With in the past few months Sunset Blvd has experienced a new wave of restaurants, lounges and bars. From a unique dim sum cart service on the West end to a glam bar on the East side, here are three additions to add to your calendar this month.
The Church Key
This eclectic restaurant by a former chef and employees from SBE’s XIV and The Bazaar, Executive Chef Steven Frezt, Manager Joseph Sabato and a mixologist Devon Espinoza from Pour Vous and Ink are all behind one of the most talked about venues since opening a mere few weeks ago. First, there is the rustic reclaimed wooden decor with white brick walls, tin ceilings, leather lounge chairs and expansive open spaces including a square bar taking center stage along with a fireplace wall separating the entrance from the main dining area. The food comes to your table immediately in the form of dim sum style cars and servers wearing kitschy Pan Am uniforms. You might think this sounds corny but it actually works and is a really fun night out, plus the food is actually well conceived. Start with a mini-French onion soup, fluke ceviche, herb popcorn, falafel croquettes with truffle tahini or shaved Knoxville ham – cured for 24 hours, which arrives at your table via a giant Berkel slicer. The kitchen has also come up with one of the best bar snacks in history: pig ear Cheetos with avocado dip that is exactly what is sounds like and you won’t be able to stop eating it. While you peruse the menu, it’s tempting not to load up on all of these fun snacks and small plates, but a stamp card system will help you keep track. You’ll want to save room for the tapioca crusted Thai snapper and grilled artichokes with brioche croutons, stuffed ‘Peking’ quail or fusilli pasta with charred squid, soppressata, pepperoncini and pecorino. Do say yes to the frozen pops, Jell-O shots or the appletini lemon drop cart when it comes rolling up to your table.
Also on the west end of the strip, IDG (Innovative Dining Group) has added to their already existing Riva Bella and BOA eateries in the neighborhood with a Chinese fine dining restaurant billed as ‘modern Chinese without boundaries.’ The décor is stunning with faux butterfly, tree and floral showcases built into the walls, a ceiling filled with lanterns, sleek black tables and dark bamboo floors. Settle in for a long evening in a cozy booth and order lobster spring rolls, black pepper jumbo scallops and sausage fried rice now executed by Iron Chef Alum Tyson Wong Ophaso. A must is the 8-hour lacquered skin Peking duck which is a show-stopping signature dish, presented at the table first, then brought back carved with homemade plum, Hoisin sauce, paper thin Porbien crepes, cucumbers and scallions. Another menu must is the Alaskan King Crab, cooked in the Hong Kong Aberdeen method with crispy garlic and chile; twirled with clear mung been noodles. Bar Manager Aaron Alvarez whips up the Spice Route with Madagascar Tru Vanilla vodka, tarragon, lime and cumin which goes well with most dishes; East by Southwest is concocted with Patron Silver tequila, Benedictine, tamarind syrup, cherry heering, and lime with a grapefruit-salted rim; and a Curry Blossom with Grey Goose vodka, apricot liquor, curry leaf, and raspberry orgeat.
Finally, a plush watering hole in the heart of Hollywood for adults resurrected from the old, old Club Lingerie 90’s music venue by the team of Jeffrey Best, Sylvain Bitton and JT Torregiani. This is not to say that close to midnight, a gaggle of pretty young people that all resemble actors or models are not popping in the front door near the DJ booth, but this sexy, sophisticated space is all about the market fresh hand-crafted cocktails created by Damien Windsor and Jason Bran. Try to snag a table by one of the giant fireplaces and get comfortable on the sofas where a table side mixologist makes you a cocktail utilizing a rage of spirits, mixes, fresh fruits and garnishes. Naturally, they make everything in house from simple syrups to tonics. If you can make a decision, an array of mixed concoctions are also available from Champagne cocktails to the foamy and delicious Coco Pina Fresca. If the downstairs area is too sceney for you, head upstairs to a more intimate area with distressed white leather sofas and a small bar where you can peer down below through the industrial style glass windows at the crowd below and get a closer look at some of the nude paintings and photographs that line the brick walls – including the life-size, eye-popping images.
