Jill’s 10 Favorite Restaurants in 2015

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 –

DSC_0451

  1. 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.DSC_0475

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 LAFullSizeRender-17

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.

FullSizeRender-15Entree: The juicy Terrine burger with truffle butter and cheese, a secret aioli, flash fried onions and cured tomato jam. The jam elevates this burger, especially on the soft brioche bun.

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

Girasoldrink3. Girasol – Winner of the Best Field To Table

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

FullSizeRender-21

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

(La Quinta - Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(La Quinta – Photo by Jill Weinlein)

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.

(Chef Jimmy Schmidt knows how to prepare local ingredients into spectacular dishes. Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Chef Jimmy Schmidt knows how to prepare local ingredients into spectacular dishes. Photo by Jill Weinlein)

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

(Photo of Ricardo Zarate and Jill Weinlein by Rick Weinlein)
(Photo of Ricardo Zarate and Jill Weinlein by Rick Weinlein)

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.

(Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Photo by Jill Weinlein)

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

IMG_1013
(Photo of Robert Downey Jr. by Timothy White)

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

(Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Photo by Jill Weinlein)

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.

FullSizeRender-66Entree – 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

(Dramatic Entry - Photo courtesy of Bel Air Bar + Grill)
(Dramatic Entry – Photo courtesy of Bel Air Bar + Grill)

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.

(Executive Chef Chris Emerling and owner Susan Disney Lord - Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Executive Chef Chris Emerling and owner Susan Disney Lord – Photo by Jill Weinlein)

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.

fullsizerender-4010. The Flintridge Proper – Best Brunch in the Valley (San Fernando and San Gabriel) NOW CLOSED.

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.

fullsizerender-37Starter –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.

This article is featured in GPSmyCity –  https://www.gpsmycity.com/gps-tour-guides/los-angeles-631.html

A little bit of Disney Magic at the Bel Air Bar + Grill

 

(Photo by Bel Air Bar + Grill)
(Photo by Bel Air Bar + Grill)

Driving off the 405 freeway onto the Moraga exit, I noticed a striking two-story glass bougainvillea flower window in the front of the Bel Air Bar + Grill. I was invited to a tasting dinner by the owner of the restaurant Susan Disney Lord. She is part of American royalty – the Disney family, and the granddaughter of Roy O. Disney and one of Roy E. and Patricia Disney’s daughters. Her grandfather and great-uncle Walt Disney, co-founded of The Walt Disney Company.

Lord is a true California girl growing up in Toluca Lake, she now lives near the beach and close to her restaurant. Besides owning this restaurant, she is the President of the Roy Disney Family Foundation, participates on the Cal Arts CAP council, and is passionately involved with the Alzheimer’s Association by serving on the Board. She is also a wife, and the mother of five children that include two sets of twins.

Walking up the stairs into the private dining room, Lord was the first person to welcome me. When I remarked about the flowers on glass, she enthusiastically told me about its story.

Lord bought the landmark Bel Air Bar + Grill a few years ago and renovated the building. She commissioned an artist that she has known for about 30 years, Amanda Weil, to make a dazzling first impression of the restaurant.

These two ladies walked a few blocks up on Moraga to gain inspiration from the beauty of this So Cal enclave. They both appreciated the magnificent magenta colors of bougainvilleas growing freely. After taking a few clippings, Weil went to work.
At night, the nearby Chevron gas station’s bright lights, backlight the exquisite flowers on glass creating a visually beautiful moment as you walk in the door.

I told Lord that Weil’s piece is the new Georgia O’Keefe of art on glass. It’s spectacular.

Since Walt Disney founded and created Cal Arts with Lord’s grandfather Roy O. Disney, up in Valencia in the early 1960s, Lord has always had an affinity to the school known as “The Caltech of the Arts.”

Disney staffed the school with an array of his talented artists. Most of Disney’s movies including Frozen, Tarzan, Pocahontas were all made by many Cal Arts students.

(Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Photo by Jill Weinlein)

Lord displays Cal Art students artwork on the walls throughout the restaurant. They rotate a few times a year or when a piece is sold, with all the money given to the student.

