To Live and Dine in L.A. (my 8th Annual Restaurant Awards and Top 100)

I watched and dined with amazement this year as the earth shook, paradigms shifted and empires crumbled. There’s a new pecking order among L.A.’s fine dining elite: Sona’s gone, Hatfield’s is back and Providence won’t be denied. Television catapulted Michael Voltaggio into the limelight and helped Ludovic Lefebvre prove that a chef doesn’t need a restaurant to become one of the country’s most important culinary stars. This has been one of the brightest years on record for emerging talent, which I believe bodes extremely well for the future of dining in L.A. Meanwhile, Little Tokyo finally flashed across everyone’s radar—and it had nothing to do with Japanese cuisine. And the next Nancy Silverton has been crowned. And with that, I present my 100 favorite restaurants and the winners of our eighth annual awards…
 

RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR: HATFIELD’S

In its first incarnation, Hatfield’s proved utterly charming. But for their second act, chefs Quinn and Karen Hatfield swapped “charming” for chic and glamorous. The new place is nearly triple the size, with big comfy chairs, a lounge, private rooms and an extraordinary new manager/sommelier, Peter Birmingham. And while so much has changed, Quinn’s croque madame (yellowtail, prosciutto, quail egg, brioche) and Karen’s sublime desserts (especially the cinnamon-swirl brioche pudding) remain true to their original artistry and passion. 6703 Melrose Ave., L.A., 323.935.2977, hatfieldsrestaurant.com

BEST NEW RESTAURANT: LAZY OX

Chef Josef Centeno (Best New Chef 2007, at Opus) has finally found the right chemistry with partner Michael Cardenas (co-creator of Sushi Roku and Boa). The duo has created the most thrilling new restaurant of the year, a budget-friendly gastropub on the fringes of skid row where a cool mix of wide-eyed young bankers, dreadlocked artists and Hancock Park nobility comes together for whole-roasted sea bream, fried chicken, Cream of Wheat and Japanese beer. Crank up the Johnny Cash, and let the good times roll! 241 S. San Pedro St., L.A., 213.626.5299, lazyoxcanteen.‌com 

RUNNER UP, BEST NEW RESTAURANT: BISTRO LQ

When the amuse-bouche arrives—and it’s a duck heart delivered by a waiter clad in all black except for his red Converse high-tops—you realize this bistro isn’t actually a “bistro” but rather a daring, ultramodern restaurant with a narrative like no other. Uni and tapioca and oysters? Blinis with smoked haddock and lemon ricotta mousse? Dungeness crab with chorizo vinaigrette? Chef Laurent Quenioux is gleefully fearless. 8009 Beverly Blvd., L.A., 323.951.1088, bistrolq.‌com

PASTRY CHEF OF THE YEAR: ZOE NATHAN, HUCKLEBERRY CAFE AND BAKERY

Zoe Nathan pushes the boundaries of what it means to be a pastry chef. What started as a dessert gig at Rustic Canyon has snowballed into a love affair and delicious expansion into Huckleberry Bakery and Café and, most recently, her new ice cream shop, Sweet Rose Creamery. Her rustic baguettes and country boules trump La Brea Bakery. It’s no wonder the line forms early and often for her Valrhona chocolate croissants, decadent banana pies and heady, maple bacon biscuits. 1014 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, 310.451.2311

RUNNER-UP, PASTRY CHEF OF THE YEAR: ROXANA JULLAPAT, AMMO, AND JUN TAN, CUBE

Jun Tan at Cube (615 N. La Brea Ave., L.A., 323.939.1148, cubemarketplace.com) and Roxana Jullapat at Ammo (1155 N. Highland Ave., 323.871.2666, ammocafe.com) are currently whipping up some of the most incredible desserts in the city. Tan coaxes a pie out of Concord grapes (no joke) that’s worthy of a state fair blue ribbon. Ditto to the miniature cobbler duos, which are never too sweet. And Jullapat makes an OMG-inducing chocolate bread pudding topped with a marshmallowy nirvana. A brown-butter cake with candied hazelnuts, and her not-too-sweet cherry crostada trigger similar Twitter impulses.

