chicken liver toast, kampachi tostada, pork belly sliders) remained as excellent as ever, even surpassing my experiences of them from the last 3 or so visits. And the dishes I was trying for the first time were very inspired, and more importantly, just plain delicious. That smoked turkey leg – it’s one of my favorite dishes of the year so far. If you like the ones at Disneyland, you might just kill somebody for this version. And the strawberry dessert was like something you’d find at Providence and Red Medicine – very sophisticated, with a lot of different flavor profiles and textures going on. I should’ve tried the blueberry one too! My future visits to Animal will be more frequent from here on out, now that the fire between us has been rekindled.

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
American Mid-City West $$$ A

Animal on Urbanspoon

Manhattan Beach Post

Manhattan Beach Post
1142 Manhattan Ave
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
(310) 545-5405
http://www.eatmbpost.com

I’m going to keep this post short & sweet, because that’s exactly how I would describe the dishes here (and the fact that I’ve been neglecting this post for 3 months due to the poor photos) – short, in that this is basically a small plates restaurant, and sweet, not in the saccharin sense, but rather in the notion of something pleasant.

It took me a LONG time for me to finally make my way down to Manhattan Beach to try MB Post. It’s not the closest to my home or work, and it’s kind of a hassle making the trek down south via 405S on a normal day. Also, the place sounds like it’s always packed. But too many people have raved about the place, to the point I couldn’t resist anymore. You’re going to pile up on the number of dishes ordered, standard of dining at a small plates restaurant. But, MB Post is a restaurant where you can close your eyes and point at a dish, and not be disappointed by the random choice. There are no gimmicks here, nor are there any specializations cuisine-wise (if I had to describe the food here, it’d be American with an Asian flair) – just simple and well-executed dishes that Chef LeFevre (formerly of The Water Grill in Downtown, and before that, at the legendary Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago) probably enjoys making at home.

If there’s a signature dish here, it would be the bacon cheddar buttermilk biscuits. Not exactly flaky or fluffy, these biscuits aren’t traditional in the Southern sense. Rather, they are somewhat dense, but not too heavy despite the added bacon and cheddar. The accompanying maple butter is nice, but probably not even needed. It would be dangerous to get too many orders of this. But while you might have come for the biscuits, you stay for everything else. The pork jowl has been on the menu since Day 1, and it’s pretty amazing – a not-too-fatty cut of pork jowl with a caramelized sear that’s somewhat reminiscent of Asian jerky, with a nice hit of fish sauce. Chef LeFevre also does justice to seafood and veggies, so don’t forget to order some of those dishes, too.

Despite being in a beautiful people area like Manhattan Beach, and being a small plates restaurant, MB Post is surprisingly affordable. It’s not a cheap restaurant, but prices are more than fair for food and ingredients of this caliber (you can probably order the same amount of food here for maybe 2/3 of the price at a place like Animal). Also heard brunch is equally as great – just wished the restaurant was a little closer. But with MB Post (and now Fishing with Dynamite), it looks like Chef LeFevre is establishing himself as the culinary king of Manhattan Beach.

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Bacon Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits ($5 – pictured is 2 orders)

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Farro ($12)

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Blistering Blue Lake Green Beans ($9)

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Roasted Brussels Sprouts ($10)

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Steamed Mussels ($14)

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Vietnamese Caramel Pork Jowl ($13)

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White Oak Grilled Skirt Steak ($18)

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The “Elvis” ($7)

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Valrhona Chocolate & Salted Caramel Tart ($6)

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
American Manhattan Beach $$$ A-

M.B. Post on Urbanspoon

Son of a Gun (2)

Son of a Gun
8370 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 782-9033
http://sonofagunrestaurant.com/

Previous visit: July 2011

I can’t believe it had been almost 2 years since my first and only visit to Son of a Gun, before my return this past weekend. From what I remember (or more like what came to me when I read about my previous post of the restaurant), I liked the place plenty, but it wasn’t without flaws, and was still solidly in big bro Animal’s shadows. However, I’ve been hearing and reading nothing but praises for the seafood-centric restaurant since, and when buddy Paul came into town to visit, it seemed like an appropriate time to return (since he was there during the last meal, and had initially wanted to return to Animal).