We are happy to find the old Dar Maghreb Sunset interiors are still recognizable from the dramatic white pillars to Byzantine tiles and mosaic floors to the sexy lounge area and hand painted ceilings of the new Acabar dining room. Thanks to the French team, behind the iconic and romantic Little Door in West Hollywood, the new incarnation of a former tacky belly dancing meets Moroccan restaurant now follows the French’s gastronomic influence on the Spice Trail. With Octavio Becerra, formerly of Palate Food + Wine in the kitchen, you can now graze on small plates of Vietnamese pho with oxtail; lamb merguez meatballs with white bean hummus; Turkish cured salmon with potato latke; fattoush bread salad; squash blossoms Provencal and then end with a whole crispy seabass or Indochine duck to share. They have recently started serving a three course $40 prix fixe menu on Sunday along with the ’cheese palette’ and a party punch bowl serving 6-8 people, all to the backdrop of live jazz and world music. Mixologist gurus Julian Cox and Josh Goldman designed the cocktail menu spanning from 1798 to the Present, and a new raw bar is also in the works.
Chef and Comme Ca owner David Myers has joined forces with Chef de Cuisine Attila Bollok to turn the modern meets traditional fare at his beloved French staple on Melrose into a new menu focusing on the seasonal bounty from California and the Paris’ bistronomy, gastro-bistro movement. You can expect a light blue crab toast with harissa aioli and grapefruit; tomato pesto salad with warm brie; roasted lobster with sweet corn bacon and spinach plus duck confit ravioli salmon or rack of lamb with eggplant gratin. Die-hard fans can rest assured that the massive burger is staying on the menu – it is one of the best in the city after all, and also the crispy duck leg confit. For cocktails, the ‘Gypsy Queen’ is a concoction of basil, lime and gin shaken and served with a champagne float that seems to pair perfectly with the entire new menu.
If you just want to celebrate the wines of France with a little entertainment on the side, check out the new Riviera 31 Lounge inside the Estérel restaurant at the Sofitel Hotel on LaCienega and Beverly. Every night this week (and we hope continuing), a different wine region will be represented. From a kick-off with Champagne then onto Bordeaux, Burgundy, Cote du Rhone and Sancerre, sip and swirl while listening to the songs of Piaf, Kaas, Brel, Dassin, Goldman, Zaz, Aznavour, Macias and more by Paris Chansons. In the tradition of the Moulin Rouge in Paris, Cabaret Versatile is the only authentic French cabaret troupe in California to feature singers, dancers, acrobats and magicians who will also entertain you during the night.
Just adjacent from the Santa Monica Pier on the busiest intersection of the little city-by-the-sea, Del Frisco’s Grille from the Bay Area has opened to offer day trippers and sun downers creative bar bites and cocktails. One of our favorites is the Philly cheese steak in a fried egg roll – trust us, it’s a work of late night snacking genius, so is the Red Velvet Belgian waffle or chicken fried steak & eggs with Chorizo gravy. Lighter appetites can try a variety of flatbreads, salads or ahi tuna tacos.
Over on 2nd Street, Michael Cardenas of Sushi Roku fame has brought a fun Tapas bar to the city. From the ‘Buenos’ greeting as if you just walked into a sushi bar to the wine barrel tables and deer antler chandelier, the vibe at Taberna is grab a red pepper or honey grapefruit sangria and an order of tuna crudo, crispy pig ears and Valencia paella with rabbit leg while you wait for traffic to clear. They have amazing week day happy hour specials as well to keep you entertained.
Canadian transplant Redwood Grille is on the top floor of Santa Monica Place, and right next door to The Market food hall. It’s a bit more upscale with massive steaks, seafood, an impressive wine cellar and a management team from Toronto. According to Vice President & CEO George Bozikis, “The front lounge area is New York, the mid-section dining room is Ralph Lauren polo country and the back patio is South Beach.” No matter what part of the country you choose to dine in, expect tasty lobster tacos, ahi tuna tartar with avocado and crispy Greek-style octopus with Kalamata olives, along with strong, sipping martinis.
