Best New Restaurants
The Top Ten - L.A.'s 10 Best New Restaurants
Los Angeles Magazine, by Margot Dougherty
FROM DOWNTOWN TO ORANGE COUNTY, HERE ARE THE BEST NEW
RESTAURANTS IN THE CITY THAT'S ALWAYS COOKIN'
THE RESTAURANT BUSINESS is not for the faint of heart.
Finding the right combination of chef, location and space
is a dicey proposition at best, then factor in the search
for reliable investors and just the right lighting, cutlery,
chair fabric and pepper mill design. Even once all those
ingredients seem harmoniously aligned, the alchemical
result, the ineffable feel of the place, is still nearly
impossible to predict. And that's a volatile variable
because, ultimately, it's a restaurant's spirit that will--or
won't--attract its clientele night after night.
This year we've seen start-ups and renovations in unlikely
spots, from a clapboard cottage in Newport Beach to a
tiny cafe in Venice. And the food itself? Forget those
L.A. cliches about sprouts and avocados. Food-o-phobes
are the latest cultural outcasts, and the pleasure principle
is back in the diner's seat. These days we're lustily
tossing back everything from shooters of seaweed and mountain
yam to thick steaks and porcelain cups of pot de crime.
It was no easy task to pick L.A.'s 10 best new restaurants.
The criteria aren't quite quantifiable; we've eaten, and
eaten--and eaten some more--and these, in no particular
order, are our favorite places.
JON FERNOW, PATINA'S CHEF FROM 1993 TO 1996 and a partner
with Joachim Splichal in the Patina Group, joined forces
with Rainer Schwarz, ex of Cafe Pinot, to pick up Victor
Drai's lease on La Cienega Boulevard when the latter decamped
for Vegas. Once in, they banished all things leopard,
lost the potted palms and loud pictures and lightened
and brightened the walls. That back room, the one that
had indoor-outdoor carpeting, has been overhauled with
whitewashed bricks and a fountain, and the sunken cocktail
lounge now has playfully colored outsize furniture. The
result is just the right foil for Schwarz's incredible
American-infused French cuisine. Or maybe it's French-infused
American. Suffice it to say, "It's not your typical
bistro style that everyone else is doing," according
to Schwarz. "It's very simple; nothing crazy like
tomatoes in the middle of winter."
This is a grown-up spot, and the crowd leans toward older
Spago and Patina types whose lunch money dates back a
few years--or at least they know how to make it look that
way. They also know their osetras and prime beefs and
don't want any gauche nouveau tricks. Or, as GM Allan
Ludwig, who recognizes a lot of the crowd from his days
at the Grill, puts it, "Our guests have the money
to go out five and six nights a week. They want good service,
and they love to be recognized. When fads change, they
don't; they won't leave us when the music changes."
730 N. LA CIENEGA BLVD., 310-358-8585.
"IT'S SO TACKY!!" CLAIM CRITICS. EXACTLY! "What
were they thinking?" Who cares? The old Scandia,
the landmark restaurant where Bogey had his own stool
when iceberg lettuce with Thousand Island dressing was
in vogue, has been restored to the tune of $4 million.
In 1995, the original owners Gregg and Scott Rennick bought
the building back from Don Cornelius, the Soul Train man.
The work of interior decorator Danna Moore has raised
a few discerning eyebrows, but for anyone with a modicum
of humor, this is a fabulously campy spot. The bar is
dark and delightfully kitschy, with a series of mismatched
fabrics bound to stir lively conversation even in the
dullest of dates, and the wraparound windows and greenery
in the terrace room make it a nice spot for lunch. The
$35,000 fake palm tree in the main dining room pegs this
area, lined with comfy banquettes, as our personal favorite.
Unfortunately, the Rennicks' new partners, club promoters
Steve Scarduzio and David Klass, might jettison the fixture,
which changes colors as you dine, in an effort to turn
Legacy into a happening late-night spot. "I guarantee
this is where all the in celebrities will be hanging out,"
says Scarduzio. No doubt they'll like that private dining
room in the wine cellar.
