Sunday, February 15, 2015

Idle Hour Rolls Out a Barrel of L.A. History in North Hollywood

The original Idle Hour is now restored to look much the same
There aren't many better restaurant backstories in L.A. right now than last week's opening of the Idle Hour on Vineland Ave. with a bar, restaurant and spacious back patio. Built in 1941 and made to look like a trio of giant barrels, the Idle Hour functioned as a bar in L.A.'s unique programmatic architecture tradition for years until it was converted to La Cana flamenco dance spot, with tacky aluminum awnings obscuring the barrels for many years. In 1984, La Cana closed, with owner Doris Fernandez retreating to live in the top of the barrel for the next 25 years or so, Spanish Kitchen style, while just a few blocks away NoHo restaurants and theaters were starting to flourish. She died in 2010, and preservationist and Los Angeles magazine editor Chris Nichols was able to help secure historic monument status for the dilapidated building. When it came up for auction, he recruited the Bigfoot Lodge owners Bobby Green's 1933 Group to restore and re-open the historic spot.

It's taken three years for a top-to-bottom restoration -- it basically had to be completely taken apart and rebuilt -- but last week I checked out the woodsy new bar, which is sure to be quickly packed with Valley dwellers who have only recently been getting some decent drinking spots.
The look: The interior is just like being inside a barrel, with curved wood-covered walls and a tall round roof. Outdoors is another surprise: the Bulldog Cafe from the Petersen Auto Museum, a smaller replica of the one that once stood on West Washington Blvd., has been relocated and can be rented out for parties. The rest of the patio is comfy with a firepit and picnic tables, and dogs will be allowed.

The drinks: There's a selection of draft cocktails (I liked the Maid with tequila, aloe liqueur, mint and lime), a few updated but fairly simple house cocktails and two bottled and carbonated choices, all $12. About 20 taps of California-focused beer include rotating choices like an autumnal Sonoma Bourbon Cider, Ladyface Red Rye and Smog City Porter.
The food: The casual menu is made to go with hoppy beers and stiff cocktails, and the pulled pork sliders, brussels sprouts with bacon, bbq chicken wings all hit the spot. Or try a pretzel with chipotle chocolate sauce.

Idle Hour Bar
4824 Vineland Ave.
North Hollywood

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Dune: Falafel and Modern Middle Eastern on Atwater's Glendale Blvd.

Dune is still in its soft opening stage, but so far the small sandwich spot is turning out some unconventional but quite satisfying pita flatbreads in a small Glendale Blvd. space next to Juice and near Viet Noodle. The counter man wasn't very chatty but did say that the food doesn't represent any particular country, just the Middle East, and that the owner is from Poland. Or possibly Colorado. (It's actually Elf owner Scott Zwiezen.)
organic falafel sandwich at Dune
We tried an organic falafel ($8) with a heap of very soft and flavorful chickpea patties piled on a nicely charred homemade flatbread, topped with hummus and pickles. The lamb sandwich is made with pasture-raised lamb, and it's a little pricey at $10 for a few small lamb patties. But the yogurt sauce has a nice zing and presumably the lambs at least lived happy lives. For now the other items include a picked beet, feta and egg sandwich, hummus, tabbouli and rosewater dates for dessert. There are no tables inside, but outside Dune shares sidewalk tables with Juice and Kaldi. Dune seems like a good addition to a street that could use some updated casual spots.

3143 Glendale Blvd.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

El Condor Creates More Spacious Tequila-Sipping Areas as Dustin Lancaster's Empire Expands

After nine months using basically the same footprint as El Conquistador, El Condor owner Dustin Lancaster of Bar Covell and L&E Oyster realized the tiny upstairs bar and secluded back bar weren't creating a very good flow in the Silver Lake modern Mexican bar and restaurant. The feng shui just wasn't working, he explained, so a long L-shaped wooden bar now stretches across the entire downstairs area for maximum margarita-ordering efficiency. The front patio is now glassed-in while the cozy upstairs balcony is strictly for seating.

The menu has been streamlined just a bit -- though some are sad to lose the tortas and main dishes, it seems tacos and tequila (along with quesadillas, chips and enchiladas) are what the people want. There's also a fine selection of mezcals and carefully-crafted Mexican-influenced cocktails that are a world away from El Conquistador's neon green swill. Happy hour is 5-7 pm and 10-12 am.

With the boutique Hotel Covell set to open any day upstairs from Bar Covell, Lancaster is a very busy guy. He's also getting very close to opening Augustine, a wine bar in the Covell mold on Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks. After Home State and Mother Dough, the Covell block is filling up fast: The former two-story house next to Bar Covell is already set to feature a Go Get 'Em Tiger Coffee in six months or so; Lancaster is hoping that McConnell's Ice Cream will possibly join the coffee crowd.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Pot + Commissary in the First Issue of the Larchmont Ledger: How Many Forks?