CHEF OF THE YEAR: MICHAEL CIMARUSTI, PROVIDENCE

It’s true that seafood chefs are a different breed than those who work mostly with meat. Mastering fish requires a fastidious attention to detail and a manic, rig
ht-brained curiosity, both of which Michael Cimarusti channels into dishes like Santa Barbara spot prawns baked in a salt crust or sea urchin folded into a farm egg along with American caviar. Providence has aged with stunning clarity and grace—and Cimarusti inches ever closer to becoming L.A.’s most important chef. 5955 Melrose Ave., L.A., 323.460.4170, providencela.com

RUNNER-UP, CHEF OF THE YEAR: LUDOVIC LEFEBVRE, LUDOBITES

For most chefs, going from the rarefied world of L’Orangerie and Bastide to a fried-food truck would be a spectacular fall from grace. But for Ludo Lefebvre, it’s been the ultimate career boost. No other chef can claim a more devout group of followers who so eagerly await his every tweet, whether he’s frying chicken in the back of his truck or crafting highbrow foie gras—wrapped in cabbage then steamed in kimchee consommé—at his sold-out, freestyle pop-up called LudoBites. Catch LudoBites 5.0 from mid-July to early September at Gram & Papa’s, 227 East 9th St., L.A.,ludobites.com

BEST NEW CHEF: MICHAEL VOLTAGGIO, THE DINING ROOM AT THE LANGHAM 

Uncanny is Michael Voltaggio’s ability to transform pigeon into a sort of emperor’s pastrami with a regal sauce that mimics sauerkraut—and have it be not merely the most delicious thing you eat this year, but also the prettiest. The chef’s last dinner at The Langham is July 17. (He’s leaving to open a place of his own; details are still sketchy.) On the 18th, The Dining Room closes for a dazzling renovation (set to reopen in October). Imagine the old balustrades being replaced with glass and the terrace partially enclosed! 1401 S. Oak Knoll Ave., Pasadena, 626.568.3900, pasadena.langhamhotels.com

OUSTANDING WINE & SPIRITS PROGRAM: SAAM AT THE BAZAAR

Sure, the tableside Martinis involving liquid nitrogen and brined air are impressive. SLS beverage director Lucas Payá spent five years at Spain’s El Bulli as head sommelier. But forget the molecular trickery for a second and consider the wine list, particularly the Spanish chapter, which is filled with exciting, tobacco-y Riojas and beautiful, glass-staining Priorats that you just can’t find anywhere else. Ask him for a dinner pairing in the Saam room, and he just might respond with a two-hour, paradigm-shifting romp in nothing but sherry. 465 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A., 310.246.5545, sbe.com

OUTSTANDING SERVICE AWARD: THE GRILL ON THE ALLEY BEVERLY HILLS

Despite the maddening crush of customers who’ve suddenly walked in with no reservation and no real hope of getting a table, the greeting at the door is always warm, welcoming and genuine at The Grill on the Alley, à la Groundhog Day, the scene repeats itself daily, but before you know it, a waiter in a white coat is handing you an ice-cold Gimlet. The service here adheres to an old-school protocol that honors chivalry and serious muscle. They don’t make waiters like this anymore. 9560 Dayton Way, Beverly Hills, 310.276.0615, thegrill.‌com

THE VANGUARD AWARD: THE WATER GRILL

When the mood strikes for an evening of raw oysters, chilled crab legs, lobster cocktails and such, the first place that springs to mind, year after year, is Water Grill. Chef David LeFevre keeps elevating the standard by which all other raw bars will forever be judged (and, ultimately, smacked down). Bigwigs will always converge here for lunch to be pampered by professional, grown-up waiters and to savor clam chowder that’s been tricked out with Niman Ranch bacon. 544 S. Grand Ave., L.A., 213.891.0900, watergrill.com

And here’s the entire story and Top 100, including L.A.’s best steakhouses, Italian, sushi and more: http://www.bradajohnson.net/images/Press/DiningAwards.pdf

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