By ELYSE GLICKMAN
California cuisine is equated with salads, superfoods du jour, and inventive use of grains (Hello, Quinoa!). However, chefs and kitchens at restaurants across L.A. are at their most inventive this time of year. Flavors are heartier, aromas are more pronounced, and menus showcase things that are more comfort food than rabbit food. Also, with football (welcome back, L.A. Rams!) and basketball season under way, there is nothing better than sharable eats that perfectly balance sophistication and casual flair–especially when paired with a cold beer.
International mozzarella specialist Obicà ups its game by opening its third location on people-watching capital Sunset Plaza. In addition to exceptional views of Downtown L.A. and the Westside, Corporate Executive Chef Erind Halilaj ensures fans of Italian fare will not be disappointed with his gondola of signature dishes crowned with cheeses imported from Italy. Though nobody will turn down a Caprese Classica pizza, unique picks include Pizza Uovo with egg, tomato and Mozzarella di Bufala; Pappardelle al Ragu Di Anatra e Arancia (homemade rosemary pasta with Tuscan-style duck ragu) and Cavolfiore (warm cauliflower salad with raisins, olives, pine nuts and sunflower seeds).
Obika’s new locale, however, has competition along this swanky section of Sunset with the arrival of New York transplant Serafina. East coast visitors and transplants should relish introducing their Angeleno friends to the restaurant’s signature Northern Italian menu shaped family recipes handed down through the generations, as well as the much-ballyhooed selection of 20 varieties of thin crust pizza baked in the restaurant’s prominently displayed oven.
While Sushi Roku (in Pasadena and Santa Monica) is now a neighborhood tradition rather than a hipster hangout, it retains the soul that made it a go-to spot years ago–even for those not enamored with sushi. The newest menu rollout is jam-packed with what one member of management describes as, “sophisticated game time share plates” with strange but wonderful combinations of flavor and color. These include the paper thin Brussels Sprout Chips with truffle oil and salt, Fried Calamari with jalapeno glaze, panko-crusted Seabass Slider (step aside, fish and chips) and Wagyu sliders topped with camembert cheese. Sushi enthusiasts, meanwhile, can’t miss the Yellowtail Diced Chilies Roll.
Westwood’s Tuck Room Tavern features bartenders who use “The Heisenberg,” a three-tiered infuser, to feature fresh produce from the nearby farmer’s market in their cocktails. This fall, bartenders are tasked with seasonal drinks loaded with artisanal apples, pears, cranberries, and everything they can grab from their spice racks. Salt Creek Grill in El Segundo, meanwhile, rolls out an eclectic Sunday brunch menu and a new “backyard” patio to enjoy it in.
Chef Daniel Shemtob brings the cross-cultural comfort foods of his award-winning The Lime Truck to a relaxed brick-and-mortar format in Pasadena. Hungry souls will enjoy fueling up with its Short Rib Hash Fries, the Tofu Taco with spicy lime-sambal sauce; and Pork Belly Nachos. There are also plenty of things for vegetarians and gluten sensitive customers, as well as The Lime Truck’s fabled agave-sweetened limeades. TLT is going head-to-head in Pasadena with Arizona-based True Food Kitchen’s gorgeous, sprawling location, which provides a perky showcase for cross-cultural dishes built on the principles of Dr. Andrew Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet.
Though BBQ season is technically over, burger joints such as Umami Burger (particularly their chic new Santa Monica digs), Plan Check, The Golden State and Father’s Office are still firing up comfort food fans throughout the city. Umami Burger raises their stakes with a new menu that includes non-beef options, sides and more, all maximizing that delicious umami (savory) flavor. Dig into Japanese Wings with a soy glaze and shichimi pepper mix, Gochujang Sliders, and the Crispy Diablo fried chicken breast, diablo sauce, roasted garlic aioli, dill pickles, spicy slaw.
If you haven’t been to Downtown Los Angeles in a while, prepare to be dazzled by Grand Central Market (www.grandcentralmarket.com). Its upscale, business lunch-friendly incarnation could be described as a “fun house” of surprises covering Los Angeles’ culinary spectrum and ethnic diversity. Though there are produce vendors that recall a simpler time (i.e. the years before Downtown’s extreme makeover), today’s Grand Central is a “choose-your-own-adventure” affair, where every lunch or shopping trip is vastly different from the last. And there are craft beer installations to boot!