HIGHLIGHTS OF 2019
FAVE FOODIE & BOOZY MOMENTS
A time-honored tradition when looking ahead at the brand-new, upcoming year is looking back at the previous 12 months. While the New Year brings upon endless possibilities, it is fun to look back at highlights of the year gone by.
For me, new touted foodie destinations like Auburn, and Antica were good but didn’t wow, and the return of The Formosa Café was all hype and proved overrated while the relaunching of Genghis Cohen with its revamped tiki program was a pleasant surprise. Here, in no particular order, are some of my favorite moments of 2019.
FAVE MEAL OF 2019
Back in March, I declared my dinner at Culina & Vinoteca at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles as my favorite of the young year. Nine months later it remained my favorite dining experience of 2019. A marathon dinner that lasted for five hours, it featured wonderful service, a chic and laidback atmosphere, perfectly paired wines and fantastic fare courtesy of Chef Luca Moriconi. Dinner highlights included the lovely Swiss chard flan, the fab butternut squash risotto, and the seafood medley lobster dish. This Italian dinner was posh, decadent and overindulgent and we loved every single bite and minute of it. Another reason to visit is for the Pronto Market Lunch served during that day as this buffet does not disappoint.
Culina & Vinoteca is located at the Four Seasons at 300 South Doheny Drive. Open daily. Call 310-860-4000.
GET TO KNOW THE VINTNER’S TAVERN
My runner up as favorite meal of 2019 as well as the restaurant opening that made the biggest personal impact, sorry Auburn and Antico, was The Vintner’s Tavern in Chino (yes, Chino). This new restaurant standout saw the return of Chef Tim Guiltinan formerly of The Raymond 1886 and boy was he missed. Chef still delighted with his seafood options, always a standout, and other dinner highlights included his maple glazed pork cheek, roasted pork belly with grilled peaches, and lamb neck. I have to admit that dinner in Chino was never on my radar before but now it definitely is. Believe me, it is definitely worth the trek.
The Vintner’s Tavern is located at 13788 Roswell Avenue #186 in Chino. Open Tuesday through Thursday from 5pm to 9pm; Friday and Saturday from 5pm to 10pm; and Sunday from 4pm to 8pm. Call 909-497-7183.
BEST COCKTAILS OF 2019
One of my cocktail highlights of 2019 included getting to know the magical Milano Torino courtesy of Jesus Gomez of The Raymond 1886 as part of the bar’s ’70’s Summer Lovin’ drink menu. Another was spending a week drinking in London. I was afraid that the big-name bars wouldn’t live up to the hype but I was happy that wasn’t the case as drinking at The American Bar at the Savoy was one of my favorite drinking experiences ever. I’ll never forget that lazy Sunday as I started a day drinking at Connaught Bar with a marvelous Bloody Mary, made my way to The American Bar where the I Love You duet cocktail and the Lonely Street were absolute favorites, and finished with a couple of nightcaps at Lyaness (formerly Dandelyan). That was a world class good day. As was day drinking at East Bay Spice Company in Berkeley as part of my birthday celebration over the summer. This NorCal bar definitely holds its own and is always a must-visit for me whenever I’m in the Bay Area.
BEST ELEVATED DINNER OF 2019
Celebrating my good friend Matt’s birthday in November, dinner at Inn Ann was an absolute special treat. First you have to find the “hidden retreat” at Japan House at Hollywood & Highland but then expect a standout omakase dining experience. My tasting menu included several delicious courses, including tender Wagyu beef, sensational nigiri, sashimi and sake as flavors danced and delighted my palate. It’s a super pricey meal but worth it if you’re in a celebratory mood.
BEST BOOZY BRUNCH OF 2019
Of all the boozy brunches I enjoyed in 2019, my favorite was at Terra at Eataly L.A. in Century City. Yes, the Italian fare was fine but it was the drinks that made this one a memorable boozy brunch. First of all, rooftop dining here offers absolutely killer views and then there’s the Bloody Mary bar, which is just so cool. This first rate Bloody starts with a fine Pomodoro mix of freshly chopped polpa, cherry tomatoes, San Marzano tomatoes, and charred soffritto. You choose your spirit from vodka, tequila, mezcal, and tomato-based gin (an excellent choice); salt (smoked sea salt, lemon infused salt, celery and smoked paprika salt); skewer (smoked mozzarella and cherry tomato or Mortadella and giardiniera); and garnish (artichokes, zucchini, onion, olives, herbs, pesto). And not to be outdone, the Gin &Tonic menu offered the fantastic G&T No. 4 cocktail made with Astral Pacific Gin, East Imperial Yuzu Tonic, grapefruit, ginger and Thai basil. Simply excellent. Day drinking should always be this good.
