LA Trip Restaurant Roundup

We just got back from a fun trip to Los Angeles, which by definition means a lot of great eats. I don’t have it in me to do individual reviews for each of these restaurants, but I thought I’d at least post a roundup. Obviously you could eat for a lifetime in LA and not go to every good restaurant, but we were really happy with our choices. D.M., who is a frequent commenter on the blog and one of Sarina’s dear friends did a lot of research and pointed us in great directions, and my old pals Nic and Lorna showed us some of the best Middle Eastern food we’ve had outside of Israel.

The address and phone info for all of the restaurants is at the very end of the post.

Our first night in town we had an early reservation at Osteria Mozza, the upscale Italian restaurant from the powerhouse trio of Nancy Silverton, Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich on Melrose Ave. We shared a starter of magnicifiently fresh burrata with leeks. My entree was a giant ravioli filled with ricotta and a sunny-side egg that spilled into the brown butter sauce when cut. It was quite spectacular but maybe a bit underseasoned. For dessert we had bombolini (little fried donuts) with vanilla gelato, and grappa. This is definitely a treat and a dining event, but well worth the splurge.

Bookending our trip, our last meal before leaving town was right next door at Pizzeria Mozza. The pizzeria is considerably less formal and expensive than the Osteria, but man oh man the pizza. It was really a revelation. The crust was cracker thin, but somehow crispy and chewy at the same time, with not the slightest hint of sogginess. The outer rim of the crust puffed up about an inch high, but was light as a feather, filled with enormous holes like you find in great artisan bread. Which is of course the explanation – Nancy SIlverton knows a thing or two about flour, water and yeast and she’s used her decades of experience to design a pizza dough unlike any other. Gotta have it. You need reservations here even for lunch, but if you go 15 minutes before they open and wait in line you could get a first-come seat at the counter.

Brunch at Cafe Vida in Pacific Palisades was pleasing. The Cafe has a light, happy neighborhood feel and the food was fresh and tasty. If you go on the weekend you’ll probably have to wait a bit and arm wrestle dogs and babies for a seat, but  it will be worth it.

If you find yourself in the San Fernando Valley and in need of lunch, check out Villa Piacere. The decor was somewhat dated, but all of us were really happy with our big entree salads. LA really gets big salads in general, much more than Seattle. Probably because of all the diet nuts down here, but for whatever reason it is nice to lay into a big bowl of lettuce and veggies that look alive and carefully arranged. That is all we ate, so I can’t speak to the rest of the menu. The hostess was really sweet too, obviously very proud of her restaurant.

Ok, let’s talk about Middle Eastern, specifically Lebanese food. Sunnin, over on Westwood just north of Santa Monica was outrageously good. We’re talking paper plates and flourescent lights here, so not much ambiance but the waiters are nice (and gruff at the same time). But man alive the food. We liked it so much we went back a second time. Hummus, tabbouleh, foul muddamas, rekakat, yogurt salad, fried cauliflower, and fatayer (a pastry filled with bitter greens and pine nuts) were all deep soul food for me. I wasn’t as crazy about the mujadarah (kinda goopy) and the fried potatoes. The falafel was really decent but not world class. That fried cauliflower in particular was really something special. It wasn’t battered at all, just fried to a deep golden brown and served with tahini for dipping. I would be so damn happy if a place this good opened up in Seattle. How about a glass of Jallab (date syrup and rose water on ice, topped with pine nuts)?

Chaya Venice is a hopping spot on Main Street. Wall-to-wall busy with a lot of beautiful people, and a menu that spans the globe from sushi to pasta. I was frankly a little skeptical, but I have to admit that my gnocchi was really well prepared, rich and flavorful.

Later in the week, Sarina’s Dad took me to M Cafe de Chaya on Melrose, the casual dine-in or takeout place with the same owners as Chaya Venice. M Cafe’s concept is modern macrobiotic food and they are doing a great job. We had a bright red quinoa and beet salad, a sweet potato salad with wasabi, a chickpea salad, a few pieces of sushi, and a tasty dairy-free chocolate pudding. Everything had a lot of flavor, and the restaurant itself has a good, high energy vibe about it. Even though I was looking out on LA traffic, it felt like a spot on the beach.

Back in Venice, make your way over to Abbot Kinney and stop at Jin Patisserie for remarkable modern Japanese pastries, tea service, and beauteous chocolates. They have a pretty little courtyard to enjoy them in. Stop in at Tortoise Life next door for a killer collection of high-design housewares, stationary, idiosyncractic bits of clothing, and fabric that looks like wood veneer.

We stayed at the Huntley Hotel in Santa Monica. The Penthouse bar on the top floor of the hotel is a fancy-pants night club when the sun sets, but in the morning it is an incredibly pretty (and rather spendy) place to have breakfast. Windows run all the way around, giving you a clear view from the Valley, all along the beach, and over to the airport and downtown. The room is painted stark white, so when you ascend the elevator before your first cup of coffee and the sun is streaming in, you kind of feel like you entered heaven. It wouldn’t be surprising if Morgan Freeman showed you to your table. And the food was surprisingly tasty, what with organic eggs and carefully cut fruit plates.

So you can see we had a terrific time! Whether you love LA or love to hate it, you can definitely eat well. Here are all the details:

Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles
Villa Piacere in Woodland Hills Sunnin Lebanese Café in Los Angeles
Chaya Venice in Venice M Cafe de Chaya in Los Angeles
Jin Patisserie in Venice The Penthouse (Huntley Hotel) in Santa Monica

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Posted by Michael Natkin on Wednesday, March 5th, 2008 in Restaurants, Travel.

4 Responses to “LA Trip Restaurant Roundup”

  1. March 5, 2008 at 8:29 am #

    Hmm, the macro biotic place sounds great — but are beets ok in macro biotic diet? I read somewhere that they’re not.. there’s a great macro biotic place my bf and i like to go to in NYC and i noticed they didn’t have beets, potatoes or tomatoes among other things… next time i’m in LA i’ll have to check this place out – i LOVE beets!

  2. Michael Natkin
    March 5, 2008 at 8:48 am #

    Yeah, that is a good question. I had the sense that they didn’t hew to a really strict macrobiotic diet, but more that they were sure to offer lots of whole grains and some solid macrobiotic choices. But then again, my last real exposure to macrobiotics was 23 years ago, so I probably have forgotten a lot! Search for “Michio Kushi” if you want to learn more about it…

  3. March 10, 2008 at 7:20 pm #

    wow, that sounds like an amazing food adventure! you must must must post a recipe for the Jallab… it sounds heavenly and i want some too :)

    glad you guys had an awesome time!

  4. Michael Natkin
    March 10, 2008 at 7:37 pm #

    Well, I just tried searching for a Jallab recipe and sorta struck out. Lots of people like it, but as far as I can tell most folks buy the syrup and then just add water, ice, and pine nuts. If you don’t have a local middle eastern grocery, here’s one online source. I’ve never used them before, but for $5 you can’t go too far wrong.

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