Commissary's indoor-outdoor greenhouse space

Eating LA is now contributing to both the Los Feliz and the Larchmont Ledgers, two community newspapers that publish monthly in print and online. I'm not sure how it's possible that I never posted about eating several times at Pot (once with Anthony Bourdain and Roy Choi, brag, for a TV show promo of course). But now that I've tried Commissary too, it's time to make it right. Here's my review from the brand-new Larchmont Ledger. Click through to see how many forks it received.

It might not be fair to lump together Pot, a cheeky take on a Korean hotpot restaurant and Commissary, an equally-unorthodox approach to a breakfast, lunch and dinner hotel restaurant. But Koreatown's Line Hotel can be experienced all at once or in bits and pieces.
When Roy Choi, the man who brought food trucks into the 21st century with Kogi BBQ and then expanded into places like A-Frame and Sunny Spot, joined up with the recently remodeled mid-century hotel on Wilshire Blvd., it was clear it would reflect his brash approach to both flavors and marketing, with a weed-scented, hip-hop soundtracked sensibility.

Lobby bar at Pot
Walking into the lobby, a bar with comfy pentagonal booths offers updated classic cocktails and new creations like kimchi soju or tequila with sea urchin. The lobby coffee bar (open til 2 a.m. on weekends) serves Lamill coffee drinks (habanero mocha!), beer and wine along with Korean pastries like hot dog and ketchup buns and of course, clever toast (Laurence Fishbun is topped with anchovies) .
Down a corridor is Pot, an informal canteen offering accessible versions of hot pots and other Korean staples for diners who may or may not have much experience with real Korean restaurants. Servers in street-style chic and tables with clever shelves for flatware along with a pumping soundtrack give the windowless room a cacophonous energy. With typically Choi-esque names from Ganja Tang (pork neck hotpot) to Roger Wants Moore Octopussy grilled octopus, most dishes pack layers of sweetness, heat, salt and fat on top of each other until the diner keels over from either euphoria or a heart episode.
the kimchi fried rice of your dreams
The result is delicious but sometimes overly-rich dishes like kimchi fried rice, terrific potato pancakes and BBQ spicy pork. Hot pots come in pork-intensive, seafood or vegetarian varieties, and should be shared with several people. Come at lunch for a quieter experience and individually-sized hot pots, and don't miss the chili-oil slicked kat man doo dumplings.
Feeling more outdoorsy? Go past the hotel's reception desk and the mural made of plastic bleach bottles sprayed black, past the adorable Poketo gift shop and upstairs to Commissary. Next to the pool, a glass greenhouse-like structure filled with hanging plants, a bar and communal tables glows from within. Parties of two are likely to end up outdoors, where sleek heaters are able to keep out the cold most evenings. At Commissary, too, the vegetable-intensive menu plays tricks: like a children's bingo card, it offers just pictures of cauliflower, a carrot or a fish.
But the dishes are much more complex than the pictures, and the server can explain each one at length. Beets join pistachios, goat cheese and frisee, while "lettuce" symbolizes an artfully-composed salad of grilled lettuce, bacon, pear and avocado with a curry-scented dressing. Roasted carrots, one of the hot food trends at the moment, are roasted almost to a crisp and topped with a zippy green sauce. Every hotel restaurant needs a club sandwich and a burger, so Commissary offers both, as well as a satisfyingly crispy pork schnitzel that hangs over the edge of the plate in proper German style. Bacon is often a supporting character despite the vegetable focus, in classic clam chowder or in a rigatoni dish where tart capers cut the richness of the cream sauce.
Cocktails continue the garden theme with herbs and touches of rhubarb or persimmon. They're so refreshing that it might be nice if Choi could give up serving them in plastic leftover containers (a nod to the way kitchen workers drink) and let diners enjoy them in proper glasses. Assembling a meal of small plates and cocktails can easily end up around $100 for two people, and though everything is well-prepared, the menu can seem like a bit of a hodgepodge.
But no matter where you eat at the Line, it will no doubt be irreverent, addictive and just a little over the top, just like Choi himself.

Pot and Commissary at the Line Hotel
3515 Wilshire Blvd.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Lucky Duck in Silver Lake Closing

After not quite a year in business, Lucky Duck in Silver Lake is closing this weekend, according to an employee. The upscale bistro from the Square One folks in a Hyperion Ave. mini-mall never quite found a following despite some very solid cooking and a popular weekend brunch menu. It's not terribly surprising -- the restaurant's owners never did much publicity or neighborhood outreach and the prices were fairly high, though not outrageous in a neighborhood that supports Canele, Barbrix, Blair's and Cafe Stella. And even without the curse of Fritzie's, it's kind of an odd location for a fine dining experience.

So what's on tap for the space?  UPDATE: Word is that the Japanese restaurant that was thinking of taking the Lucky Duck space will instead be located at the former Atwater Village Farm space.

Ramen, it seems. It's not surprising that more people would want to get into that business since the crowds at Silver Lake Ramen are truly amazing, night after night. The couple that is bringing a noodley concept to the space has never run a restaurant before, apparently, but let's hope they learn quickly and that this space will finally be a place where we can walk over for a reasonably-priced bite to eat.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

All'Acqua Opens in Atwater With Artisan Pizza, Pasta and Salumi

All'Acqua is now open on Glendale Blvd. in Atwater
The folks from Barbrix have been remodeling the former Acapulco spot on Glendale Blvd. for some time and this weekend, they unveiled All'Acqua, the Italian-accented sibling to the Silver Lake wine bar. At one frazzled point in parenting, I was pretty happy to find both a margarita and a kids menu, but Acapulcos are for the suburbs, not for up-and-coming Atwater. All'Acqua is more more in line with the neighborhood's needs for a casual but buzzy spot for supple artisan pizza, a variety of pasta dishes, a few main courses and a good-sized salumi and cheese selection. There's a full bar with cocktails like the Eastsider and the Farmers Market Special, a wine list as interesting as Barbrix's and several craft beer taps. Our early tasting of the pizza was very promising, especially the clam and the zingy Diavolo!
Here's a link to the full menu.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Bowery Bungalow Brings Modern Mediterranean to Silver Lake

Bowery Bungalow is located near the very end of Santa Monica Blvd. in Silver Lake

What: Bowery Bungalow recently moved into the vintage bungalow occupied by Sompun Thai for more than 40 years. The owners were ready to retire, so the space was taken over by George Abou-Daoud, owner of Hollywood spots like Bowery, Delancey and Urban Garden. The concept is modern Mediterranean (as in Middle Eastern), in a relaxed setting with wine, beer and a sweet hidden patio.
Where: 4156 Santa Monica Blvd., Silver Lake, 323-663-1500
The Space: Freshened up with whitewashed plank walls, Moorish tile floors, pressed tin ceilings and Bowery's signature subway tiles, there's not really anything in the rustic decor to signify that you're in for a culinary trip to places like Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt. But that's fine, since this is a modernized take on what's already found across East Hollywood and Glendale.

The Food: The trick with modern Mediterranean is to make sure that it's at least as tasty as Zankou, Marouch or Carousel -- putting kale in tabbouli doesn't necessarily make it better, for example. So far, so good at Bowery -- several of the dishes we tried take familiar ideas to a new and even better place. Grape leaves are stuffed with spiced chickpea puree and the spices used in merguez sausage for an appetizer that's perfect for both vegetarians and meat eaters. Roast cauliflower with dukkah, falafel patties with spiced heirloom carrots and okra and smoky babaghanouj with a side of blackened shishito peppers all strike the right balance of traditional dishes executed with better ingredients and more assertive spicing. Couscous royale with a variety of fresh vegetables makes a striking presentation, though the name is odd since it implies bowls of fragrant broth and platters of meats to go along with the vegetables and grain, whereas this is just a vegetable side dish.

Main courses include decidedly non-Muslim items such as Baby back ribs with grape molasses and pork belly skewers smoked over Japanese binchotan coals as well as pan-roasted seabass, a variety of kebabs, lamb dishes and a "Reuben" sandwich with Anatolian dried beef. But the showstopper is Chicken Musakhan, which features tender chicken stewed with onions and sumac served in a Yorkshire pudding. Apparently the Palestinian version is served over a foccaccia-like bread but this Colonial twist is deliciously successful.
goat cheese combines with ricotta in Egyptian Konafah dessert
The Drinks: Beer and wine only; the craft beer selection is solid with about 10 rotating taps and some interesting selections like Mother Earth Pin-up Pale Ale.

Would I return? Definitely. Of course, prices aren't falafel-stand cheap, but the quality seems worth it, the beer is good, the familiar patio is still there and it's convenient for a variety of eating preferences.

(I was invited to try this restaurant.)