Legacy hits its highest note in the kitchen, where David
McMillan, formerly of the Peninsula, is turning out delicious
food, like the tenderest of pot-roasted pork served over
creamy polenta and a rack of Australian lamb with sauteed
artichokes and brioche bread pudding. Jean-Claude Canestrier,
ex-pastry chef for Prince Rainier of Monaco, makes desserts--like
a lemon parfait with a rosemary meringue and blackberry
coulis--appropriately regal. 9040 SUNSET BLVD., WEST HOLLYWOOD,
THIS ISN'T A NEW RESTAURANT, AS ANY serious foodie knows,
but it recently reopened after owners Tim and Liza Goodell,
chef and pastry chef respectively, spent 18 months renovating.
Now their backstreet house in Newport Beach, with three
dining rooms and two outdoor patios, has reclaimed its
mantle as one of the most exquisite dining experiences
around. The staff is smart and professional, and the taste
of the place is impeccable--Tudor red walls, white linen
tablecloths, Riedel crystal. As for the taste of the food
... let's just say the Goodells, who also own Costa Mesa's
Troquet, have a complete understanding of the palate's
appreciation for subtlety. Consider the delicate nuance
of cucumber-infused granitee atop a Wellfleet oyster,
for example. Or the wild black bass with tomato confit,
chorizo and a basil emulsion. Dessert might include a
knockout Valrhona chocolate souffle cake with prune and
armagnac ice cream. In fact, the only trouble with Aubergine
is that it's so far away for so many of us. But the Goodells,
ultimate hosts that they are, realize the imposition and
are hunting real estate in L.A. proper, 508 29TH ST.,
NEWPORT BEACH. 949-723-4150.
WHEN BRIAN VIDOR FIRST SUGGESTED A SUSHI BAR to the muckety-mucks
who run the Santa Monica Airport, they sputtered and the
deal nearly stalled. "What about a nice hamburger
joint?" they countered uncomfortably. Vidor compromised
with Typhoon, the Thai restaurant and bar that overlooks
the runway and, notwithstanding a few fried insect dishes,
is very American-friendly. But finally, a biblical seven
years later, he got the all-clear for the Hump--pilot
lingo for the Himalayas--a small, 14-seat sushi bar and
eight-table restaurant perched directly on top of Typhoon.
Business took off immediately because nobody in town celebrates
the mysteries of the deep as tastefully as sushi chef
Hiro Nishimura. Sure, he'll send over the old standards:
edamame, sashimi, those nice inside-out sushi rolls you
can get anywhere else--although they'll taste a lot better
here. But if you sit at the bar and let Hiro have his
way, the ensuing five- or six- or seven-course meal of
extemporaneous art, on hand-painted dishes, is guaranteed
to lay you flat. Metaphorically. In a very, very good
way. He does amazing things with the likes of albacore,
monkfish livers and oysters, and although he's all business
while doing it, there's a wry humor on his plates--like
the itty-bitty freshwater crab that he stands on tiptoe
with a single claw raised in mid-salute, like a freeze-frame
of the Queen doing her white-glove wave. The royal crustacean
tastes like a 3-D potato chip but, lacquered, would make
a natty lapel pin, too. 3221 DONALD DOUGLAS
LOOP SOUTH, SANTA MONICA, 310-313-0977.
THE TOO HOT TAMALES HAVE DONE IT AGAIN. At Ciudad, Mary
Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger have renewed their passports
as intrepid intercultural trendsetters with a wildly inventive
menu that showcases the tastes of Central and South America--and
gives a big nod to their alcohol culture, with festive
cocktails and a tasting menu of more than 30 rums. The
environment, designed by Milliken's husband, Josh Schweitzer,
is just plain happy--Klee-like murals on the wall, friendly
waitfolks in mango-colored guayaberas. The food's fun,
too--big platters of intriguingly spiced, soul-sating
stuff. "We're not into elitist food," says Feniger.
Or elitist locations. "When we opened City on Melrose
in 1981, there were just a couple of furniture refinishers
and Wacko," she says. When they opened a second City
on La Brea, "it had two art galleries." Both
streets are now, of course, culinary and shopping meccas.
