Tucked away off a quaint strip of boutiques and coffee shops on the border of Studio City and North Hollywood, former Top Chef contestant CJ Jacobsen has left his burger grilling days at The Yard in Santa Monica far behind. After a stodging stint at one of the best restaurants in the world – Noma in Copenhagen with genius Chef Rene Redzepi known for using seasonal flowers, plants and interesting herbs while reinventing Nordic cuisine, Jacobson was inspired to open what we would call a casual eatery with fine dining elements. The food is approachable but so well executed, with such subtly interesting ingredients, that you feel this is a special treat, yet you could revisit several times per week. Yes, the lanky chef (he’s almost 7 feet tall) has pulled off the nearly impossible in the food world and didn’t need to top most of his dishes with a fried egg to prove he could really cook. Menu musts include what has probably been the most photographed dish of the summer, whole fried red snapper. You can eat the enter fish including the eye-ball but beware of small bone chards in your teeth. Less treacherous is the fava bean puree with house made chorizo, cherry tomatoes and grilled flatbread (more like a naan) where you can roll your own or spread the mixture onto the dough which is one of the most enjoyable dishes to share. CJ also ferments his own peppers which turn up in the octopus salad with eggplant and toasted lovage. The menu changes constantly but if the gnudi (dumpling meets a gnocchi) with Soledad goat cheese, berries and grass (the kind you mow), is on the menu be sure to order it along with the blueberry corn pudding or smashed potatoes with Parmesan cream. The lounge is open early for drinks at 4pm, and you could stare at Gulla Jonsdottir’s design with carved floral mofif’s along the walls, floors and ceiling (pictured above) for hours.
This under the radar small plates restaurant in the Olympic Collection is serving some of the best Mediterranean fare to be found in the city and is a nice change from the rash of ramen places that has opened on Sawtelle in Little Osaka recently. Chef Ressul Rassallat has worked around the globe for Four Seasons and starts his menu with a culinary world tour of crispy Brussels sprouts from Spain, Italy, France and even Thailand, including an off the menu secret order Mexican version with Jalapeno, chichacrones and Tequila. His oven roasted seasbass with green melon and aromatic lime-emulsion might sound a little gimmicky but it’s one of the star dishes perfectly cooked and seasoned. Add an order of hand-made truffle parmesan gnocchi or white polenta with hen of the woods mushrooms and another drizzle of truffle oil, and you’ll not have much room left for the extensive ‘butcher board’ section including jamon Iberico and chicken liver parfait. And, yes, they do have a goat cheese tapenade with brioche bread that pairs well with pretty much everything on the menu. The selection is almost overwhelming, so you might want to dip your toe in gently for the beer and bites menu between 5-7pm, Monday through Friday for a small sampling of the top dishes.
For something completely unexpected, this modern Indian gastropub is located around the corner from a Pitfire Pizza on a sleepy stretch of downtown by the LA Times building. The split level, low-key concept was designed by DEX Studio of Venice, and serves traditional Indian dishes with a twist by father-son culinary duo, Chef Pawan and Nakul Mahendro. You can order lamb vindaloo, saag peneer and chicken tikka masala but we recommend diving into the lamb burger which is minced in house with New Zealand lamb, topped with home-made mayo and served on a brioche bun from Bread Bar. You can order chickpeas and chips from the Bombay ‘street cart’ section or a Punjabi samosa but you must have an order of the chili cheese naan which is like an Indian quesadilla stuffed with hot chilies and aged American cheddar, served with yogurt raita that is so addictive we would drive through rush hour to order one along with an imported Kingfisher Lager. Even the canned sodas are imported from the Motherland including ThumsUp cola and Limca, and of course, you must end with a long grain basmati rice pudding with almonds and a shot of creamy chai tea which is found on almost every street corner.