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Dinner on the L.A. River and Plans for a Cafe...Someday

A long table was set up on the riverbank

When I moved to Silver Lake decades ago, there wasn't much thought of dining along the L.A. River, or kayakers, or campouts. For years, Friends of the L.A. River helped convince residents that there was reason to preserve and improve the river, and in the past few years these efforts have reached critical mass.
I was invited Saturday to have dinner on the river with the Los Angeles River Revitalization Corp., the non-profit that is working to build the La Cretz crossing pedestrian/bike/equestrian bridge to Griffith Park. LARRC also hopes to open a cafe near North Atwater Park at the end of the bridge, and this weekend's pop-up dinner was one of numerous fundraising events the organization is involved with such as Sunday's Greenaway 10K.

Chefs for the first in a planned series of dinners were Louise Leonard and Debbie Halls Evans, who won on "The Taste." On the first chilly evening of the fall, they worked under a tent and served up an terrific and elegant meal of braised lamb shanks served with cranberry beans, squash and kale and a wonderful chicory, orange and walnut salad. Dessert was English Toffee pudding pie with cardamom pears and ice cream. Diners sipped wine, champagne cocktails and Golden Road beer as the sun set over the newly-rushing river.

As night fell, ribbons of speeding car lights on the 5 mirrored the shining water on the green and wild stretch of the river near where the bridge will be constructed. Follow the L.A. River Revitalization Corp. on Facebook for news on more dinners and other great river events. Dinners like this, but hopefully also a welcoming cafe for hikers and bikers and other examples of smart and careful development will make the river a place for the community to preserve and enjoy in the years to come.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

L.A. River: The City's Next Hot Food Destination?

Much to the dismay of hungry bikers and walkers, there are no restaurants actually on the Los Angeles River like San Antonio's River Walk or any number of cities that include pleasant cafes on their waterfronts. The Frogspot cafe, though it hosts live music and offers drinks, is not allowed to actually sell food. But until the Rio Nuevo beer garden planned for the corner of Fletcher and Ripple is built, several organizations are doing their best to make the river a destination not only for kayaking and campouts but for communal pop-up dinners.

On Saturday, Nov. 1, the L.A. River Corp is hosting the first in a series of fundraising Dining at Dusk pop-ups at a secret location along the river. The 4-course meal is from chefs Louise Leonard and Debbie Halls-Evans.

Meanwhile, Clockshop, which also hosted the recent campout on the river, is sponsoring the Kan Ya Ma Kan series of events in November exploring Jewish-Arab traditions at Elysian, which also hosts other dining events.
The Nov. 1 dinner showcases Iraqi-Jewish food and traditions, while on Saturday, Nov. 8, cookbook author Clifford Wright will cook a Jewish Syrian meal that includes an oud player. Other events will focus on Tunisia and Morocco.

Here's hoping for even more permanent restaurants in the near future -- how about a disco barge, like in Berlin?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Quick Bite: Plan Check Downtown Revs Up on Wilshire

Clockwise: Plan Check's crab dip, Chef's favorite burger, fried chicken, cinnamon banana donut
What: Plan Check's new Wilshire Blvd. location in a recently-opened apartment building just west of the 110 is the third location in the budding mini-empire with Ernesto Uchimura as executive chef. Who would have thought that what's basically another gastropub, of which we already have so many, would do so well? But Uchimura picks busy locations, puts fun Asian twists on the dishes and cocktails and stocks the bars with a good selection of craft beers and Japanese whiskeys. Voila, a recipe for success in the elevated bar food game.
Where: 1111 Wilshire Blvd. -- not quite actually Downtown, but a short hop away
The space: Bigger than the Sawtelle location but smaller than the cavernous Fairfax one, this Plan Check has a long bar, some inside tables and a unique indoor-outdoor table with windows that close it off right down the middle once nights get chillier.
The food:  Uchimura was part of the team that invented the Umami burger, so some of the decadent burgers come with cheese crisps in the Umami way. I like the original Plan Check burger, but the Downtown location adds the Korean bbq burger with pork belly blended into the beef. Fried chicken, available in a sandwich or a main dish, is boneless and finger-friendly with an exceedingly crunchy coating and very moist chicken. If your arteries can take it, don't miss the baked crab dip, which marries mayonnaise-intensive Japanese dynamite sauce with large chunks of crab, topped with nori and spooned on toast.
The menu may be adorned with trendy touches like Uchimura's signature ketchup leather, pig candy and pimento cheese, but make no mistake, this is salty, rich drinking food that shares the DNA of places like Beer Belly and A-Frame. While everything I've had is well-calibrated, it's easy to overdo it on the overall richness of the menu. Fortunately, a salmon kale salad and tuna salad have been added at the new location. But a few more vegetables or lighter dishes might be nice.
The drinks: My favorite is the Little Osaka sour with bourbon, lemon and plum wine, but the Ginger Grant, with Pisco, sake, Aperol, blood orange and ginger is also refreshing and won't knock you out.

(this is written on the basis of a soft opening/press preview)