Once again, Los Angeles Magazine has proven itself adept at sussing out the best restaurants in the city. The showcase of their Best New Restaurants of 2016 truly reflected the high quality of LA’s current culinary scene. Neither the rain nor the downtown back alley location could keep the crowd away.
Our first bite of the evening was from South Bay local David LeFevre, whose MB Post is already a classic. His citrus-cured salmon with cucumber and avocado was one of the prettiest and most popular dishes of the night. The place with the longest line, however, was chef Johnny Ray Zone’s Howlin’ Ray’s Nashville hot chicken. I asked the chef if he was nervous about the popular Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken coming to LA, and he assured us that they are friends.
Scopa Italian Roots, helmed by Chef Antonia Lofaso, doubled down with an addictive ricotta bruschetta and handmade cavatelli with black pepper and Pecorino. The homey pasta was a comforting dish for the cold weather. Chef Lofaso was not the only Top Chef grad in the room. Chef Marcel Vigneron combined a little molecular gastronomy with some old-school methodology to create a one-of-a-kind beet salad. Straight from the menu of his restaurant Wolf, the chef created a beautifully composed bowl of sorrel, almonds, yuzu and dried fruit, including an entire dried fig and an intense strawberry that reminded me of the homemade fruit leather from my childhood. The pièce de résistance was a beet meringue that he froze with nitrogen before the guest’s eyes.
It was no surprise to see one of our favorite chefs, Vartan Abgaryan, on the list with 71 Above. His restaurant in the sky has become LA’s go-to birthday spot. His charred octopus was unbelievable. Served with persimmon, meyer lemon and pickled pearl onions, it was seasonal cooking at its best.
We were so happy to see one of these lists finally fanning out and including far-flung parts of LA, especially for such a deserving restaurant. Baran’s 2239 caught our eye when it first opened four blocks from my mother’s house in a space with high turnover. But it is clear from their fresh-from-the-farm ingredients and Chef Tyler Gugliotta’s innovative cooking that Baran’s 2239 is here to stay. We were excited to try their version of a Scotch egg, as we had been intrigued by it on their menu. It was worth the wait. The quail egg, which was encased in lamb sausage, had a luscious soft yolk.
Other than being impressed with the name, we didn’t know much about Here’s Looking at You (HLAY), a quirky global-influenced spot in Koreatown, before this event. Chef-partner Jonathan Whitener definitely brought it with soft-shell prawns in sauce diabla with avocado and rau ram. We were instructed to hold the shrimp high overhead and lower them into our mouths, salt-crusted head, shell and all. Only the very brave followed the directions.
Chef Alvin Cailan of Egg Slut fame was being honored for his newest venture, Unit 120, a home for pop-ups that has already launched some impressive restaurants. Unit 120 served a hot salt cod chowder with green garlic, mussels, and chickpeas. It was another perfect dish for the cold, rainy night. I asked the chef if the salt cod was inspired by the Spanish bacalao fritters, but he said the soup was actually influenced by the Phillipines. The toast with Parmesan was not only a nice garnish, but one of our favorite aspects of the dish.
One of the Valley places we love the most is The Bellwether, which has sort of taken over the role of the now-defunct Pinot Bistro. Chef Ted Hopson once again seduced us with Nancy’s day boat scallops with duck bacon, sprouted lentils and orange creme fraiche. Yes, you heard me. Duck bacon. Chef Nick Erven blew our minds last summer at LA Magazine’s Food Event with a deep fried date. When you think about vegan restaurants like his Erven, you don’t usually think of the word “hearty.” But the beer-battered tofu sliders they served last Wednesday were exactly that. We can’t wait to see more.