In 2015 I dined at least three times a week in search of the quintessential dining experience. That is over 150 restaurants I had to reflect back on to chose only 10 favorites for the year.
To qualify, the ambiance needed to be clean and appealing, the service must be friendly and efficient, and the food needed to “wow” me. Throw in a stellar wine list and a few tantalizing cocktails.
When friends asked for dining recommendations, these were the culinary experiences that I fondly recommended. I hope to visit each of these restaurants again in 2016 –
- Barton G – Winner of the Special Occasion Dining Award
Jaw dropping culinary presentations begin the moment you sit down at Barton G and continue throughout the evening with vaporizing cocktails on elegant trays and three-foot tall entrees and desserts parade around the dining room. If you don’t want people ogling over the dishes you order, than Barton G may be too intrusive for you. These dishes demand attention. It’s the ultimate special occasion restaurant. When my daughter turns 21 in 2016, I will take her here to sip her first martini named Buddahlicious. the pear infused vodka is mixed with lychee and cranberry juice and served with a nitrogen pop of pear vodka and small golden buddah. Rub his tummy for good fortune.
What to order:
Cocktail: Sabrinatini martini served with a nitro-champagne swizzle stick and a solid chocolate monkey hanging down the side of the glass.
Food: The fresh line-caught halibut ceviche served inside into a leopard print stiletto heel. It’s mixed with a scoop of mango sorbet and small laughing bird shrimp marinated with the halibut in leche de tigre for hours. It’s drained and poured into a shot glass. Guests are to drink back the shot before reaching for a long plantain chip to scoop the avocado mousse, mango sorbet and ceviche.
Dessert: The Marie Antoinette served with pink cotton candy styled as a wig and the baked Alaskan Everglade with a large croaking neon eyed frog and huge piece of seven-layer red velvet ice cream cake, wrapped in toasted meringue and topped with full size candy apple to represent the ‘cherry’ on top.
Dress code: Celebrity fashion – short skirts, high heals and great hair.
Open Sunday through Thursday from 6 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday the restaurant is open until 11 p.m.
61 N. La Cienega Blvd. (310)388-1888 –Barton G LA
2. Terrine – Winner of the Most Romantic Al Fresco Dining
For my 26th wedding anniversary, I took my husband to Stephane Bombet, Executive Chef Kris Morningstar and Francois Renaud’s newer elegant California brasserie. Chef Morningstar pleases Los Angelenos with some of his French favorites that include beef tartare, onion soup, steak frites, divine quiche, escargot, tartines, and Croque Madame’s.
Cocktail: Terrine Gin & Tonic made with Bombay East, Renaud’s lemongrass and a house made yuzu tonic. It’s pretty with a long peeled rind of ruby red grapefruit.
Dessert: French lemon tart. The meringue on top looked like floral grommets torched lightly to give the dish a visually stunning presentation.
Dress Code – Fashionable
Hours: Hours are from – 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. Terrine – 8265 Beverly Blvd. Los Angeles – (323)746-5130 – Terrine
The design inside is magical. One feels as if they are inside a giant sunflower. Executive Chef CJ Jacobson and two-time “Top Chef” alumni, and Chef de Cuisine Justin Abram work their magic in the kitchen. They visit local farmers’ markets, while GM Adrian Migliore forages local herbs and flowers in the Angeles National forest several times a week. They gather edible weeds, bushes and pine needles to enhance many of the dishes. The butter for their exquisite bread is infused with toasted lovage leaves, the burrata salad is dressed with a forest floor vinaigrette.
Cocktail – a frosty tall aluminum tumbler filled with a slightly sweet vodka-guava cocktail. It’s similar in presentation to a Moscow Mule.
Entree – A signature dish at this restaurant is the octopus salad. The chefs roast long eggplant until it’s almost a puree. They add Little Gem and frisée lettuce to the plate. To make the salad dressing, the chefs char some rosemary and toss the ash with olive oil. This offers a more intense essence of the herb. The octopus is stewed for almost two hours in its own juices and then grilled before its placed on top of the salad. It’s finished with sweet & sour chilies and toasted lovage.
Dessert – Deconstructed chocolate S’mores dazzled with bright yellow sunflower petals on a dark chocolate bar, with marshmallows, banana cream, caramelized banana sliced lengthwise and a graham cracker crust.
