Chef Suzanne Goin (Winner, Outstanding Chef)
Eighteen years is a long journey for any business, but it is a comparative eternity for a restaurant. Yet Suzanne Goin and her team have made it seem like the blink of an eye for their flagship Lucques, which opened on Melrose back in 1998. Since then, it has received distinct praise and reaped considerable rewards. This year was particularly special for Goin, as the James Beard Foundation awarded her with outstanding chef.
Lucques was a seasonal restaurant from the start and, while staying true to its focus, has managed to evolve yet remain a go-to for Sunday suppers and farm-to-table dining. The ivy-covered back patio is intimate yet inviting.
Enjoy a handcrafted cocktail before dinner at their open fireplace or bar. Nibble on warm bread with butter and olives, as you look over the market driven menu. Starters include ricotta dumplings with morels, spring vegetables, ramps and parmesan or beef carpaccio with fried artichokes, green garlic, sundried tomato and olive salsa. Goin does an excellent grilled market fish at many of her restaurants, and the first was likely at Lucques. The version here is served with carrot-beet slaw, harissa, kumquat, and za’atar labneh. A jaw-dropping grilled club steak for two with arugula salad and decadently creamy Parisian mashed potatoes is perfectly seared to your liking.
Desserts are plentiful from a brown butter date bar with toasted walnuts to a vanilla semi freddo with mandarine-quats and cashew brittle, or a chocolate pavlova with caramel custard. There is something for every sweet tooth.
Goin has opened many more restaurants including a.o.c., The Hungry Cat, Tavern, and several Larder’s, yet there is something special about the first… Maybe it is the history, maybe it is the excellent location, or maybe it is because it perfectly combines casual and chic. Lucques is the quintessential American restaurant.
Chef Jeremy Fox (Nominee, Best Chef, West)
Founder Josh Loeb opened Rustic Canyon after hosting a series of dinner parties in his Santa Monica canyon home. The farmer’s market inspires the ever-changing menu led by Executive Chef Jeremy Fox of Ubuntu in Napa. Dishes like homemade focaccia with burrata and beet molasses or steak tartare with Santa Barbara uni, mushroom, yuzu, egg yolk and sunflower are too good to resist. White yams are cooked with green garlic butter, celery, hazelnut dukkah and aioli. Mains include a local halibut with jade beans, spring onions, and tomato; a roasted half chicken with carrots, beets, and greens; and a flatiron steak with poblano mashed potato. Dinner here is not complete without a drink. Wash it all down with one of their artisanal beers, or an expertly sourced wine from their list focusing on boutique wineries.
Chef Michael Cimarusti (Nominee, Best Chef, West)
At a time when formal dining is trending out, Providence embraces the formal dinner experience with a choice of three tasting menus. Michael Cimarusti is devoted to seafood and goes to painstaking efforts to find only the best in sustainable American fish. Unless you are feeling particularly famished, the four-course signature and seasonal menu is the way to go. You will begin the meal with what seems like a never-ending succession of small bites or amuse bouche – mint mojito jellies, green tea with rice cracker, and wagyu cigar rolls, each item more interesting than the last. Main courses include fluke sashimi with blood orange and pearl onion, followed by sea scallop with cauliflower and vadouvan and then a wild king salmon with sunchoke, peas, pancetta, and black truffle or Liberty farms duck with Japanese turnip and tangerine. Desserts are artful with classic flavors, and again a series of treats arrive to end your meal including a coffee cake to take home for breakfast.
Chef Jon Shook & Vinny Dotolo (Nominees, Best Chef, West)
Animal was the first LA restaurant by duo Jon Shook and Viny Dotolo. It was an instant success when it opened in 2008. Lucky for Angelenos, this has led to many more smart restaurants from the pair including Son of a Gun, Trois Familia, Trois Mec, and Jon & Vinny’s. Who would have guessed that in salad-hungry LA, a restaurant named Animal would be such a success? The menu is brimming with offal meats, but I have always found some of the lighter fare to be the true stars of the show. The hamachi tostada has been on the menu since opening and features the freshest fish with fish sauce vinaigrette, peanut, and avocado. Winter citrus is paired with endive, avocado, macadamia, and yuzu kosho. But it would be a shame to miss the balsamic pork ribs with green bean, potato, and pistou. The ribs are also featured in their award-winning cookbook Two Dudes, One Pan, one of my favorites to date.