The 10 best restaurants I ate at in L.A. in 2014
Tis the season for listing (oh who am I kidding, these days it's always the season), and I am not immune.
Before the door shut on 2014, I wanted to give some quick shout outs to some of the places where I ate in L.A. this year that for one lame reason or another I wasn't able to write/post about at more length...
I'm well aware there are at least as many great new restaurants in L.A. that opened this year and I haven't had a chance to try. Then again there are heavily touted spots that I frankly don't "get." At all. So anyway, this is just what it is: the best restaurants I ate at in L.A. in 2014. Alphabetical because I'm not numbering them:
Acabar seems gimmicky because it took over the space of a very gimmicky Morrocan restaurant--and actually made the space MORE Morrocan. But despite the lounge-clubby element, it has a very solid cocktail program (although I liked it better when it was deep into the nerd classics) and the food, whether it's actually coming from EC Octavio Becerra or day-to-day CDC Kevin Luzande is pretty, tasty, and world-informed. Along with Faith & Flower (see below) and in another way, Barton G, it's part of the growing trend of whole-experience restaurants, a welcome reaction to the "sit on a shop stool and overpay for/overpraise whatever the chef puts in front of you." Definitely one of the best date-night choices in Hollywood. Order: Kanpachi, Octopus, Lamb Tagine, Porn Bread (just because).
Barton G: Look, I'm the first to admit this Miami transplant is silly: steaks arrive on a block stuck with a three foot high fork. The lobster pop-tarts (recommended) come in a vintage-style toaster. The sashimi? On a display with a ponzu fountain. But let's be honest, most restaurants offer some kind of fantasy. If you want to pretend you're in some kind of post-Apocalypse where jam on toast is a luxury, go to Squirl. Want to pretend you're in a Roger Rabbit cartoon? This is the place. Yes, it's pricey, but you're never going to forget it. And the food doesn't suck.
Belcampo Meat Co: I'm not 100% sold on every new spot in downtown's revamped Grand Central Market (and yes, I have a particular bone against EGGSLUT for their prominently lettered sign that I had to explain to my daughter) but wrap your head around this: A responsible vertically organized company that raises the beef, slaughters it themselves, and sells it fresh or cooks and serves it on the bun right there. And it's good--in fact, very few places in L.A. can beat this burger (especially for the price) without gilding the lily. Ditto the cemita.
Bourbon Steak: It would be dangerous for me to declare this the best steakhouse experience in L.A. altogether, but I will go out on the limb of calling this easily the best new steakhouse experience East of Musso & Frank's. It's also the best version I've seen yet of Michael Mina's growing chain that isn't really a chain (each Bourbon is distinct). Cool tableside whiskey experience, Mina's legendary lobster pot pie, great meat of course, and yeah, sexy bathrooms.
Din Tai Fung is literally next door to Bourbon (so sue me) and I'm not so naive as to think they have anything like the best dumplings in Southern California overall. But if you're a bit intimidated by San Gabriel, or simply can't bear driving any farther East, this is the most comfortable option for getting good shao long bao and noodles. Don't miss the truffle dumplings (might be weekends only?). Expensive, but worth it.
Faith & Flower is another restaurant that's about much more than the food itself, a collaboration between the Coastal Luxury team (Vegas' Rose.Rabbit.Lie, Monterey's 1833) and L.A.'s emerging resto-king Stephane Bombet (Picca, Mo-Chica, Paiche, Terrine) that matches a fantastic space with time-travelling Ameri-French-Asian dishes, raw bar and smart cocktails. It didn't change my life as much as it did for some others, but it's certainly one of Downtown's smartest destinations. Get the confit, and pizza.
Fishing With Dynamite, which I finally visited this year, isn't technically in LA, but so what--it's definitely a nearby destination for Angelenos, and worth the drive to Manhattan Beach. The tiny place is a picture-perfect version of a seafood shack like you'd expect to see in a vintage Gidget movie, but the seafood-raw and cooked--is as serious as it gets. Explicitly sourced raw bar, Tasmanian sea trout, Grilled Octopus: order whatever, you're not going to make a mistake. I like to think of this as Chef David LaFevre's way of telling his ex-bosses at downtown's Water Grill "this is how you should do it." He's dead right.
Gracias Madre: The trendiest stretch of Melrose Ave. is the last place you expect to find any serious food (Lucques notwithstanding) but this San Francisco transplant is nothing short of a godsend for vegans with a palate. Yes, the bright space is the ultimate in ladies-who-lunch vibe, but don't let that steer your mindset. Mushrooms with mole tacos, coconut bacon torta, butternut squash quesadilla... just order some things and get over the meatlessness. Prices are relatively reasonable for the zip code.
Sonny's Hideaway: On a stretch of Highland Park's York Blvd. that has been subject of some controversy (the new businesses may be welcome, but the unfortunate rent-inflation that is following them definitely isn't), Sonny's takes the hipster archetype: brown spirit cocktails, category-bending menu structure, reinvented comfort recipes, and does something unexpected: it actually delivers creativity and satisfaction in a proper balance, and an unpretentious but comfortable environment. A neighborhood restaurant circa 2014 in the best way possible. The fact that the Chef looks like he barely graduated from the garde manger only adds to the surprise.
Spago Beverly Hills may be the most overlooked restaurant by the serious eaters of L.A., leaving it to the old school power lunchers and tourists who still read guide books. That's nothing short of tragic (and the stars of that tragedy are the foodies--the resto isn't suffering) because the kitchen that has graduated more famous, successful chefs than the C.I.A. (I'm willing to bet) is still producing very contemporary smart dishes for a revamped room where celebration dinners and biz meets are equally at home. I experienced the locovoracious Taste of California menu by Chefs Lee Hefter and Tetsu Yahagi back in April (it changes seasonally of course) and it's still on my mind 8 months later. A nine course $145 bargain. Take that, Trois Mec.