Simon Majumdar is an author, food and travel writer and broadcaster, regularly appearing on Food Network shows such as Cutthroat Kitchen, Beat Bobby Flay, Iron Chef America, The Next Iron Chef, The Best Thing I Ever Ate and Extreme Chef. Based in L.A. and critiquing restaurants and bars for Time Out Los Angeles, he lives every day trying to fulfill his ambition to “Go Everywhere. Eat Everything.”
Listings and reviews (38)
Typically—for me, at least—the Italian port city of Bari just summons thoughts of its perennially underachieving soccer team. However, thanks to this rather enjoyable new restaurant bearing that name, I’m likely to turn towards thinking about the comforting, underrated regional cuisine from the capital of Italy’s heel. Chef Chad Colby’s time in charge of the kitchen at Mozza sibling Chi Spacca and at his own restaurant, Antico, proved his skill at preparing food from across Italy. At Bari, he splits his menu into 10 sections. Each gives a shout out to the fried snacks, breads, semolina-based pasta and grilled meats and fish so beloved in his favorite Italian region of Apulia. Taralli fennel crackers and burrata cheese come served with anchovies and breadcrumbs. A panzerotti di pasquale presents the classic snack with a filling of tomatoes and mozzarella in a rustically crimped fried golden dough. The paparrachielli al tonno, or small-pickled cherry peppers stuffed with tuna, reminds one of the delightful jarred snack that you can buy in most Italian supermarkets. Perhaps Bari’s only disappointment were the fave e chicoria, a deeply savory puree of fava beans with a chicory topping whose overwhelming level of acidity would have made Joan Rivers blush. My wife and I were restored to the correct path with a perfect version of another Apulian standard, orecchiette cime di rape, a toothsome little ear semolina dough pasta with broccoli rabe and a hit of anchovy and chili. Then c
Lines were already beginning to form at Lasita when we arrived. In part this is down to the huge goodwill engendered by its former iteration, Lasa, which, during its time was considered one of the best Filipino restaurants in Los Angeles. And in part it’s because in the short while Lasita has been open, it’s already become popular in its own right—albeit a work in progress. The chefs have sensibly based their menu around two popular Filipino food staples, the chicken inasal (rotisserie chicken, marinated in spices, calamansi juice and annatto for the signature coloring) and pork belly lechon (the dish by which most Filipino restaurants are judged). These are available à la carte in whole or half sizes, and by the plate with suitable accompaniments of rice, pickles, garlic mojo and a sauce of soy and calamansi juice. Coming from someone who has been fed a lot of lechon by his Filipino in-laws over the years, the lechon was easily my favorite. The flesh retained its juiciness and the skin was as crunchy as any crunchaholic could ask for. A pound of lechon served like a rolled porchetta with some of the top-notch garlic rice, garlic mojo and a large bucket of the spectacular atchara (pickles) that accompanied it on the plate would have been five stars and done. However, the half inasal chicken, while the perfect color (from the annatto) and with a gloriously tangy skin from the marinade, had dried out underneath its covering. Also, the chicken fat rice that supported it on the
The daily-changing iterations of beef at Matū are prepared with such exemplary execution that Beverly Hills may no longer be that oft-derided (by me, at least) dining area of L.A. The restaurant comes to us from the brain box of about a half-dozen restaurateurs and chefs, including Sugarfish cofounder Jerry Greenberg. Let’s concentrate, though, on First Light Farms, which provides grass-fed beef from New Zealand that’s well-marbled without being cloying. Chef Scott Linder and his exemplary team in the open kitchen then serve it “warm red”—around medium rare, which is enough to break the marbling down and to release an almost natural nuttiness to the beef. To do this on a consistent basis takes genuine kitchen skills, and there was very little in the whole meal that came out of the kitchen anything other than perfectly prepared. There’s a full à la carte menu, but the best way to experience Matū is through the five-course Wagyu Dinner, which, at $78 per person, borders on the “how do they make any money off this?” level of excellent value for such a premium quality of beef. My meal (the Wagyu Dinner selections rotate nightly) began with a small shot glass of bone broth, where the yuzu salt at the bottom of the bowl cut through the natural fattiness of the bones. Of the next (slightly too rapid) procession of dishes, perhaps the only disappointment was the tartare, which was prepared with Italian accompaniments of crumbled Parmesan cheese, a crisp extra virgin olive oil, black
Edna’s Filipino Cuisine
A drive to Long Beach—whether down the block or across the basin—is definitely worth the effort for some of the best traditional Filipino food I have eaten in a long time. Everything comes just as you hoped it would. Pinakbet, the Filipino version of ratatouille, is served with an unapologetic amount of bagoong (fermented fish paste). Chicharon bulaklak, fried bits of pork offal, is crisp and comes with a spicy vinegar of just the right heat. The broth of the sinigang (soup) is lip-smackingly sour. I could very easily live here.
Salo Salo has long been one of my favorite traditional Filipino food havens. (And for disclosure, I did once spend some time in the kitchen there picking up recipes and techniques.) Everything they do there in terms of preparation is textbook. The appetizer of assorted lumpia, the “escabeche isda” (fish escabeche), the combination plates of skewers, the bagoóng fried rice (fried rice with fermented fish paste): There are few moments during a meal to do anything but nod in approval.
Gemmae Bake Shop
If I didn’t include a bakery in my list of the best Filipino places to eat in Los Angeles, I suspect I’d lose my “Filipino by marriage” license. Gemmae Bake Shop is simply one of the best—so good that I am under strict “pain of death” instructions not to touch both the Nutella and ube pandesal (Nutella and purple yam bread, respectively) we brought back from there. Fortunately, there are plenty of other less pain-threatening items on the menu, such as the hopia mongo (puff pastry filled with sweetened mung beans) and the classic bibingka (baked sweet rice cake).
For a 95-year-old restaurant and bar, West Hollywood’s Formosa Café is receiving a huge amount of new attention. In part, that’s due to the stunning reclamation of its former glories by the 1933 Group (they of Highland Park Bowl, Thirsty Crow and Idle Hour fame), and in part, it’s also because Angelenos have an intrinsic appreciation of old-school haunts—particularly those that’ve played host to some of the key names in Hollywood’s golden age. I wouldn’t be surprised if unearthed reservation books contained names such as Brando, Monroe, Sinatra, Wayne and Beatty, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Formosa Café embodies that golden glow. Against such a backdrop of A-list celebrity and its stunning renovation—which reportedly cost around $2.5 million and months of painstaking archive research to get things right—it would be easy for the food to become little more than a bit part player. However, with the new American-Chinese and Taiwanese menu from chef David Kuo of the much-admired Little Fatty, it offers far more than a simple something to chew on while you admire all the signed headshots on the wall. The small menu contains many of Little Fatty’s signature dishes, all of which arrive readily from the kitchen. It’s split into dishes to share; dim sum; rice and noodles; and two desserts. Of the shared dishes, the braised pork belly ($20) was well received, but, it was the orange chicken ($16) and kung pao chicken ($15) that received most of the plaudits, particularly th
Given chef David Beran’s first L.A. outlet, the Michelin-starred Dialogue, I was expecting great things from his new Gallic-inspired restaurant, Pasjoli—and I’m delighted to say that, as proved through several increasingly excellent meals, Pasjoli does not disappoint. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its issues. There’s décor that I find slightly unappealing, a wine list that might be considered a lip curl at anyone looking for easy access, and a high ticket price—not to mention formality in an increasingly casual dining scene. Yet Pasjoli is one of my favorite new restaurants, in part because of my own predilection for old-school, technique-driven dining, but primarily because, when it comes to the food, the chefs have yet to serve a single bite that doesn’t make me smile. Reading the menu may well require you to brush up on schoolhouse French, or to nose through the pages of Escoffier’s Ma Cuisine for reference, but any doubts about the viability of such a menu classique disappear as soon as the quenelle with scallop, caviar and beurre blanc ($36) arrives. It’s a textbook version of the soft dumpling, here made with scallops rather than pike. The creamy texture of the seafood against the richness of the butter and saltiness of the fish eggs is an indication that Beran is completely unapologetic about his desire to bring elegant French cuisine back to the forefront. The same is true with the canard Bordelaise ($25), where shreds of confit duck nestle under a rich topping of
This review is very much a tale of two visits to chef Jeremy Fox’s immediately popular, jet-engine–noisy and cavernous new Jewish-Midwestern-Californian dining spot in Santa Monica. Our first meal at Birdie G’s was a two-star experience that made me long for my more consistent meals at one of Fox’s other outlets, say, Rustic Canyon: It was an evening of poor cocktails, cramped tables, extended waits between courses, aggressive pre-bussing at Olympic level speeds and food that was, at kindest, a little overworked, and often executed rather poorly. But the second visit could not have been more different. If reviewing had been based on a one-off meal, I would’ve knighted the same restaurant with four stars. The only thing that linked our two meals was the engaging servers who took excellent care of us on both trips. Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first: The chopped salad ($19) displayed that current L.A. trope of taking salt and acidity to a point where the dish almost becomes inedible; equally poor were the sweetbreads “Jocko’s Style” ($20), which formed part of the Texas-toast section of the menu. The art of cooking sweetbreads seems to have vanished with the decline of French cuisine, and these thymus glands came skewered and cooked to a rubbery consistency. Less abject but just as disappointing was the king salmon tartare ($23); the light acidity of a sauce ravigote is a classic addition to fish, but here it was doused with such abundance that the salmon was reduce
The menu at Chad Colby’s new rustic, open-hearth Italian restaurant may not offer anything quite so dramatic as the beef and bone marrow pie of my dreams at the chef’s former kitchen—Nancy Silverton’s chi SPACCA—but over multiple visits to Antico, we found enough hallmarks of Colby’s cooking to make us understand why his new spot’s been a hit since its launch. One of those elements included the antipasti ($9 per person) which shows Colby at his best with gently grilled zucchini; house-cured salami; slivers of salty anchovy; and deeply creamy ricotta on crisp toast—notionally simple to make, decidedly hard to make well. Salads were more straightforward. A garden salad ($12) is a hard dish to mess up. Antico almost did. The simple salad with added sungold tomatoes just rang of good shopping, and they followed the current and rather tiring trend of dressing the leaves with enough acid to make your teeth dissolve. Burrata ($14) is ubiquitous in Los Angeles, but with the addition of seasonal ingredients and crunch—breadcrumbs in summer, pepitas in autumn—it takes on a welcome textural dimension. Oddly, given Colby’s provenance, the least appealing dishes were the pastas; they were by no means poor, but L.A. is experiencing a moment in the sun when it comes to matters noodular, and the pasta at Antico felt very much in the shade. Of those we sampled from the short selection, the ziti with tripe ragu and parmesan ($22) was the most successful: The deeply rich sauce found its way int
In L.A., every restaurant that’s been around for more than a couple of decades seems to declare that Frank Sinatra was a regular. In the case of Dear John’s, this was actually true—and the steakhouse was a haunt for the crooner and his cronies from the time it opened in the early ’60s. Despite the fact that it’s near my neighborhood, I’d never thought about haunting the place myself until its recent revamp by chefs Josiah Citrin (Mélisse, Charcoal, Openaire) and Hans Röckenwagner (Röckenwagner Café & Bakery). But there’s a catch: They plan to keep the upscale Culver City restaurant going only until 2021, when the site is due for redevelopment. So, for now, Dear John’s has a beautifully redesigned interior: The bar is stunning, and Röckenwagner crafted all the tightly packed tables and chairs himself. Despite the menu and aesthetic changes, walking into the dimly lit room really does feel like taking a step back in time. Much of that ambience comes down to the very smart decision to employ a number of career servers; they bring that personable but occasionally gruff service that takes no prisoners and is one of the hallmarks of a great steakhouse. Reading the menu, too, is like putting on a most comfortable pair of slippers for someone who, like me, thinks that the classic steakhouse is one of America’s great contributions to world cuisine. There’s little surprise, but plenty to make you smile—particularly the reappearance of dishes that you thought had vanished with time.
A decade-old Brooklyn favorite just opened its first West Coast outpost, and yet, despite its newness, there’s something wearyingly familiar about what’s on offer at Five Leaves L.A. It’s a menu that looks like it’s been put together by a computer fed information about mid-level dining in Los Angeles, and then prompted to splurge out an identikit roster of dishes: some avocado toast here, a crudo there, a token pasta dish or two, some salads and a protein from a named source. Ho and, indeed, hum. However, it’s not all grim. If you do find yourself in East Hollywood and step into our Five Leaves, you’ll notice that the room is a lovely, bright, open space decorated in Art Deco style. The service is chirpy and efficient, and the food is competently done, if having some noticeable flaws. The menu’s originality doesn’t show much gumption, but there’s at least a sense that the chefs are putting in a bit of extra effort behind the scenes. The house-made ricotta ($15) was soft and creamy, and came served with some excellent raisin bread purchased from a local bakery. The Arctic char gravlax ($15) gets cured in-house to a perfect texture that works well with its garnishes of beet-cured egg, caper cream cheese and slices of marble rye. The burger (a hefty $17, plus $4 for bacon and gruyere) gets made with excellent grass-fed beef. The crispy chicken sandwich ($14), on the other hand, was crispy as advertised but overloaded with too much wet slaw, making the whole thing dissolve bet
Carbo-load with some of L.A.’s most creative breads
Fortunately, even the health fiends of L.A. are getting over the notion that carbs equal death. One of the newer and most exciting aspects of dining out in the city is the growing tally of creative takes on gluten. To celebrate, here are a few of the best bread bites in L.A. Because even when thoughts turn to beach bods and bathing suits, there’s no harm in indulging in a slice or three of these standout carb creations. Elotes Milk Breads at 189 By Dominique Ansel The food at Dominique Ansel’s restaurant at the Grove can be hit-or-miss, but given his provenance as a baker, it’s no surprise the bread is off the charts. The sourdough is worth ordering, but these soft milk breads, which come stuffed with a roasted–sweet-corn (elotes) pudding and topped with cotija, are a Los Angeles must. $10. Photograph: Jesse Hsu Sfincione at Felix Felix may be lauded for its pasta, but Evan Funke’s sublime focaccia is worth its own praise—and will make anyone realize just what a special meal they’re about to experience. The bread’s crisp outer casing, with a thin sheen of olive oil that’s laced with a sprinkle of salt and rosemary, gives way to an inside so soft and fluffy, it could have its own children’s TV show. $8. Photograph: Jesse Hsu Sun Buns at Hearth & Hound Despite the menu’s ambiguity at April Bloomfield’s newish restaurant—the words Sun Buns are followed by no further description—just know that a plate of them will immediately win you over. The warm, nutty and yielding dinner