Comparing this dinner with what I remember about the last one (aided by the previous post of course), and I can say that Son of a Gun has gotten better. Like with Animal, portions are small and prices are (relatively) high, but there’s plenty of positives here, especially with regards to creativity with seafood (i.e. not just raw bar assortments), and more importantly, the dinner as a delicious meal. Also, the bar program is pretty damn good there. I don’t remember it from the last dinner (or whether it even existed back then), but we tried a handful of cocktails and drinks across the menu, and they didn’t disappoint (and they were strong too). Below are photos of what we ordered, with some notes:

Today's Oysters on the Half Shell, Condiments
Today’s Oysters on the Half Shell, Condiments ($3/each)

Didn’t hear what the varieties were, but they were certainly fresh, however straightforward with the standard accompaniments. A great way to kick off the night of seafood though.

Gloucester Scallop, Yuzu Kosho, Pickled Shiitake
Gloucester Scallop, Yuzu Kosho, Pickled Shiitake ($16)

Here was a single jumbo scallop from Gloucester, MA served sashimi-style, right down to the yuzukosho. The pickling of the shiitake mushroom wasn’t strong, but added an interesting, earthy flavor component to the dish. Nicely done.

Smoked Steelhead Roe, Maple Cream, Pumpernickel
Smoked Steelhead Roe, Maple Cream, Pumpernickel ($16)

I believe this has been on the menu since opening day, but I didn’t get to try it last time. Separately, it’s just steelhead roe (basically ikura), whipped maple-flavored cream cheese, and pumpernickel crisps. But get everything together in one bite, and the dish becomes a wonderful play on lox on bagel with cream cheese.

Uni, Burrata, Button Mushroom, Yuzu
Uni, Burrata, Button Mushroom, Yuzu ($19)

I’ve read plenty about this dish, and it didn’t disappoint. Uni + burrata is an interesting combination, seeing how it’s creamy-on-creamy, but it worked. However, it could’ve used more uni (greedy me) to get a better uni:burrata ratio.

Lobster Roll, Celery, Lemon Aioli
Lobster Roll, Celery, Lemon Aioli ($8)

The people’s favorite from day one. Still the people’s champ.

Curly Kale, Caesar Dressing, Walnut, Parmesan
Curly Kale, Caesar Dressing, Walnut, Parmesan ($11)

We felt the need to order a vegetable dish to counter all the protein, so we found it in the form of this kale Caesar salad. Straightforward, but well-executed.

Fried Chicken Sandwich, Spicy B&B Pickle Slaw, Rooster Aioli
Fried Chicken Sandwich, Spicy B&B Pickle Slaw, Rooster Aioli ($14)

The people’s co-favorite. One that I actually wasn’t as crazy about as everyone else in town. However, I found a much better sandwich this time around. Still the same-looking gigantic sandwich, but the chicken this time was juicy and flavorful. And of course, the slaw was great once again. Southern hospitality at its finest.

Linguine and Clam, Uni Aglio-Olio, Chili, Breadcrumbs
Linguine and Clam, Uni Aglio-Olio, Chili, Breadcrumbs ($19)

A lot of people like this dish, and what’s not to love, with it being an spicy, uni-infused version of the classic linguine and clams. But this dish was a little heavy-handed with the cream (I can’t believe I’m writing this), and a bit too oily. Too much of a good thing, really. Tone it down a bit, and the dish would be amazing.

Shrimp Toast Sandwich, Herbs, Sriracha Mayo
Shrimp Toast Sandwich, Herbs, Sriracha Mayo ($12)

I had more than just a bite this time around, and it’s…good. But I think it was one of the weaker dishes of the night.