Hours: Nightly for dinner from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., on Sundays they serve brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. 11334 Moorpark St. Studio City, (818)924-2323 – Girasol
4. The Front Yard – Winner of the You’ll Have A Great Time
In LA there are a slew of hotels that offer exceptional restaurants. In Studio City, the beloved Garland Hotel’s signature restaurant is a lot of fun.
Cocktail – Cucumber press cocktail made by head bartender Will Cutting. He mixes Bulldog gin, lime juice, cilantro, cucumber, and combier pamplemousse, which is a grapefruit flavored triple sec. This is an ideal drink for a hot summer day and evening.
Entree – Chef Turano is an expert at seafood with his grilled red wine glazed octopus with pickled ramp aioli, spiced crisp chickpeas, and a radish salad. We also ordered his wild halibut entree. It’s delivered to his kitchen as a whole fish before Turano butchers the 30 pound fish himself. One side of the halibut is pure white in color, the other side is darker and more gray. He takes the pure white meat of the fish and prepares it with three different cauliflowers. It’s served with a blond gastrique made with Chardonnay and sprinkled of sugar and butter. The dish is colorful with small green cauliflower florets and pickled beech mushrooms.
Dessert – Salted caramel pudding in a jam jar with freshly popped salted caramel popcorn decorating the plate.
Open for breakfast, lunch, brunch and dinner. $$ 4222 Vineland Ave. (818)255-7290 – The Front Yard
5. Morgan’s in the Desert – Winner of Epicurean Delights
Spend a weekend at the La Quinta Resort and Spa to experience Executive chef Jimmy Schmidt three-course themed prix fixe menu with wine pairing menu selected by Morgan’s Sommelier Lisa Tussing. One week it could be an Heirloom pear and Artisan duck menu, the next Squab and Pumpkin dishes.
Cocktail – Pomegranate-Ginger Margarita Sauza Agave Tequila, Pomegranate Juice, Ginger & Lime. Served on the rocks.
Entree – The Mahi-Mahi dusted with coriander seeds and served with a mild chopped celery root and roasted leeks with lots of microgreens. Coriander is the dry seed from cilantro. It offers a pleasantly sweet and lemon essence to the fish.
Dessert – The visually spectacular butter popcorn ice cream parfait served with salted caramel house made Cracker Jack popcorn. It’s heightened with bittersweet chocolate fudge and sea salted caramel.
Dress Code – Resort wear
Dinner is served nightly from 5:30 – 10:00 p.m. 49499 Eisenhower Dr. La Quinta, CA (760) 564-4111 – Morgan’s in the Desert
6. Smoke. Oil. Salt – Winner of Best Tapa Hour
James Beard nominee Ricardo Zarate and Executive chef Brian Gregg created a new three tapa “happy hour” special for $19. Pair it with a glass of Spanish wine, sparking cava, fruity sangria for and extra $7.
Cocktail – Kalimotxo – a Spanish cocktail made with equal parts red wine and a cola-based soft drink.
Entree – Crispy Frito chicken with Serrano ham and a lovely, slightly spicy red brava sauce. Also, grilled scallops on a pea puree adorned with crunchy hazelnuts and a tangy lemon aioli. The Pintxo de Iberico, is a toasted sourdough bread layered with a slightly smokey unpasteurized sheep milk, and delicious Iberico ham.
Dessert – Brazo Gitano made with rolled sponge cake, dulce de leche and a passion fruit curd.
Tapa Hour is 5:30 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. Dinner nightly from 5:30 to 12 a.m. Brunch is served on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. 7274 Melrose Ave. (323)930-7900 – Smoke. Oil. Salt
7. Cavatina – Winner of Dine Like a Celebrity
Located in the Sunset Marquis in West Hollywood. It opened its door in 1963 and soon became a favorite to rock stars coming to Los Angeles. Below the street level pool is a world-class sound studio. Some of the best rock stars have recorded their Grammy-winning songs here. They also can park their tour bus underground to stay incognito from their fans.
During the award-season with Emmy’s, Oscars and Grammy’s, the hotel sells out and is filled with A list actors, musicians, comedians, writers, artists, filmmakers, fashion designers, supermodels, restaurateurs, billionaire entrepreneurs.
The night I was invited to dine at the fine dining restaurant Cavatina, my group and I partied like rock stars while enjoying a multi-course dinner prepared by James Beard Award-winning chef and restaurateur Michael Schlow and the new Executive Chef Jonathan Kim.
Appetizer – The Grilled Octopus was served with a “hummus” made from black chick pea puree, olives, fresno chiles.