Terra at Eataly L.A. is located at the Westfield Century City, located at 10250 Santa Monica Blvd. Brunch hours are Saturday and Sunday from 10:30am to 3:30pm.
SURPRISE OF THE YEAR
When I got invited to Katsuya in August to try the new cocktail menu, I expected to enjoy great sushi and taste some decent drinks (if I was lucky) but instead, we feasted on hearty, meaty delights and enjoyed some pretty damn fine libations. Sure, the spicy tuna on crispy rice is a must-order here but it was the beef short ribs that stole the show, as did the A4 Wagyu Beef Fried Rice, which was probably the best fried rice I’ve ever had—priciest too. Likewise, the teriyaki beef tenderloin with sesame and scallions was another homerun dish as it was smoky, savory and sensational. As for the cocktails, the Thai Tea Sazerac made with Thai tea-infused TINCUP Colorado Whiskey was damn near perfect. And the Genmaicha Milk Punch was as good as liquid dessert gets.
Katsuya locations are spread out throughout Los Angeles, including Brentwood, Glendale, Hollywood, and downtown at L.A. LIVE.
BAZAAR FLIGHT AT GATE: BAR CENTRO
No, there is nothing bizarre about the cocktail journey that is Bazaar Flight at Gate: Bar Centro at The Bazaar by José Andres Beverly Hills. This daring cocktail tasting menu features 12 destination, so yes, 12 cocktails, that serves as a drinkable sojourn around the world. Your boarding pass on this gastronomic exploration features bold libations, some of which come in the form of edible spheres as classic garnishes are replaced with smoke clouds, and the personalized performance of the bar team blurs the line between mad scientist and mixologist. This isn’t a cheap trip but it’s a first class adventure all the way and is worth saving up for.
A RIOTOUS GOOD TIME IN THE 909
Another good time in the 909, besides my memorable dinner at the nearby Vintner’s Tavern, was my visit to Citrus Grove Distillers in Claremont. Located 40 miles from Hollywood, this SoCal distillery features an ample lineup of spirits, including vodka, gin, bourbon, and rum, along with agave spirits (think tequila but made in California so hence the name agave spirit). More of a rowdy clubhouse than proper bar, the drinks from head mixologist Lisa Copenhaver make for a damn good time. Her cocktail lineup always changes but her cocktail creations are fun and booze forward. I’m still thinking of her ode to Elvis concoction The King.
Citrus Grove Distillers is located at 1420 N. Claremont Blvd #111A in Claremont. Open Tuesday through Saturday from 3 pm to 10 pm; Sunday from 1 pm to 8 pm. 909-228-6288.
OUTSTANDING ODDS & ENDS
The past 12 months offered some mighty memorable experiences, but there were also some incredible, almost random, moments that will not soon be forgotten.
Masters of Taste once again proved to be L.A.’s best food fest. Get ready for the fifth installment on Sunday, April 5 at the Pasadena Rose Bowl.
There was the Ktown Burger at Porkfolio, which was crazy good. But what would you expect when you combine an 8oz pork belly patty with a crispy kimchi pancake, Seoul slaw, gochujang mayo, and Bolo bun served with an assortment of banchan? Boom! Consider this a killer burger worth driving to Arcadia.
And then there was the ramen at Totoyama Sushi & Ramen in Hollywood. While the sushi was legit, as Chef Yuri Yamamoto specializes in flame seared sushi, it was the ramen and Chef’s magic garlic chili oil that dazzled. I like ramen but I loved this ramen! This was comfort food at its best.
Who could forget the wild fifth anniversary party at Melrose Umbrella Co. in April where mezcal was actually pouring out of the water fountain? That was a great night! I hope we get to do it all over again in 2020.
And finally, there was September’s epic taco dinner. Yes, it was actually called Epic Taco Dinner where I surprised myself by making some pretty legendary blended margaritas and the one and only Jonathan Cowan delighted with an assortment of homemade tacos, including sea bass, pork belly, fried chicken, and beef and pickle (shout out to Escuela Taqueria). Epic was the ideal word to describe this elaborate and satisfying evening of fine food and drink with friends.
2019 will be tough to beat but I’m up for the challenge for an even bigger and better 2020.
Story By: Jose Martinez
Photography Courtesy Of Locations Above