For a family night out with the kids, that doesn’t require a clown, happy meal or a short-stack, Truxton’s from El Segundo has opened a sister location a little further up the road around 13th Street and Santa Monica Blvd. Order monkey bread with a choice of dipping sauces, hand rolled brisket taquitos, pizzas, burgers and Chinese chicken salad. The atmosphere is laid back but the menu and wines by the glass are impressive for this type of low-key dining and should be a welcome addition to the neighborhood for adults too.
Lastly, The Water Grill seafood institution from downtown LA has opened a second branch on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica. The open air front dining area is a great perch for watching the sunset with a cocktail and a nibble from the raw bar or a fish taco. For dinner, looking into the lobster by the pound, the extensive wine list and a cozy table in the back room.
Tucked away off a quaint strip of boutiques and coffee shops on the border of Studio City and North Hollywood, former Top Chef contestant CJ Jacobsen has left his burger grilling days at The Yard in Santa Monica far behind. After a stodging stint at one of the best restaurants in the world – Noma in Copenhagen with genius Chef Rene Redzepi known for using seasonal flowers, plants and interesting herbs while reinventing Nordic cuisine, Jacobson was inspired to open what we would call a casual eatery with fine dining elements. The food is approachable but so well executed, with such subtly interesting ingredients, that you feel this is a special treat, yet you could revisit several times per week. Yes, the lanky chef (he’s almost 7 feet tall) has pulled off the nearly impossible in the food world and didn’t need to top most of his dishes with a fried egg to prove he could really cook. Menu musts include what has probably been the most photographed dish of the summer, whole fried red snapper. You can eat the enter fish including the eye-ball but beware of small bone chards in your teeth. Less treacherous is the fava bean puree with house made chorizo, cherry tomatoes and grilled flatbread (more like a naan) where you can roll your own or spread the mixture onto the dough which is one of the most enjoyable dishes to share. CJ also ferments his own peppers which turn up in the octopus salad with eggplant and toasted lovage. The menu changes constantly but if the gnudi (dumpling meets a gnocchi) with Soledad goat cheese, berries and grass (the kind you mow), is on the menu be sure to order it along with the blueberry corn pudding or smashed potatoes with Parmesan cream. The lounge is open early for drinks at 4pm, and you could stare at Gulla Jonsdottir’s design with carved floral mofif’s along the walls, floors and ceiling (pictured above) for hours.
This under the radar small plates restaurant in the Olympic Collection is serving some of the best Mediterranean fare to be found in the city and is a nice change from the rash of ramen places that has opened on Sawtelle in Little Osaka recently. Chef Ressul Rassallat has worked around the globe for Four Seasons and starts his menu with a culinary world tour of crispy Brussels sprouts from Spain, Italy, France and even Thailand, including an off the menu secret order Mexican version with Jalapeno, chichacrones and Tequila. His oven roasted seasbass with green melon and aromatic lime-emulsion might sound a little gimmicky but it’s one of the star dishes perfectly cooked and seasoned. Add an order of hand-made truffle parmesan gnocchi or white polenta with hen of the woods mushrooms and another drizzle of truffle oil, and you’ll not have much room left for the extensive ‘butcher board’ section including jamon Iberico and chicken liver parfait. And, yes, they do have a goat cheese tapenade with brioche bread that pairs well with pretty much everything on the menu. The selection is almost overwhelming, so you might want to dip your toe in gently for the beer and bites menu between 5-7pm, Monday through Friday for a small sampling of the top dishes.
For something completely unexpected, this modern Indian gastropub is located around the corner from a Pitfire Pizza on a sleepy stretch of downtown by the LA Times building. The split level, low-key concept was designed by DEX Studio of Venice, and serves traditional Indian dishes with a twist by father-son culinary duo, Chef Pawan and Nakul Mahendro. You can order lamb vindaloo, saag peneer and chicken tikka masala but we recommend diving into the lamb burger which is minced in house with New Zealand lamb, topped with home-made mayo and served on a brioche bun from Bread Bar. You can order chickpeas and chips from the Bombay ‘street cart’ section or a Punjabi samosa but you must have an order of the chili cheese naan which is like an Indian quesadilla stuffed with hot chilies and aged American cheddar, served with yogurt raita that is so addictive we would drive through rush hour to order one along with an imported Kingfisher Lager. Even the canned sodas are imported from the Motherland including ThumsUp cola and Limca, and of course, you must end with a long grain basmati rice pudding with almonds and a shot of creamy chai tea which is found on almost every street corner.
Tiato Sunday Brunch
The An Family is well known for their long-standing Beverly Hills staple Crustacean – and for Mama An’s garlic noodles. At their Westside more casual, market-style, garden café Tiato in Santa Monica, the family has recently launched a new brunch that features a noodle bar. Yes, you can order different variations of the noodles with shrimp, chicken, beef or veggies that Mama will whip up and bring to your table in a Chinese to-go carton. Of course, you’ll be quaffing bottomless mimosas, so no rush. Order modern Vietnamese specialties such as the genius breakfast bahn-mi with prosciutto and an over easy egg or the crepe with a chicken and prawn combo, zucchini and sprouts. The house-made corn bread or French toast bananas foster with bourbon vanilla maple syrup should be on your hit list if you have a sweet tooth.
Family Meal at Ray’s
Kris Morningstar brings the kitchen staff meal to the public on Monday’s at his LACMA restaurant Ray’s & Stark Bar (owned by the Patina Group.) Themes vary from Italian to Mexican where you can eat casual family style plates made by the staff from chorizo and potato taquitos with green chile and blistered corn avocado crema to beef shortrib nachos with chile con queso for $8-$12; and a signature cocktail for only $7 with a red or white wine selection for $5 and beer for only $6. Another addition to the regular menu is water sommelier Martin Riese who will guide your through domestic and exotic H2O varieties from flat to fizz while recommending flights and even pairing menus.
Lounge Menu at Fig & Olive
This Melrose Place favorite imports some of the most amazing olive oils from around the world, has a great bar scene and brunch but the new lounge menu is worth a revisit soon and one of the best deals in town for $29 per person. Once you work your way through the fig gorgonzola tartlet, truffle risotto, rosemary lamb chops, burrata with Provence veggies and assorted crostini you won’t need dinner but just another round of signature cocktails or a bottle of rose.
New Russian Tea House: Mari Vanna
More to love around town this summer includes the former Bastide space and patio in WeHo that has been turned into a Russian country house called Mari Vanna – a fairytale grandmother of Slavic lore who welcomed hungry travelers into her home. From the Russian Standard Vodka cocktails and infused shots to the female wait staff in floral house dresses, you will want to order comforting bowls of borscht, smoked salmon and caviar with blini, pelmeni (dumplings), and lamb katletki skewers before you hit the karaoke machine. Try to score one of the nesting doll key chains that are reserved for VIPs, celebrities and other notable guests during after hours.
Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica seems to be poised to become the west coast version of Shore Drive in Miami. The once sleepy strip has plenty of art deco buildings blending in with high-rise towers, cafes, art galleries and notable new restaurants with ocean view dining – all bringing hoards of weekend foot traffic.
We reported recently on sleek sushi spot Bamboo and the patio friendly Spanish revival private club Ocean 41 next door. Season’s 52 – one of our favorite restaurants for sourcing delicious meals under 500 calories, located in Century City and the OC, has also opened an outpost just down the block with private room options and a scenic view patio. The beach side venue has the same satisfying locally sourced menu and excellent global wine list. The bar area also features a piano player nightly which should draw the crowds this summer.
Last year, Brent Bolthouse opened The Bungalow – the only rustic and cozy beach side outdoor bar venue where you can actually watch the sunset with a margarita in hand and order tacos from Ray Garcia’s FIG at the adjacent Fairmont, all while you shoot a game of pool. The affordable and sustainable Shore Hotel - adjacent to modern Mexican cuisine at Blue Plate Taco, both hit the strip in 2012, and Art Deco gem Shangri-La is still going strong with The Dining Room, poolside cabanas and rooftop bar and lounge, Suite 700.
One of the most surprising updates has been the revamp of the boutique Georgian Hotel, established in 1933. During the Prohibition Era, the now turquoise and yellow art deco building’s basement held a speakeasy where Clarke Gable and Carole Lombard sipped gin. The suites are spacious with lounging sofas and panoramic views. This is probably one of the best price points you will find with direct access to the beach, the Promenade and the Pier starting at $220 per night. The Veranda restaurant serves breakfast lunch and dinner, with a happy hour from 5-7pm on one of the only true alfresco terraces located right along Ocean Avenue. Up until a few years ago, the common areas were only open to guests of the hotel, but they have wisely opened up the indoor and outdoor dining areas to the public. Try the famous French toast soufflé for your first meal of the day, the brie and mango Quesadilla or Mediterranean salad at lunch, then the salmon filet topped with cilantro lime sauce for dinner.
While the Georgian is not a large property like the Shade Hotel or Shangri-La, the Oceania Beach Club Hotel is completely off the radar at the residential end of Ocean Avenue and Montana. Earlier this year, Michelin-Starred Chef Josiah Citrin of Melisse in Santa Monica, designed a new menu for the properties retro-chic Tower 8 restaurant and bar. The scene is like something out of the Jetson’s or Mad Men with mid-century modern furnishings in shades of blue and green. The menu on one hand reflects a casual café environment but the offerings and service are fine dining material. A small plate must is the mini-lobster roll which is more like a sandwich pocket stuffed with the juicy crustacean meat from Maine– and its far better than any of the other versions served on the Westside. Entrees include a flaky wild King salmon with bok-choy and shitake mushrooms. For lunch, try a Paso prime grass-fed burger or Cuban braised pork shoulder sandwich with a side of Tuscan kale salad.
Originally posted on www.thecaratdiet.com
Perched high above the hills in the ‘California Riviera’ aka Santa Barbara, the landmark El Encanto reopened it’s doors last month and the restaurant is fully open after a seven year closure. This grand reopening also marks the first West Coast property for the Orient-Express, who is primarily known for European trains and restoring historic villas around the world.
“The addition of El Encanto to the Orient-Express family is another milestone in the strengthening of the Orient-Express footprint in North America,” says John M. Scott, President and Chief Executive Officer, Orient-Express Hotels Ltd. ”El Encanto is an icon on the West Coast and fits perfectly with our existing international portfolio of unique assets.”
El Encanto spans seven acres amid lush garden landscapes with an expansive ocean view and has been a hideaway in the hills for close to 100 years. While the footprint remains true to it’s original design, the property now boasts 92 individually designed California-style bungalows, with hardwood floors and plantation-style shutters that reveal wild growing Bougainvillea.
Each bungalow has its own private patio or garden, where guests can choose to dine al fresco or enjoy a romantic sunset in complete seclusion or take in the ocean view via a terrace Telescope. The 800 square-feet Hummingbird Bungalow even features its own outdoor rainforest shower.
World famous artist Damien Hirst’s ‘Psalm print: verba mea auribus’, which is prominently located at the concierge desk, was created on a silk screen with diamond dust. The abstract piece depicts butterfly wings, as the hotel is located on a significant butterfly migration path.
The kitchen is now overseen by Executive Chef Patrice Martineau, who has created a ‘Californian Coastal’ menu, incorporating seasonal produce from the Santa Barbara region, as well as freshly picked herbs and vegetables from the hotel’s Chef’s Garden. Chef Martineau has recreated the ‘Floating Island’ dessert, which first made its debut on the menu in 1920. And, in a culinary twist indicative of the Orient-Express, the property has its very own Holstein cow, Ellie, whose milk will be solely used to produce handmade cheese for the guests.
The spa consist of seven treatment rooms, including a couples room and wet room, with a selection of therapies infused with calming sea elements, such as seaweed from Patagonia, or vinotherapies, which offer healing properties extracted from regional vines. One of the spa’s signature treatments, The Pinto and Cabernet Crush Sugar Scrub, drains toxins and stimulates circulation through a refining and renewing body scrub that combines Pinot and Cabernet grape seeds, brown sugar, and Kaolin clay for an invigorating experience.
Discover the surrounding area with a custom made electric bike. With a quaint basket at the front of the bikes, the hotel can prepare adventurous cyclists with a picnic for their journey down to the Santa Barbara town center, or to a secluded leafy spot where you can relax and take in the views.