Ciudad, another smart choice, is smack-dab in the middle
of once-dead downtown and a stone's throw from the Mark
Taper and the soon-to-open $350 million Staples Entertainment
Center. "We look at [so-called] A-plus locations,
but there's no risk," says Milliken. "I don't
know if it's boring to us"--"or if we're too
cheap," finishes Feniger. Maybe just savvy. 445 S.
FIGUEROA ST., 213-486-5171.
CAROLINE STYNE WAS THE manager of Jones Hollywood and
a friend of a friend of Suzanne Goin, who was souschef
at Campanile, when they were set up as potential restaurant
partners. "We dated," jokes Goin, "and
the more we talked, the more we realized we had the same
ideas about the sort of place we wanted to open."
The two foraged for a fleet of investors and finally found
a prime location--on Melrose between Ago and Jozu--to
call their own. Now Lucques, which is named for a French
olive whose skin tone is reflected in the restaurant's
palette of subtle colors, is one of the brightest jewels
in L.A.'s restaurant scene. Goin, a Food & Wine cover
girl, gets tongue-tied when asked to define her style
and wishes somebody else would do it for her. "A
melange of French and Mediterranean with a soupcon of
Californian that's sophisticated and, somehow, feminine"
would be one way to go. Another would be "really,
really good." And the atmosphere, thanks to Styne's
friendly presence, is clubby in a non-snobby way. Lucques
is a great spot for long, wine-fueled evenings of conversation--over
bouillabaisse or a nice little saddle of lapin, perhaps.
And with its wonderful pasta and wine selections, the
bar menu, served until 10:30, is one of the best deals
in town. 8474 MELROSE AVE., 323-655-6277.
WHEN BURT ALEXANDER, JERRY GARCIA'S extant doppelganger,
lost his partner in a little beachside joint called Frankie
and Raider's, he called Sandor Kaplan, his cousin's son,
and asked if he wanted in. Kaplan, who'd just opened Pasadena's
Pinot, in turn asked Michael Wilson his best friend since
age four and a fellow cook at both Pinot Bistro and San
Francisco's famed Rubicon--to join them. Together, the
team transformed the 14-table cafe into the most unlikely
spot on the Westside to serve finger-licking fancy food.
The menu, which is recited by the waiters, changes weekly,
and its cuisine is not to be pinned down. "We've
been calling it nouveau California," says Kaplan.
"But it has European and Mexican influences--and
we have pickled ginger in the Caesar. So it's really nouveau
cuisine for the new millennium." Edibly, that means
things like seared monkfish served on a lemon confit-infused
potato cake, or porcini gnocchi with an asparagus phyllo
roll. And folks who've never seen that part of Venice
before (you'll know them by their high hair and are happily
rubbing elbows with the locals to enjoy it. 5 DUDLEY AVE.,
HOW OFTEN DO you get to spend $40 on a 16-ounce prime
New York steak? Rarer still, how often does the meat actually
seem worth it? Bruce Marder, the man who brought you Rebecca's,
the Broadway Deli and the West Beach Cafe (rest its soul)
in Venice, makes the deal seem close to a steal in his
most sophisticated venture to date--well, he lessens the
sting at least. With partner Steve Wallace of Wally's
Wine Shop, he scored a real estate pearl, formerly disguised
as the Mucky Duck, and transformed it into a small, elegant
room with a shiny wooden ban He took a three-month cooking
course in Italy before manning Capo's stone fireplace,
where he grills top-tier meats for a top-notch clientele.
The kitchen turns out the rest of a smallish, nicely balanced
menu featuring herbs and vegetables from Marder's own
garden. And a flock of handsomely chiseled waiters--no
runners or busboys--keeps the operation humming along
smoothly. "I've decided I like designing restaurants
and cooking," says Marder, whose current holdings
suggest a shrewd Monopoly player. Next, he's reincarnating
the West Beach at the Pacific Shores Hotel across the
street, and in September he'll reopen the Brentwood Inn
as a "small watering hole for the local elite."
