20 Highlights of 2020

Food, Drink + Home Edition

I’ve learned a few things during quarantine: I’ll never be a Michelin-starred chef, you shouldn’t always save good wine for a special occasion, I look much better as a blonde, I’m never going to the Ozarks on vacation and natural deodorant is never a good idea.

Seriously, with one of the worst years in my lifetime finally coming to a close, I’m grateful to these people, places, new restaurants and distractions that kept me motivated, inspired and working during the pandemic.

With a new administration, vaccine and stimulus plan (hopefully!), stay safe and hope to see you out there in 2021!

Take out from Vespertine. Jordan Kahn’s ultra-chef driven multi-course themed dinners are available to go in Culver City. A few hundred dollars per person might seem like a steep price for take-out but when you consider dinner for two used to run close to $1,000 with drinks add-ons, it’s a steal. The current menu was inspired by legendary Alinea in Chicago and even driving up to the architecturally stunning Owen Moss building with ethereal music wafting into your car is an experience. When you get home, everything is beautifully prepared and packaged ready for the table (that in this case) includes caviar, King crab, truffle and bison to name a few ingredient highlights.  www.exploretock.com/vespertine/

Ocean Views from Nobu Ryokan Malibu

Staycation at Nobu Ryokan. It’s not easy to book and once you are finally ensconced behind the private garden walls with gurgling Koi ponds overlooking the Pacific Ocean, you will understand perfectly. My room included a deep teak soaking tub on the terrace, sake in the mini-bar and Nobu room service. You can also book an outdoor massage from CURE medi-spa across the street to ensure you are fully relaxed.

Sipping Singani 63: I was not expecting that a Bolivian spirit by filmmaker Steven Soderberg would be a standout from all the new bottles I tried during the pandemic. Distilled in the Andes from Muscat of Alexandria grapes, it reminded me of a smooth grappa that you could sip neat, on the rocks or mix for cocktails. It’s not brand new but easier to find now and can be delivered to your door via Amazon in the UK or BuySingani63.com.

Lamb barbacoa quesadilla from Mirame: With Michelin-star chef Josh Gil on board we knew the food would be worth a trip to the unlikely locale of Canon Drive in Beverly Hills but Chef Gil has taken it to another level with elevated twists on classic Oaxacan favorites along with a good selection of agave spirits and imported gifts from the region. The quesadilla is next level and they are now serving an array of tacos and duck carnitas breakfast burritos all day.

12 Days of Albariño: We still love rosé but it was time for a holiday reset. The winemakers of Rías Baixas shared some favorite holiday traditions celebrating the spirit of the Galicia region of northwestern Spain, along with 12 Albariño white wines delivered to your door that will transport you directly to that magical place.

Grain Traders Mural

Coffeeshops with Hidden Talents: It’s not enough to have just a great brew roasting with fair trade coffee beans or exotic teas on tap and a few baked goods in the case. Coffeeshops have taken the high road when it comes to food and even cocktails this year. A few new memorable moments include a great sake selection from Interstellar in Santa Monica to go with the menu spanning Korean galbi bowls to lobster rolls; chapatis duck confit with goat cheese wrap from Good Boy Bob coffee in Culver City which also turns into a wine bar with a strong sparkling and rosé selection at 4pm; the best chunky chocolate chip cookie from Grain Traders transport from Singapore who also serve wonderful healthy vegan fare on Fairfax; and rich, decadent chocolate cake from Sightglass coffee on Sycamore that rivals some of the best bakers in town. And, you can also find rare food imports and wines in their new marketplace along with pies from Fat + Flour in Grand Central Market.

Pizza from OSPI: After several years making incredible pasta in an El Segundo strip mall, celebrated Chef Jackson Kalb has moved into the old Canal Club space in Venice. You’ll still want all the pasta on the menu but the team has added fully fermented bread for sandwiches and wafer-thin pizzas to-go. Don’t over-look the butter chicken made “parmesan style (an off-menu request) and you can stroll along Venice beach after your pick-up.  

Cocktails from Madre. After a pop-up at Terra/Eataly in Century City, I wanted to know more about this Oaxacan-themed eatery from Torrance/Mar Vista and the well-balanced strong cocktails. Fortunately, they opened a new location on Fairfax in West Hollywood serving chicken mole and one of the largest mezcal collections in the country.  I can’t wait for them to reopen so I can sit at the bar and study the 400 plus bottles.

S’mores at Hotel Bel-Air: I’m normally not a fan of melting marshmallows and chocolate on a stick outside but warming up by a cozy fire on the Hotel Bel-Air grounds with a S’mores kit from Wolfgang Puck was a treat I hope to revisit soon

Zoom calls with Quarantunes: Yes, there was virtual event overload but I always looked forward to the musical driven events from WMA agent Richard Weiss and his daughter Demi who brought together everyone from Run DMC and LL Cool J to Michael Bolton and John Legend for good causes and a fun time on Saturday night.

