January’s Los Angeles Magazine announced their selections for the best new restaurants in LA. On Wednesday, the magazine hosted an event where the top restaurants could show off their skills. And show off they did. With each bite, we understood clearly why each restaurant made that list. My only regret is that I passed by the Infiniti lounge, thereby missing out on the much-touted donut wall.
Chef Brendan Collins of Birch created a delicious salmon tartare with leche de tigre in a perfectly cylindrical squid ink tule. I was a little wary of eating something so black, but the benefit outweighed the risk. Later in the evening the restaurant branched out by serving foie gras and chicken liver crostino with port jelly. The Bellwether’s Chef, Ted Hopson, presented generous portions of Big Eye Tuna crudo draped with a raw puttanesca style sauce, fennel confit, and Calabrian chili. Faith & Flower served Maine scallop ceviche with winter citrus on crispy taro chips.
Josh Graves, the pastry chef from Faith & Flower also brought it with his pistachio mousse, lemon curd, and Dulcey crunchy pearls. It looked like a beautiful underwater scene. It can’t be easy to make such a nice presentation when everything is the color of moss. They were the only dessert at the event, other than Compartes chocolates and oh yeah, that wall of donuts.
Redbird went with seafood as well, but Chef Neal Fraser bucked the trend by cooking his New Caledonian shrimp and grits with cocoa nib chipotle mole. I love shrimp and grits and wanted more. The mole was a surprising twist, but it totally went together, I mean, that’s basically what masa is, right? He could also call it inside-out shrimp tamales if he felt like it.
You really can’t compare the meatballs from Jon & Vinny’s and Union. They are a whole different animal. When I took a bite of Union’s pork meatball relaxing on a bed of polenta wearing a jaunty caper berry hat with a flurry of parmigiana reggiano, I was surprised by how delicious it was. It was light and delicate and packed with flavor. I had to run back to Chef Bruce Kalman and gush. I don’t want the other meatballs to get jealous, Jon & Vinny’s were more meaty, and were accompanied by Marinara, ricotta, and garlic bread. They were fantastic in their own special way. My tummy is big enough for both of you. So no fighting.
Americans are finally realizing that with proper preparation, nose-to-tail eating is the way to go. People are much more adventurous, and the chefs are knocking some cool stuff out in response. Chef Michael Fiorello of Love & Salt brought his popular buttery panini made with corned lamb tongue, pickled peppers, fontina cheese and tomato aioli. Chef Ray Garcia of Broken Spanish served a literal nose-to-tail plate with a camote (sweet potato) with chopped pig tail and trompa (nose) with chile de arbol and verjus. The porcine bits were cooked down to gelatinous yet toothsome bits. It had a bit of a bite to it too. It was a regular sausage fest over at Terrine, where Chef Kris Morningstar was boiling up giant knockwurst from his restaurant’s famous Choucroute garnie on a bed of Reisling braised sauerkraut.
Cassia, which was chosen as the number one best new restaurant, went with the Thai influences that served them so well at The Spice Table. Instead of drowning delicate escargot with garlic, Chef Bryant Ng chopped them with lemongrass butter and herbs, and served them on a toasted pain de mie. There was a serious line waiting to try the offerings from Le Comptoir, which shares the Hotel Normandie with Cassell’s. Chef Gary Menes prepared a silky pumpkin veloute with creme fraiche and sourdough crumbs as well as a mushroom blini.
Unfortunately, Odys + Penelope couldn’t make it, but we were pleased that past honorees Faith & Flower and Union stepped up to the plate. One of the red wines, St. Julian, made a big splash at the event. Bombay Sapphire was pouring Gin Collins for the evening, while Ryan Wainwright of Terrine stood behind a gin cart serving his own cocktail dubbed the Stylus. I wish he would wheel that cart around my neighborhood, ringing a bell like a paletero. I think everyone enjoyed the night. It was pleasant to attend an intimate event with just enough food to satiate, without feeling overstuffed or worrying that you missed out on something. Oh, wait, the wall of donuts…damn.