Soft Shell Crab Tempura, Crispy Pork, Ginger-Soy
Soft Shell Crab Tempura, Crispy Pork, Ginger-Soy ($22)

This sounded great (especially given my love for soft shell crab), and came highly recommended by our server. Besides being a little too heavy with the batter, I thought this was indeed great. A nice variation of the traditional tempura-fried soft shell crab with ponzu you’d find at Japanese restaurants, with the crispy pork adding some extra fattiness.

Frozen Lime Yogurt, Graham Crumble, Toasted Meringue
Frozen Lime Yogurt, Graham Crumble, Toasted Meringue ($6)

Had this last time, a solid deconstruct key lime pie of sorts.

Italian Hamburger: Gianduja, Brioche, Caramel, Maldon
Italian Hamburger: Gianduja, Brioche, Caramel, Maldon ($7)

An interesting dessert here, basically an ice cream sandwich with a sweet brioche bun and gianduja (basically Nutella) ice cream. The caramel and maldon salt gave it an salted caramel flavor.

Today's Sorbet: Coconut
Today’s Sorbet: Coconut ($6)

Might seem standard, but the sorbet and ice cream were actually the dessert standouts, pleasant surprises. It was rich (but not overly so) for a sorbet, and I believe there was a toasted flavor to the coconut.

Today's Ice Cream: Dreamsicle
Today’s Ice Cream: Dreamsicle ($6)

Why don’t more people make creamsicle/dreamsicle-flavored things? They were one of my favorite frozen treats from my childhood, and it was really cool to see it in ice cream form here. This captured the orange + ice milk flavors perfectly.

To sum it up, an inspired and improved Son of a Gun has now stepped out of Animal’s shadow (in my eyes – I’m sure most people saw things differently), and is now standing toe-to-toe with big brother. It’s probably the best seafood restaurant in LA after Providence, but do know that the dishes do add up once you get too excited (and you will). It won’t be two more years until the next visit, that’s for sure.

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
American, Seafood Mid-City West $$$ A-

Son of a Gun Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Hawkins House of Burgers

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Hawkins House of Burgers
11603 S Slater St
Los Angeles, CA 90059
(323) 563-1129
http://hawkinsburgers.com/

This song immediately came to mind after I devoured my whipper burger at work. One, the song is supposed to reflect on positive change in the hood after the 2008 recession (I wiki’d that). That’s roughly around the time food/restaurant blogging started to pick up steam as the new art and culture. While it hasn’t exactly been a Golden Age (see: Yelp “Elitism”), the sign of the times did help shine light on restaurants that have been criminally long-ignored, in areas that used to be deemed too “urban” for the standard foodie demographic. Nowadays, you see plenty of “adventurous” diners (like myself) patting ourselves on the back while posting photos of us waiting in line in Compton for some Bludso’s on Instagram/Twitter.

Another reason “Put On” came to mind after I finished eating my burger from Hawkins House of Burgers was because I thought of all the pounds I was putting on eating stuff like this. Similar to Mom’s Burgers in Compton, this is a hood burger at its finest. The large patty is hand-formed, well-seasoned, and well-finished on the griddle. The hand-formed patty was extremely loose, but that actually helped the melted cheese on top, as it basically melted into the crevasses of the patty, creating a ghetto Juicy Lucy of sorts.

The variation that I ordered, the whipper burger, was a fully-loaded ride, with plenty of pastrami and slices of hot link. In a neighborhood and culture where pimped-out rides are revered, this is obviously the signature item. And it was indeed glorious, although maybe a bit too much for its own good. All the heft in between the thin, grilled commercial bun kind of rendered it useless; I finished the burger with a knife and fork, an act that might have gotten me shot in the hood. Still, I am not deterred in reflecting positively about the burger. But I will have to order it sans pastrami and hot link next time, because I know that a real burger is about the meat and bun, not the tricked-out accessories (see: SinoSoul’s post on Grill ‘Em All).

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Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
American, Burgers South LA $ B+

Hawkins House of Burgers on Urbanspoon