More restaurants popped up in 2011 than in any other year in recent memory. From pork-cheek pizza at Sotto to beef heart skewers at Picca and pig ears in lardo at ink., diners also seemed more adventurous and eager to try international fair and exotic ingredients.
Much has already been written about other standouts, Ray’s & Stark Bar, M.B. Post, Red Medicine, A-Frame and Mezze – deservedly so, but here is one standout below that didn’t get much press, along with my list of other top 10 food finds of the year. Some are just sandwich shops or taco and noodle bars, but they certainly deserve a mention along with places higher on the food chain, such as the new Hotel Bel Air Restaurant by Wolfgang Puck – which is my favorite high end revamp of 2011.
The Sherbourne (327 N. Sherbourne, WeHo) opened a few months ago behind Jerry’s Deli in their old events space and should have been just another fly-by-night trendy watering hole with mediocre food that would not have legs once the next neighborhood hot spot opened. I was pleasantly surprised to find in a cozy space with excellent steak, pastas and seafood – including the New Orleans’ style BBQ prawns – and fluffy chocolate-chip bread pudding drizzled with more chocolate sauce. The stand out was the mashed potato cart, or spud mixologist, that rolls up to the table shortly after arrival when you’re still nursing a strong cocktail.
The owners and chef Keven Alan Lee had a great idea with the rotating spud cart: why load up on bread when you can have a trio of creamy mashed potatoes mixed with different toppings? From regular Yukon Gold to purple Peruvian and sweet potato, the toppings include truffle oil, bacon and even Oreo cookie crumbs. You can start with the cart as an appetizer or save the visit for your entree. Either way it’s and addictive addition to the meal and unique to the LA dining scene.
Here is my top ten list of other dining favorites that I hope to revisit in the New Year and why:
1) Fundamental LA – any sandwich on the menu
2) Ramen Yamadaya – pork broth ramen and dumplings
3) Stella Rossa Pizza Bar – purple kale pie
4) Wood & Vine – fried chicken with waffles
5) Baco Mercat – ‘the original’ with pork belly & beef carnitas
6) Mercato di Vetro – fried green olives
7) Cook’s County– pumpkin pancakes
8) Sunny Spot – Cuban sandwich with black bean soup
9) Esquela (308 N. Stanley, WeHo) – tacos, tacos, tacos
10) Cafe Livre et Le Marche (9626 Venice Blvd, Culver City) – charcuterie plate, soups and sandwiches
The star of Food Network’s Chopped, was in LA this past week to talk about his role as spokesperson for Robert Modavi Private Selection wines and his holiday entertaining tips. If anyone knows how to throw a casual, well attended soiree with great food and presentation, it’s Ted Allen. You might remember his first gig on Bravo’s Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, helping clueless bachelors week after week prep for dates and dinner parties.
While swirling a Mondavi cab at Soho House, Allen shared with what NOT to do this season. “The holidays are that hilarious time of year when people who never cook or entertain suddenly feel like they need to open a restaurant in their house and serve 27 courses to 57 people,” quips Allen. “They also think that is has to be something fussy or fancy. People stress themselves out, get miserable and spend too much money.”
Allen continued on to preach that novice chefs should not be ashamed to be just that. “Do we demand our non-chef relatives to cook chefy meals for us? I don’t think so. I just want something tasty. Make a pot of chili for God sakes! Buy a loaf of bread at a bakery and make a salad, I don’t care.”
As far as the ‘theme’ goes, Allen also advises to keep it simple. “For me the theme for my party is ‘my friends are coming over and we’re cooking’ – that’s all I need. The stereo is on and the wine is being poured. I try to encourage people to relax and have fun. Don’t ruin it with nerves.”
On the heels of that advice I decided to plan a basic cheese and wine party this year – with my first invite going out to Allen. I just hope he’ll bring plenty of Mondavi along.
If you’re shopping for a hard to buy for jetsetting Angeleno, vintage fashionista or whimsical art collector – three new boutiques have opened this week that will help you on your way to finishing off you’re holiday list in style. Oh, you can also grab a bite to eat at all of these locations.
AHAlife opened at the SLS Hotel in the existing Regalo shop featuring unusual pill holder and whistle charm necklaces, metal cage clutches, and skull wine decanters for the rockstar in your life. One of a kind paintings (pictured above) were made from couples rolling around in paint and then having sex on the canvas – sounds like a typical weekend at Venice Beach, but we’ll take two for the dining room. The shopping has been simplified by the scan codes that work with your mobile phone, so the goods can be delivered directly to you, or the recipient, if you’re traveling. Of course, it’s easy to grab a drink or a bite of tapas at The Bazaar by Jose Andres once you’ve finishing racking up those credit card points. (465 S. La Cienega Blvd. Los Angeles)
Up on Sunset at the artsy Andaz Hotel, a pop-up shop has joined the ranks or reasons to visit the French-themed eatery or the private wine tasting room. Shop@Andaz by Alpha features quirky canvases with old school record labels or cassettes (remember those?) that make a great conversation pieces while you recognize your favorite 70’s and 80’s bands. Also on hand, Architectural Legos, Mokka waterproof plastic watches for that Palm Springs pool party, and don’t forget to pick up a retro YUBZ phone handle – complete with the long spiral cord, to plug into your iPhone. (8401 Sunset Blvd. West Hollywood)
If you’re after vintage designer pieces, head to Robertson Blvd. to Motif. We spotted Gucci bags, furs, silky wedding gowns, YSL shoes and Channel lamps that look brand new and were a fraction of the original retail price. They also have a connecting cafe that features gluten free baked goods, sandwiches and wraps if you need a little pick me up to carry on shopping. (930 S. Robertson Blvd. Los Angeles)