The Freehand Los Angeles opened last week at the corner of 8th and Olive — across the street from legendary dive bar the Golden Gopher. The 226-room hotel resides in the landmark, 12-story Commercial Exchange building, which has been gutted and completely redesigned with an urban-hipster twist on California Craftsman.
I’m feeling grateful and blessed to receive the Southern California Journalism Award for restaurant criticism at the Los Angeles Press Club’s annual gala. It is particularly gratifying to see this comment from the judges: “The winning critique blends a keen palate with laugh-out-loud humor in this spot-on reminder that a restaurant is much more than the food on the plate.”
The chef reaches over the sushi counter and places a bowl in front of each of us. The bowls are filled with ice, topped with the live shrimp he has just dismantled. The shrimp are huge, like mutants. Their dismembered heads and bodies sit side by side, a couple of inches apart but still very much alive.
Old Crow is far and away the best restaurant to open thus far at Pacific City. The corporate chef is Tony Scruggs, a self-taught cook who competed on television’s “MasterChef” a few years back. Scruggs’ barbecue is probably best described as Chicago-style with influences ranging from Tennessee to Arkansas.
I told the chef “omakase,” meaning that I trust his judgement, I’m in his hands. And the first few courses were fairly predictable, as I’ve dined at the sushi counter at Shunka a dozen times before and knew more or less what to expect. But I also knew there would be a curveball at some point, and here it was: baby squid sushi.