Letter from the Editor: The Evolving LA Dining Scene Vol: 52

November 11, 2009
Antoinette Bruno
Antoinette Bruno, CEO and Editor-in-Chief

Our most recent travels have taken us westward to sunny Los Angeles. It’s been three years since we’ve made a trip to Tinseltown—and a lot has changed. The LA dining scene has evolved in recent years and while restaurant goers there are as trendy and fickle as ever, LA is getting to a place where it can hold its own against the other great culinary cities in the country.

If there is one area where LA is ahead of the rest of the country it’s in pastry. From the rustic Italian desserts of Pastry Chef Dahlia Narvaez of Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza, to the baked goodies of Zoe Nathan at Huckleberry, to the uber-modern creations of Jordon Kahn at XIV, the Los Angeles pastry scene has something for everyone.

We saw a lot of Asian ingredients being incorporated into sweets. At both Sashi and Sona Pastry Chefs Kei Hasegawa and Ramon Perez integrate savory Japanese flavors into their desserts, introducing surprising umami elements to the end of the meal.

For a glimpse into what some of LA’s top pastry chefs are up to, be sure to check out the feature on Pastry Chef Adrian Vasquez of Providence and the technique feature with Pastry Chef Michael Gilette of The Bazaar by José Andrés.

We were also impressed by LA’s vibrant, burgeoning mixology scene. The speakeasy trend has finally moved west with mixologists like Eric Alperin of The Varnish, Joel Black of The Doheny, and Damian Windsor of The Roger Room leading the charge.

Speakeasies aren’t the only places to get a good cocktail in LA. In Venice, Mixologist Devin Espinosa makes his own bitters, syrups, and tonics that he mixes into drinks at The Tasting Kitchen. And Danielle Motor is behind the bar at 2006 Rising Star Chef David Lentz’s Hungry Cat in Hollywood, where she incorporates unusual fresh produce like avocado and jalapeño into her libations. At The Bazaar by José Andrés in West Hollywood, Mixologist and Beverage Manager Lucas Paya makes everything from classic Pisco Sours to highly modern Liquid Nitrogen Caipirinhas.

Many great sommeliers are now calling Los Angeles home, and we’ve been lucky enough to meet a number of incredibly talented professional oenophiles on our trips. For our favorite pairings, take a look at Top Pairs, featuring Drew Langley of Providence, Mark Mendoza of Sona Eduardo Porto Carreiro of Grace, and Dana Farner of CUT.

The biggest trend in LA right now echoes what we’ve seen around the country: rustic comfort food in casual environments. Chefs Evan Funke of Rustic Canyon, Diana Stavaridis of BLD, Matt Molina of Mozza, Walter Manske of Church + State, and Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook of Animal cook simple but impeccably executed—and totally comforting—food that keeps you craving more.

And bacon! The only place we have yet to see bacon in LA is in our cocktails. We had Bacon-Wrapped Bacon (Chef Ray Garcia of Fig), Bacon-Wrapped Pork Chops (Chef Diana Stavaridis of BLD), pancetta dust for dessert (Pastry Chef Jashmine Corpuz of Drago Centro), and Bacon Brioche (2003 Rising Star Chef Michael Cimarusti of Providence), to name a few bacon-focused dishes.

We were happy to catch up with Chef Marc Gold at his new restaurant Eva, which has a serious focus on fish—Chef Gold goes to the fish market at the crack of dawn to ensure the best, least expensive cuts. And he knows how to leave well enough alone, keeping his preparations simple and letting the quality ingredients shine through.

We’ve got one more trip out west this year to San Diego, Los Angeles, Orange County, and Pasadena before the Rising Stars gala in March. Then it’s on to San Francisco, New York, and Washington, DC (plus a trip to San Sebastian)—so get in your nominations here!

Speaking of Rising Stars, we just had our 27th Rising Stars in Boston, which was home to our very first Rising Stars gala. Be sure to check out the photo galleries of the wine tasting led by Rising Star Sommelier Theresa Paopao at Oleana, the How to Make it Panel at Cambridge Culinary School, the honorees dinner at "em>Craigie on Main, the gala at the State Room, and the after party at Eastern Standard.

As always, we love hearing from you! Be sure to become a fan of StarChefs.com on Facebook and follow me on Twitter to keep up with where I’m going and what I’m eating.

Antoinette Bruno