Standing together, Lord and I remarked about Zach Eins piece over the bar and multiple pieces upstairs. This talented artist uses a blow torch to burn images of human eyes and faces on wood. They are exquisite.

After construction took about one year, Lord hosted a “I survived the 405” party and everyone in the neighborhood came to have dinner, drinks and bond.

(Executive Chef Chris Emerling and owner Susan Disney Lord - Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Executive Chef Chris Emerling and owner Susan Disney Lord – Photo by Jill Weinlein)

New to the restaurant is Executive chef Chris Emerling. Born in Springville NY, Emerling told me that he didn’t dream of being a chef as a young boy, “I wanted to be a snowplow driver, because it looked so cool.” However, as he graduated high-school, he enrolled in the Pittsburgh Culinary School and soon worked in mostly private clubs and high-end French restaurants including a kitchen in Lussaine, Switzerland.

He’s a kind chef, with a beautiful smile, and a perfect fit to work at Lord’s restaurant, because he seems to add a little “pixie dust” to each dish.

Trays of his fish and braised short rib tacos were passed around the room. These weren’t your everyday tacos, the fish was cold house-cured salmon with a crunchy jicama ginger slaw and the short rib tacos were accentuated with a carrot poblano salsa, chipotle and avocado.

(photo by Jill Weinlein)
(photo by Jill Weinlein)

As we sat at a long, elegantly decorated dining room table upstairs, I felt as if I was in a scene of Disney’s “Be Our Guest” in Beauty and the Beast. Multiple servers paraded into the room with long white plates in their hands. Each plate offered three individual appetizers that included a burnt orange colored, pureed, and chilled gazpacho with dill weed. The pixie dust Chef Emerling infused was avocado dots. Next to this amuse bouché was a four-minute poached egg that had a delicious tapenade made with a classic tomato, oil and balsamic vinegar dressing. Last was a luscious burrata topped with Emerling’s housemade duck prosciutto, herb poached mushrooms and sprigs of arugula.

(Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Photo by Jill Weinlein)

Our next course was a colorful salad sampler trio, including the restaurant’s classic chopped salad that first appeared on the menu back in 1997. SInce it’s a Bel Air community favorite, Lord and Emerling kept it on the menu, and just heightened it with carrots, corn, garbanzos, Parmigiano-Reggiano and a sprinkling of honey balsamic on top. It was a real crowd pleaser the night I dined.

Another favorite was 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.

(Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Photo by Jill Weinlein)

Seafood dishes include grilled salmon that is half cooked and boosted with lemon, lovage – a herb that a few chefs are foraging in the local foothills, and dash of cream. It’s served with a potato and fennel sauté.
The scallops were served with four root vegetables that included carrots, kohlrabi, onion and celery. The roots change based on what chef selects at the markets. He makes a divine pickled pineapple to complement the scallops and drizzles an orange citrus emulsion before dusting it with a cilantro and red pepper luster. Emerling also creates this same sauce for the Market fish of the day.

Meaty entrees include a pan roasted juicy chicken with preserved cranberries and a delightful rosemary hash with chicken gastrique. His tender, slow braised pork cheeks were served with sweet potato gnocchi and peas, while his 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.

(Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Photo by Jill Weinlein)

For dessert you must order the lemon tart with an Italian meringue. I didn’t care for the coconut infused chia pudding, however I know chia is the new ingredient to upgrade desserts. Expect to see more chia seed dishes on menus across Los Angeles, because they are high in fiber, high in omega-3’s, and plump up in liquid giving diners a satisfying fullness.

At the end of the feast, I walked back to my car, and noticed just behind the restaurant, a little cafe named The Shack. Owned by Lord, it’s a great alternative for to-go food from the same fine dining kitchen inside the Bel Air Bar + Grill. The Shack opens Monday through Friday for breakfast, snacks, soups, salads, sandwiches, coffee, smoothies and shakes from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Great-Uncle Walt and Grandfather Roy must be smiling with pride at Susan Disney Lord. Her winning culinary destination is an ideal spot to meet family and friends who live in the San Fernando Valley, or to go to before or after a UCLA basketball or after exploring the Getty Center.

The Bel Air Bar and Grill is 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.

%d bloggers like this: