Three Cool Vietnamese Restaurants Open in LA

Red Med at the Formosa Since 1925 the Formosa has been a West Hollywood staple for studio executives, famous crooners and mobsters who slid into naugahyde red booths during 3 martini lunches back in the day to count their money. This dimly lit box car has been a cool dive for dozens of years -and the signed black and white celebrity headshots still line the walls, but the Chinese food was never the draw. Enter the crew behind Red Medicine in Beverly Hills, including a menu conceived by Executive Chef Jordan Kahn – and problem solved. Start your evening – at 4pm if you so desire, with a Singapore Sling or a Pisco Sour before ordering crispy coated confit chicken wings, Shanghai rice cakes with bacon, spring rolls with Dungeness crab, poached farm egg with boiled peanuts, or a bahn mi slathered with pate and stuffed with pork belly. The show-stopper is a giant platter of Wagyu beef brisket which has been braised for 36 hours that you can roll into lettuce leaves. Chances are you’re going to want everything on the menu, but don’t feel a bit guilty, they do not have a dessert menu, and you have until 2am to finish everything.

East Borough The team behind Pitfire Pizza (one of the few chains that we like), and extremely popular Superba Snack Bar – Paul Hibler and Chef Jason Neroni, have set up a new shop in Culver City focusing on French Vietnamese dishes. The interiors are similar to Superba with colorful tiled floors, communal tables, front patio and unique design elements such as the massive photographic wall of a Ho Chi Min City street scene. Start with a ‘Kitchen Garden’ cocktail of gin, cucumber, black pepper and celery bitters that will pair well with most dishes. We loved the daikon rice cake with egg; head on blue shrimp; salt and pepper squid which is lightly coated or the tender baby octopus with sweet chili sauce and crispy Brussels sprouts. ‘Common Table’ items include whole roasted chicken, roasted trout and fall off the bone pork shank with crab pate and lettuce cups.

Little Sister By 6pm on any given Saturday night, this cozy modern French-Vietnamese eatery by Chef-OwnerTin Vunong is giving neighbors M.B. Post and Fishing with Dynamite a run for the money with a huge crowd waiting on the sidewalk. The space is industrial cool and date-night cozy at the same time; plus we love a menu that includes a ‘spice table’ with symbols, descriptions and origins to help you decipher some of the more complex ingredients in the cuisine. Musts include the perfectly crispy Vietnamese crepe stuffed with pork belly, prawns, bean sprouts and showered in mint that you can wrap in a lettuce cup – but it’s just as tasty solo. Skinny Singapore noodles with prawns and chunks of juicy pork is another hit along with the salt & pepper lobster. If you just want to sit at the bar and watch the kitchen in action, start with the Balinese style fried meat balls served with banana ketchup for dipping. There are no cocktails on offer but your can order beer, premium – sake or a bottle of rose which pairs well with a cheese plate for dessert.

Two New Restaurants that Need to be on Your Radar in 2014


Top Chef Alex Reznik has pulled off what no other dining establishment in the Pico Robertson Kosher corridor has yet to achieve: a cool concept space for diners of all ages to have craft cocktails, inventive small plates or a simple juicy steak dinner whether on a date, with family or friends.

Ditmas refers to the Brooklyn hood where Chef-Owner Reznik grew up and also gave birth to his culinary career centered around the dinner table in his family home. The open kitchen and 20 foot long wooden communal table is certainly inviting and the varied menu of modern American cuisine is encouraging that this eatery will become a staple in the community.

Start with the thick and creamy Jerusalem artichoke soup with sun choke chips, Fresno powder and watercress puree along with a giant house made NY pretzel with horseradish mustard. There has already been a huge buzz about the steak tartar topped with a quail egg – which is delicious, but the more adventurous diners should try the corned beef tongue on a bagel slice, topped with a poached egg. We can’t wait for brunch to start so we can order this with a side of crispy onion rings. Everything is conceived in-house form the flatbreads to fry bread, and special attention has been paid to the bar program with in-house infusions, syrups, bitters and macerations.
The kosher steaks are a great find from 10 oz. flat iron at $25 to a massive bone-in-rib-eye ($42), up to a cout de bouef for $76. Whitefish rillettes with house made brioche, seasonal pickled vegetables or a salmon pastrami with parsnip puree, everything bagel, and capers are perfect for non-meat eaters. The kitchen will also be creating five different pastas each week, but for now there is also duck consommé with matzo balls, chicken meatballs with coconut milk, and the signature 24-hour braised short rib with butternut squash polenta pickled peppers finished in a horseradish snow. Welcome to the neighborhood!

Factory Kitchen is the latest industrial area hot spot downtown with Chef Auriana Angelo (formerly of Valentino) at the helm. Naturally, it’s also an industrial looking space with a bar area and open kitchen in an old warehouse style building but the food is refined modern Italian.
‘Beginnings’ include duck egg with red potato, sautéed greens and speck that would be a perfect brunch dish. The chef also goes the classic route with minestrone that utilizing an organic medley of veggies and basil pesto.  Prosciutto is aged 24 months and served with lightly fried sage dough and stracciatella. The ‘focaccina’ with crescenza, arugula and Liguria olive oil is more like a flat bread meets a pizzetta and will go quickly at the table once you start pulling apart the gooey Northern Italian cow’s milk cheese between the dough.  A much talked about dish has been the green-hued folded handkerchief pasta  - Jonathan Gold of the LA Times has just coined this one a top 10 newbie; with almond basil pesto from Liguria and fiori sardo cheese (a tart Peccorino), but do try the genius sliced beet casserole with melted Asiago as well.  Entrees include flat iron steak with bagna cauda – another Piedmontese specialty with lots of butter, garlic and anchovy; Mediterranean octopus with a classic Sicilian salmorgilio; rolled porchetta or osso buco.
While the wine list is well priced Italian varietals from Alto Adige to Veneto, do not overlook the cocktails such as ‘Sweet Jane’ with a barrel aged Genever, rhubarb and lavender honey.

Three Smoking Hot New Restaurants: French, Italian and Asian


While these top tables will be hard to score over the holiday season, we recommend getting a head start now as they should not be missed.

Republique Chef Walter Manzke is back doing what he does best: classic French cuisine with a modern California twist, in the old Campanile space, no less.   The gothic style open structure is now a sea of wooden communal tables over antique tiles and vaulted ceilings with several kitchen spaces for viewing and a long inviting bar and lounge in the front of house. The old LaBrea Bakery spot adjacent will also not be going to waste as an elaborate entry way either, Manzke has plans for adding an oyster bar, similar to a wine bar, in the coming months. For now you can feast on freshly baked bread by Mrs. Manzke, some of the best steak tartare and kabocha squash agnolotti to be found anywhere, along with the more adventurous pig’s head served with lentils, bacon, frisee and farm egg. “I tried so many different preparations and just went back to the traditional classic ways,” says Manzke.  We are so glad that he did.
Scopa Just when you thought the west side couldn’t use another cozy Italian eatery, along comes Steve Livigni and Pablo Moix to smash that theory into the ground. Taking over a tacky old Chinese place on Washington Blvd., the stunning space now houses distressed brick walls, a long open bar and plenty of romantic two-tops. Top Chef Alumni Antonia Lafaso, last seen at Black Market in Studio City, is recreating recipes from her Grandmother’s kitchen such as the pan-fried meatball hero make with primarily dry aged beef and no veal or pork mix. The pastas are simple and delicious – Chitarra is made with a pecorino stock from the cheese rinds and black pepper and it’s one of the best winter dishes in town.  House made ricotta crostini is light as a feather – whipped with mascarpone, addictive and served with charred ciabatta slices.  Popular libations include the Bullock’s-Wilshire with bourbon which pays homage to the old LA department store.  If you’re feeling under-the-weather the Bee’s Pick Me Up with Cognac, lemon and clover honey should sooth anything that ales you.

Din Tai Fung We are not a fan of chains – apart from Umami Burger, but Din Tai Fung has opened in the Americana at Brand bringing the beloved Asian steamed dumpling emporium closer to Angelenos who have been making the trek to Arcadia for years, and marking their 81st location around the globe. Hailed by the New York Times as “one of the top ten restaurants in the world,” and ranked #1 in the inaugural “101 Best Restaurants in Asia” by The Daily Meal, Din Tai Fung is now serving its internationally recognized signature soup dumplings with an exclusive menu addition, the famed Truffle dumpling, which is served to foreign dignitaries and very special guests in Taiwan.  A legendary eatery on Asian soil, founded in 1958 by the Yang Family,  the contemporary Glendale location is a massive bright and airy space which should draw hordes of shoppers from the mall looking for not only some of the world’s best dumplings but fried pork chop atop a bed of rice, pot stickers, wontons, soups, and fried noodles. An expansive cocktail program serves traditional and Asian-style beverages, along with boba beverages and slushies, plus a curated selection of beer and wine.

Sunset Blvd. Update: Ready for Three Close-ups

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.

The Warwick
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.


French Influence: New Menu at Comme Ca, Sunset Gallic Spice Route and Lounge


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.


Santa Monica Opens New Diverse Venues Within Walking Distance

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.

Trio of Hidden Gems Around LA for Unique Shared Plates, Mediterranean and Modern Indian


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.



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