Zoom cooking classes with Famous Chefs: This became a thing in 2020 and two of the people driving the bus was MC Billy Harris and his ongoing dinner series along with producer Paul Vitagliano who brought chefs from Wolfgang Puck to Brooke Williamson of Playa Provisions into your living rooms virtually for excellent food and cooking tips. Each event benefited a charity from the LA Food Bank to C-CAP, so we hope these continue long into the new year.

DM Burger at Adrift by David Myers

Milkshakes from Adrift:  Michelin starred chef David Myers took a break to open a few restaurants in Asia but is back in Venice where he has launched an excellent pop-up burger stand. The surprise here is not the return of a modern version of the beloved Comme Ca burger but the inventive milkshakes such as green matcha and white chocolate. We hope this concept sticks around.

Sushi TAMA on Robertson: Curated by chef Hideyuki Yoshimoto of the world-renowned Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, this is the best casual sushi spot to open in Los Angeles in years. The quality is pristine and the presentation worthy of much more pricy and famous local options. Until they can resume onsite dining, opt for the do-it-yourself temaki kit featuring a variety of sashimi with fillings or an omakase nigiri set for $45. 

Canned Cocktails: It was the year of the picnic (along with eating in your car) so canned drinks made with CBD for a hint of wellness-relaxing to spiked versions with your favorite booze became a lifeline.  These concoctions have been around but the bar was raised by Thurst Trap who makes some of the best watermelon tequila drinks available at Lanea in Santa Monica.

Ice cream from Antico: Yes, this Hollywood area Italian/pizza place by Chad Colby (formerly of Nancy Silverton’s Mozzaplex) really lives up to the hype, especially the cookies-n-cream. We are rooting for them to stay open long enough to try all the flavors.

The Finishing Gourme

Meal Kits for Home: This year we saw a plethora of delivery concepts spring into inventive meal kits from restaurants, produce, caviar and meat companies. One stood out above the rest: The Finishing Gourmet was like dining in a fine caliber steakhouse at home. The meticulously packaged steaks, seafood, salads and sides included every condiment organized in glass jars to cooking utensils and a quality knife to cut your 38 oz cowboy steak. This concept really eased the pandemic cooking at home doldrums.

Sheets from Snoopy and PJ’s from Sant and Abel: Like most of us, I spent a lot of time at home lounging and in bed this year. Nothing made me happier than putting on my Beverly Hills Hotel inspired banana leaf print pajamas from Aussie brand Sant and Abel and getting into my Peanuts brand Snoopy print sheets. Softer and better than any high-end linens for the sheer childhood joy factor.

Masks from Johnny Was: When I did leave the house, I always wore something from my selection of colorful silk printed masks by Johnny Was. I had one for every outfit and they also donated to someone in need for each package of five purchased.

Museum Quality Perfume Display

Perfume by Henry Jacques:  Another thing that lifted my spirits, was a renowned French fragrance house that opened a museum-worthy boutique at Two Rodeo Drive. The brand embraces the concept of building a fragrance wardrobe from 50 signature scents that are housed in chic bottles and custom-designed collectible boxes of wood, fabric and lacquer. parfumshenryjacques.com

Dining alfresco with friends. For a brief moment over the summer and late into the fall, there was social distance dining on outdoor patios. Pizza by the pool from Olivetta at Kimpton La Peer, wine and whole branzino on the candlelit patio of Hotel Cara, watching LAX traffic with a Hotel June chopped salad and mezcal cocktail, grilled lobster at Damian in the Arts District, pasta on the terrace at Gucci Osteria and a ginger margarita on the Jean Georges Rooftop at the Waldorf in Beverly Hills were just a handful of pleasant memories from 2020.

Published by Carole Dixon

International writer and television producer Carole Dixon is most happy traveling the globe documenting her cultural and culinary adventures in major cities. More far-flung travels have led from a Maasai village in East Africa to the backwaters of Kerala, India. Her stories have appeared in Architectural Digest, Town & Country, Departures, Wallpaper, Robb Report, Travel & Leisure, Elite Traveler, NY Post, USA Today, The Evening Standard in London, Business Traveler, C-Suite Quarterly, Angeleno, DineLA, Zagat, Bravo.com and Travel Age West - among many others. Dixon was the Editor of The Feast for NBC LA for two years and during their merger with Daily Candy and is also the author of several LA City Guidebooks for Wallpaper, published by Phaidon; Editor-in-Chief of www.thecaratdiet.com - a luxury lifestyle site owned by the California Jewelers Association; Editor/co-founder of West Hollywood Lifestyle; Lifestyle Editor at Beverly Hills Courier, and currently, Managing Editor at Paradise. Follow me on IG: @caroledixon or Twitter: @carole_dixon

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