I’ve never understood why some travelers dislike Los Angeles. There’s the traffic, yes, and when it rains, drivers panic. But the city offers such a delightful smorgasbord of architecture, art, and cuisine—not to mention great weather and the beach—that I visit LA as often as possible.
Let’s talk cuisine today.
Although LA does like to think of itself as the leading edge of hip (though it often feels inferior to New York City in many respects), its restaurants sometimes fall short of their promise. Design is sometimes more important than what’s on the plate. But I feel confident in recommending these three eateries that deliver on both accounts. Figure on approximately $50 per person for a two-course dinner, not including tax, tip, or drinks.
The newest kid on the block is Tavern on San Vicente in tony Brentwood. A former Hamburger Hamlet has been converted into a three-part restaurant that’s already attracting the Beautiful People—Reese Witherspoon was at the table next to me at dinner last week. (Fortunately, she didn’t intrude on my evening and kept her focus on the couple with whom she was dining. There’s nothing more annoying that gorgeous actresses in Little Black Dresses wanting to chat you up, is there?)
Diners enter through a deli offering pastries, fresh bread, and prepared foods to go. A few tables line the big windows that overlook a sidewalk and an Italian restaurant across the street. You may order from the display or from the restaurant’s main menu and eat in the deli if you’re interested in a quick meal.
For a more polished atmosphere, book at table in the room with the bar. Low, plush chairs along with subdued lighting give the room a cozy feeling. I like the last option, a huge, open room with skylights. There’s table and banquette seating and soothing, soft green walls. The restaurant’s complete menu is available no matter where you park yourself, though there’s also a bar menu for light eaters.
The owners are the same folks behind AOC and Lucque in Los Angeles, and you’ll find their signature “devil’s chicken” here, all moist on the inside but mustardy and crunchy with breadcrumbs on the outside. I liked that as well as a grilled lamb kabob with white beans and feta salsa verde. Both times I ate at Tavern, I began with the rich green goddess salad accompanied by avocado and crab. I give the food three yums on a scale of four, and that’s a great ranking considering the restaurant had only opened a few days before my visits.
For something completely different, head to the über-hip SLS Hotel (formerly the Nikko as well as the Meridien) on the edge of Beverly Hills and West LA. Don’t ask what SLS stands for—the Starwood property uses the initials in several ways, including “So Long, Sweetie” when you get your bill for check out. Oh, and don’t think you can check out the hotel—only guests are permitted in the lobby. (But ask nicely, and you’re welcome to gawk.)
Within the hotel but with a separate entrance, The Bazaar awaits. That wacky designer Phillipe Starck has gone nuts doing the interior of The Bazaar, a glorious restaurant helmed by chef José Andrés, famous for his several Jaleo restaurants in DC. He’s brought his tapas ethic to the West Coast but tarted it up quite a bit by channeling one of his mentors, Spain’s Ferrán Adrià, sometimes known as the Salvador Dali of cuisine. Foie gras presented on a small stick as cotton candy, in particular, will transport you to Adrià’s temple to gastronomy on the Catalonian coast.
There are two rooms at The Bazaar, “Rojo” and “Blanca,” but both have the same menu; only Starck’s quirky but powerful décor is different. But go for the food—the watermelon and tomato skewers are fabulous, Brussels sprouts with lemon foam (thank you, Ferrán), and other small dishes make a fascinating meal. I understand the pitchers of white sangria are to die for, but the night I dined, the sangria wasn’t available. Our waiter said they were “out of pitchers” for inexplicable reasons.
And finally, there’s The Hall at a hotel you’ve never heard of, Palihouse Holloway, just off the Sunset Strip in West LA. English chef Brendan Collins and his crew turn out great bistro dishes, such as a charcuterie plate, mussels, boeuf bourguignon, and pied de cochon. Seating is in a courtyard with an open sky above and hotel rooms around you.
I had an entire chicken, which is thankfully served for two, and comes with truffles melted between the skin and the meat. It’s really all you need to set you up for the week, though a starter of wild mushroom soup or a vivid rendition of pea soup is a nice way to begin. Fellow diners raved about the cocktails, especially the “Writer’s Block” and a grapefruit margarita.
This is an informal eatery that ranks right up there among Los Angeles' great restaurants. While the dining room has always been filled the two times I’ve visited in the last several months, I find many Angelenos draw a blank when I mention the place. It deserves the attention of everyone who treasures great bistros, which in my opinion ought to be everyone in the world.