1810 OCEAN AVE., SANTA MONICA, 310-394-5550.
THE BEACH HOUSE
LIZA UTTER, WHO OPENED AND CO-OWNED La Cachette in its
glory days, wanted an "East Coast meets West Coast"
beach feel for her new spot, so she painted the walls
white, hung shutters to separate the bar area--a resort
destination of its own with overstuffed chairs and sofas--from
the dining room, put in plenty of windows and lined the
entryway with exuberant black-and-white snaps of herself
and her friends. The menu started off matching the decor:
steamers, lobster, corn on the cob. But with Josie LeBalch
masterminding the kitchen, it has evolved considerably.
Hence the amazing baby-tomato tart lined with goat cheese
and fresh herbs and the New Zealand lamb chops with fennel
potatoes and red-wine sauce. Desserts are gracefully sybaritic:
miniature apple pies, fruit cobblers served in cereal
bowls and Liza's fantasy sundae, which includes vanilla
and chocolate ice creams, chocolate and butterscotch sauces.
The Beach House is like one of those nonlinear equations;
the whole is even greater than the sum of its parts. The
place has an electric feel, thanks in large part to the
engaging Utter, who grew up in Malibu and the Pacific
Palisades and seems to know everyone in the joint. In
fact, everyone seems to know everyone. "When people
walk in, they say they feel as though they're at a wedding,"
Utter laughs. "When we're busy, it's like a giant
party and the guests are working the tables." 100
WEST CHANNEL, RD., PACIFIC PALISADES. 310-454-8299.
YOU HAVE TO HAND IT to Serge Burckel. After finally realizing
a dream to come to the U.S.--via a cooking stint in Hong
Kong--he leaves his very successful Redondo Beach restaurant
(Splash), moves to Los Angeles, feverishly refurbishes
the old Gadsby's and opens it as his new place the same
week that his wife/maitresse d' Corinne gives birth to
their first child. (Maybe that explains the chocolate
cigar on the dessert menu.) French-born Burckel, whose
father was a chef in Alsace, is up to his old tricks in
terms of unusual pairings--a signature dessert is a fried
eggplant filled with banana, and it comes with an apple
vinegar and saffron coulis. He serves stewed beef with
a whole roasted papaya, and his salads, particularly one
featuring shredded duck with beets, arugula and foie gras,
are inventively dreamy. So are entrees like the horseradish-crusted
salmon presented on a palette of purple Thai rice with
an orange vodka dressing studded with caviar. And the
room, with its yellow walls, floor-to-ceiling velvet theater
curtains and cheerful artwork -some of it by Burckel himself)
is comfortably intimate--like a bustling Parisian boite.
672 S. LA BREA AVE., 323-692-0540. LA
We at LOS ANGELES MAGAZINE know how much you love to eat
out. So, In our March 1999 issue, we asked you to name
your favorite restaurants in the city. Here they are,
Congratulations to all seven winners.
BEST ROMANTIC RESTAURANT HOTEL BEL-AIR. 701 Stone Canyon
Rd., Bel-Air, 310-472-1211
BEST CELEBRITY-SPOTTING RESTAURANT SPAGO BEVERLY HILLS.
176 N. Canon Dr., Beverly Hills, 310-385-0880
BEST CHEAP EATS EL CHOLO, 1121 S. Western Ave., 323-734-2773
BEST NEIGHBORHOOD RESTAURANT CAFE BIZOU, 14016 Ventura
Blvd., Sherman Oaks, 818-788-3536
BEST POWER BREAKFAST THE BELVEDERE AT THE PENINSULA HOTEL,
9882 Little Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hulls, 310-788-2306
BEST POWER LUNCH THE GRILL. 9560 Dayton Way, Beverly Hills,
BEST OVERALL RESTAURANT PATINA, 5955 Melrose Ave., Hollywood,
Los Angeles magazine will celebrate these and many other
fine restaurants at the Best of L.A. Festival at the Santa
Monica Civic Auditorium from July 23 to 25. Join us as
we sample gourmet cuisine, live music, libations and much
more! For further details, call 888-BESTOFLA or go to
COPYRIGHT 1999 Los Angeles Magazine, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group