Entree – a skillet of shrimp and lobster with black crispy rice.
Dessert – An exquisite creme fraiche cheesecake with a hazelnut crumble and scoop of Fossleman’s coffee espresso ice cream.
Dress Code – LA hip or Rock star
1200 Alta Loma Road, West Hollywood, CA – (310) 657-1333 – Cavatina
8. The Church Key – Winner of Best Dining Cart Experience
Foodies and locals rave about their unique Dinner and Brunch wheel cart dining service. Celebrating their second anniversary, Executive chef Steven Fretz and General Manager Joseph Sabato decided to introduce the cart service for a creative lunch experience.
Cocktail – The Church Key Mimosas made with fresh fruit elixirs and the Bloody Mary with an array of garnishes.
Entree – Vegetarians love the bright green English pea falafel patty on a dark pumpernickel and oat bun. Be sure to add the fried egg to the truffled tahini and tomato mixed with parsley relish. A skewered tomato raisin, grilled green onion and clove of garlic accompany the veggie-style patty, making a pretty dish and oh so delicious.
Dessert – Fretz’s winning warm brioche donuts with a brown butter glaze and cinnamon caramel sauce.
Open Monday through Sunday from from 11a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch and 5:30 p.m. to 2 a.m., for dinner. Sunday Brunch is served from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. 8730 W. Sunset Blvd. (424)249-3700 – http://www.thechurchkeyla.com
9. A little bit of Magic at the Bel Air Bar + Grill
It’s been open a few years, but now has a new Executive chef – Chris Emerling. Roy Disney’s granddaughter Susan Disney Lord owns this visually beautiful restaurant located near The Getty Center off the 405 freeway.
Appetizer – The Waldorf “Escoffier” salad. Don’t visualize a chunky mayonnaise salad, this one is pure elegance. In the 1930s, Auguste Escoffier was one of the world’s greatest chefs. A group of men in the Jantzen suite at the Hotel Waldorf-Astoria formed an epicurean organization who gathered at the Waldorf regularly and called themselves, “The Friends of Escoffier.” Emerling’s Waldorf salad is not flat, but rises above the plate. Instead of chunky apples, his apples are sliced long and thin to peek out. Instead of celery, Emerling chops celeriac which is the bulb that grows from the stalks. Celeriac is the heart and soul of celery, offering a delicate and vibrant flavor to this fine dining dish. California walnuts are sprinkled around and then glistened with a delicate and vibrant 3880 French Escoffier secret sauce that only Emerling knows how to make so well.
Entree – Red wine braised short ribs are cooked for hours and served with roasted rainbow carrots, garlic mashed potatoes with charred poblano chilies to intensify the flavors. The ultimate winter comfort food.
Dessert – Lemon tart with an Italian meringue.
Dress Code – casual elegance.
Open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Happy Hour is available the same days from 4 to 6 p.m. Brunch is on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner is served nightly at 5 p.m. 662 N. Sepulveda Boulevard. (310)440-5544.
Sunday is a day of exploring treasures that lurk around our great city. About 20 minutes from downtown LA is the bucolic small community of La Canada-Flintridge. There are lots of oak trees, bridal paths and bike trails throughout the town.
A big draw to the community is the 160 acre Descanso Gardens offering paved pathways to explore a variety of gardens, a small train ride, water features, an art gallery, and historic home to tour.
Before or after a visit to Descanso Gardens, enjoy brunch at the nearby Flintridge Proper. It’s one of the only unique farm to table dining options in town and houses the world’s largest gin bar.
Cocktail – The slightly sweet Angel Kiss offering an essence of grapefruit. It’s was refreshing and perfect to sip while looking over the menu.
Starter –Enormous buttermilk biscuits on a wood plank that were sprinkled with sea salt. There was a silver container of berry jam and shredded butter that looked like shredded mozzarella cheese. The butter was so smooth and easy to spread on the warm biscuits. It was a fun starter to share among the table.
Brunch Fare – The salmon Benedict with smoked salmon on two English muffins topped with poached eggs and a pleasing citrusy Hollandaise sauce. I love the smooshed potatoes.
Open for lunch and dinner starting at 11:30 a.m. Breakfast and brunch is served on Sat. and Sunday starting at 8:30 a.m. The restaurant closes at 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturdays. $$ 464 Foothill Blvd. La Canada Flintridge (818)790-4888 – theproper.com