Scratch Bar & Kitchen
Fine dining in the Valley seems like an oxymoron, and perhaps it was until the introduction of Scratch Bar & Kitchen by chefs Phillip and Margarita Lee. Located in a towering strip mall, right on Ventura Blvd., the Lees have a magical concept that puts Encino on the map as a dining destination. A doorbell outside a frosted glass door leads you to the wonderland that is Scratch Bar. Your multi-course tasting commences with a few petite cocktails paired with small bites. Little morsels of wild mushroom with meringue and foie gras, or popcorn with thyme, whet the appetite and are a playful and interactive way to start off. Diners are then moved into the kitchen, where the energy is undeniable. Rap music reminds you not to take the evening too seriously and to have some fun, while an open fire hearth promises flavorful cooking. Courses are brought out by the chefs and descriptions are detailed and fascinating. Many of the dishes were showstoppers, particularly the dry roasted cuttlefish with sweet potato and cumin as well as the fire roasted quail on a puree of carrots and black truffle. The dessert course of triple crème iced cream and house-made brioche was simply divine, and a reason to return sooner rather than later, as the menu is constantly evolving. Choose between standard or a grand wine pairing.
Meaning “dream” in Catalan, Somni is the latest fine dining outpost of José Andrés and El Bulli vet Aitor Zabala. And dreamlike it is, hidden at the back of The Bazaar at the SLS Hotel. This ambitious newcomer offers only 10 counter seats in an intimate space that feels half art gallery, half kitchen. The experience is personal, memorable, and thought-provoking. The chefs take full advantage of the fantasy-like inspiration in the name and play with many of the dishes. Things are not what they seem with many of the courses that grace the counter during the 20-course dinner. ‘Pa amb tomaquet’ or tomato bread arrives looking like the classic Spanish toast, but one bite reveals a very modern take on the dish that still retains the flavors of the classic. A golden croissant is actually made of thinly layered potatoes, rather than the classic butter and flour, but is equally delectable. They take a ‘fist bump’ of caviar to new heights, served on a wooden hand mannequin. It’s a riot to eat and impossible not to photograph, as little pearls of the freshest caviar melt on your tongue. The space is minimalist and sleek with only a hint of color found in the bulls on the wall, a nod to El Bulli. Each vessel throughout the meal was meticulously chosen and often as beautiful as the food it carried. The presentation of each course feels like a well-choreographed ballet, as 10 staff members assemble to ensure that diners’ plates are placed in front of them simultaneously.
Although Beverly Hills has few long-standing restaurants, Helene An has been making her famous garlic noodles since 1997 at Crustacean. After a substantial renovation last year, the space has reopened and has been transformed. Offering indoor and outdoor seating and an invite-only restaurant upstairs, opened in May, Crustacean is reborn and the food is better than ever. The kitchen is helmed by Tony Nguyen who serves light, flavorful Vietnamese cuisine using hardly any dairy. Chose from a pre-fixe menu or order á la carte. While it’s tempting to order the garlic noodles and crab as they are excellent, do not miss out on some of the newer, fabulous items that have landed on the menu. Surf and turf sashimi with wild salmon and A-5 wagyu with crispy garlic and a Tabasco chili vinaigrette is loaded with flavor. The salmon and wagyu are thinly cut and melt in your mouth. Braised lamb dumplings were one of my favorite dishes of the night, and a fusion of Vietnamese and Thai. Tom yum broth held the sweet morsels filled with butternut squash and the tender lamb. Vegan hearts of palm “crab cake” with spicy aioli was astoundingly like the real thing but better, and the presentation was a showstopper. An off-menu sole on a bed of wilted spinach and white rice was seared tableside with truffle butter. Dessert—a delicate financier pineapple cake with brown butter, oat honey streusel, créme fraiche crémeux, and Dole-whip—was mesmerizing.
Downtown Los Angeles
Chefs Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis of Bestia have opened a new Middle Eastern restaurant in the Downtown Arts District. Food is meant to be shared family style, as the inspiration for this restaurant came from the chef’s family roots in Israel, Morocco, Turkey, and Egypt. The brick warehouse that houses the concept boasts massive ceilings, an open kitchen, and hanging vines spilling over planters from high above. It is energetic, with tons of natural light and a nice glow from the fire of the kitchen. The best way to start the meal is with some of the fabulous breads and spreads. Duck ‘nduja hummus is creamy with a flavorful center and a side of fluffy, warm pita. Baba ghanoush is a nice spin on the classic with smoked eggplant topped with red walnuts and a lemon chili salt and a gorgeous fried pita with tumeric. Grilled prawns come head on and are juicy and sweet on a bed of eggplant tzatziki. Entrees are large format. Slow roasted lamb neck shawarma usually sells out, so be sure to get your order in early. It is a feast in itself, served atop a flat bread with sides of crème fraiche tahini, fermented cabbage, and turnips. Half a duck comes with aged breast, confit leg, and a side of bone broth as well as an incredible chicory salad. Desserts are very unique, all with a strong nod to the Middle East. Book at least a month in advance. Soon to come, lunch service.
Located in the old Four Seasons restaurant, a space that practically invented power dining in New York, The Pool is one of the newer editions of Major Food Group. With a focus on seafood in all forms—raw, cooked, and whole—The Pool is the epitome of Midtown dining at its finest. Soaring ceilings and a dignified bar lend space to celebrations both large and small. Cocktails have been voted among the best in New York. The cucumber with absinthe, lime, and cane sugar is as lovely to look at as it is to drink. Start with one of the small but tasty toasts: Santa Barbara sea urchin, tuna, or anchovy. Raw selections include fluke with ceviche with mango and sancho peppercorn or kanpachi, dressed in matsutake oil and fresh nebrodini mushrooms. Octopus a la plancha is perfectly tender, while their play on surf and turf is a rack of lamb with scallops and cumin for two.
Husband and wife team Angie Rito and Scott Tacinelli are the duo behind this small yet magical West Village American Italian restaurant. Hip music, strong cocktails, and cuisine inspired by their grandmothers make this the ideal spot for dinner with friends or a date night. Start with a Fiasco Spritz, with a blend of 10 aperitivos and Prosecco, or a Margarita with tequila, Calabrian chili honey, blood orange, and fennel liqueur. A chrysanthemum salad is excellent and comes with a layer of parmesan that looks like a fresh bed of snow over leafy greens with garlic and sesame. Pastas are truly remarkable, from the garganelli giganti with broken meatball ragu, guanciale, and pecorino to the buffalo milk caramelle with cantaloupe and black sesame. Lasagna for two is a showstopper, but does not leave room for anything else if you are in fact just two. Black cocoa tiramisu with marsala caramel and mascarpone is a wonderful way to end the evening.
Andrew Carmellini’s Locanda Verde is located just off the lobby of The Greenwich Hotel, which is fitting since Locanda in Italian is a place to drink, eat, and stay the night. Drawing a crowd since 2009, the urban Italian fare is offered for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The homemade Rhubarb Ricotta Danish is a delightful way to begin your day, as is Uova Modenese with cotechino hash, spinach, and tomato hollandaise. Sit outside along Greenwich Street during lunch and watch the busy bodies of lower Manhattan hurry by, as you savor Mezze Rigatoni with white veal bolognese and aged parmigiano or a Shaved Porchetta Sandwich with grilled onions and provolone. Dinner is best as a family affair, with more substantial secondis like Berkshire Pork with polenta, wild mushrooms, and marsala jus or a whole wood fired garlic chicken for two.