Destination: California: Los Angeles
One of the most memorable dishes I had in LA on a recent visit wasn’t even an entrée—it was an appetizer at Gjelina, a sizzling restaurant that opened a year ago on Abbot Kinney. Soft spoonfuls of burrata cheese were topped with fresh grilled figs, baby arugula, shards of proscuitto and a drizzle of balsamic. The wonderful textures and flavors blended perfectly–sweet, salty, tangy, peppery, creamy. Like many restaurants in LA, Gjelina is market-driven. Chef Travis Lett’s Mediterranean menu includes small plates (grilled nectarines with proscuitto; ricotta gnocchi with sage and brown butter), ultra-fresh vegetables (wood-roasted sunchokes) and the house specialty: pizza. Made in the wood-burning oven, each is individually sized, with crust so crisp it crackles, and such decadent toppings as hen-of-the-wood mushrooms and Taleggio. The walls are lined with banquettes and there is an outdoor patio; you can also choose to sit at the big communal table by the bar. Call several weeks in advance if you hope to secure dinner reservations—even the best concierge will have trouble getting you a spot before 10:30 pm. An easier solution: drop in at noon for an early lunch after shopping along Abbot Kinney.
After working in many top LA kitchens and breezing into victory on the Bravo’s television series Top Chef, Michael Voltaggio opened this sleek West Hollywood restaurant in 2011. It’s quite a nightly scene, but the food—playful, innovative, molecular—is exciting, and the menu changes often (dishes have included cuttlefish with green papaya, peanut-coconut cream and black lime). Voltaggio’s cuisine can also be sampled at casual sandwich spot Ink Sack next-door.
With food from famed Master Sushi Chef Katsuya Uechi and interiors designed by Phillippe Starck, Katsuya’s eight locations (three of which are in Los Angeles) offers innovative sushi in spectacularly chic surroundings. An Indagare member raves, ‘Katsuya is always terrific. Standouts there include the baked crab roll and the seared tuna with Japanese salsa (I prefer this to their signature crispy rice with spicy tuna.)’
Dine with your feet in the sand—almost— at this new branch of Nobu that overlooks the Malibu coastline with waves crashing just beyond the al fresco patio. It’s a beautiful spot for a sunset meal of fresh sushi.
The Bazaar by José Andrés
With his sui generis sense of pageantry, celebrity chef José Andrés is such a natural fit for LA, it’s a wonder The Bazaar is his first foray into the city’s dining scene. The Spaniard, who made his name in Washington D.C. with restaurants like Jaleo and Oyamel, is one of the country’s most dazzling culinary wizards, known for bold flavors, bolder presentations and a refreshing sense of fun. Until now, his feats of molecular gastronomy were confined to Minibar, which is geared more to serious foodies than the general public (it only seats six at a time and involves a thirty-course tasting menu). After a long courtship, Sam Nazarian, owner of the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills, lured Andrés west to helm the hotel’s The Bazaar restaurant and the result became an overnight sensation.
The restaurant is divided into four distinct areas: Rojo and Blanca (sit-down restaurants which share a menu but have different atmospheres), Bar Centro (where you can order tapas and cocktails), and the Patisserie (offering exquisite pastries under glass). In keeping with the hotel’s over-the-top Philippe Starck interior, the whole place is conceived of as a bazaar, with high-design products (such as Ted Muehling porcelain) from New York’s celebrated Moss on display (and for sale) on one side of the room, while extremely whimsical furniture occupies center stage at Bar Centro. At a long, communal table, for instance, Fellini films play on inset screens shaped like plates.
The Alice-in-Wonderland theatricality is echoed by the menus, which consist almost entirely of small plates and even smaller bites—each like a beautifully executed amuse bouche. You might start with a tiny cone of caviar or “cotton candy foie gras” (like a lollipop), then mix and match from among dozens of intriguing options. There are traditional Spanish tapas (Manchego, Ibérico ham, olives), but most of the dishes are edgier, like Japanese eel tacos, Ottoman carrot fritters, and tuna sashimi with watermelon and jalapeño. (This is decidedly not a destination for those who prefer more conventional entrees.) A few specialties will be familiar to Andrés fans, like the playful “Philly cheesesteak” (Wagyu beef, bread and cheddar) from Minibar and the delicious butifarra Senator Moynihan, perfected at Jaleo. Even the cocktails are fanciful; your drink might be served from what appears to be a fire extinguisher or, should you choose the “Magic” Mojito, served in a shaker and strained over cotton candy. While many complain of sticker shock (a typical cocktail is $16 and a gorgeous bite-sized morsel of food may run $10), all admit it is a highly entertaining and memorable experience. And it is for sure a scene. For those who worry that molecular gastronomy is more about gimmick than taste, rest assured that flavor always comes first for Andrés. (The Bazaar was recently awarded four stars by Irene Virbila in a gushing Los Angeles Times review.) Even the brunch menu, that bastion of the obvious, eschews predictability here. Where else can you find a dish composed of twelve tiny eggs sunny side up? Or olive-oil pancakes with bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup? As far as what’s next for this talented chef, my money’s on Vegas.
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