A Week of Eats in LA
ICE’s Dean of Restaurant & Hotel Management shares dining and hotel tips from his latest trip.
When I hit a big city like Los Angeles, I need to plan carefully. For seven days, I’m staying in three areas. While on vacation, I have two priorities (in order): eat well and often, and if there’s a beach and the weather allows for it, stay as close to it as possible. From a standpoint of how to make a somewhat hectic trip as restful as possible, I start at the beach and end at the beach.
We start at the beach in Santa Monica, getting in late afternoon and heading straight to the pool for Bloody Marys and salads. Shutters On the Beach is the place to stay. It’s right on the beach with beautiful views of the water and the Santa Monica Pier. This is truly a place to relax. The pool overlooks the ocean, the pier to the right (north) and the path with locals and tourists finding more ways to get around than I’ve ever seen (using anything that could possibly be attached to a wheel … or two).
Pro tip: The hotel offers free car rides locally (I think it’s a 2-mile radius) in upscale vehicles, from high-end Audis to large Volvo sedans. Use this service!
For dinner, we head to Hatchet Hall in nearby Culver City for some awesome shared plates (I prefer to sit at the bar) and great cocktails. The space, similar to many in LA, is large with multiple indoor and outdoor places to hang. We start with a few Pimm’s Cups (basically a gin-based liqueur with bitters and fruit, plus cucumber, carbonation and mint, which was invented in 1823 and enjoyed while watching cricket matches). They’re great warm-weather drinks.
We have some Broadbent Ham to start with awesome potato rolls, a few squash blossoms (hard for me to avoid in season) on special and grilled oysters with bone marrow and chanterelles ⎯ all very nice. Next, we have sea scallops with bacon and lemon, which are nicely balanced with the creamy richness of the scallop itself working well with the saltiness of the bacon and acidity of the lemon.
Since the Pimm’s Cup was so light, we go next door to Old Man Bar (same ownership), which is ironically named, as it’s where the cool kids from Hatchet Hall hang after dinner (or instead of dinner). A fun place, it’s loud and dark with bartenders that seemingly dare you to order from them. They make a wicked Negroni (or two), so I deal with the attitude.
For breakfast, we choose Rose Café nearby in Venice Beach. If it’s nice out, we sit outside. This is another large space with numerous dining areas that transform over the course of the day. My eye is immediately drawn to one option: “carbonara” for brunch. It comes with a poached egg on top to make it more breakfast-like, cheese, bacon (or guanciale, Italian cured pork) and pasta replaces the more typical bread for breakfast. It’s really hearty and incredibly tasty. The more standard fare is great as well, as is the coffee (although waiting for it is another story).
Lunch is back in Venice Beach on one of the best, well-known streets around: Abbott Kinney. We spend an afternoon walking and enjoying the cool, eclectic shops before dining at Gjelina, one of the best venues on the street. The place has this industrial chic-meets-Cali-cool feel (on my last trip here, I took many design notes). It’s an all-day menu with myriad choices. The charcuterie is fantastic, so is the pizza, and since you’re in LA, you may just give in and get the avocado and sprouts sandwich.
For dinner, I recommend the Tasting Kitchen in Venice Beach (the chef, Casey Lane, opened Casa Apicii in NYC in 2016) or Belcampo Meat Company in Santa Monica (the local take on the wildly popular Animal in West Hollywood). Neither Santa Monica choice will disappoint (nor would Animal, for that matter).
For a scenic brunch, go to Coast Restaurant at Shutters and ask for a seat near the window overlooking the beach. Get the corned beef hash (topped with two beautifully poached eggs), or if you’re having meat sweats at this point, go with the lemon ricotta pancakes.
For a totally different experience, I head to Beverly Hills. I’m a fan of Kimpton Hotels, particularly the Palomar brand, and choose to stay at Palomar Beverly Hills on Wilshire Blvd (note: there are two Palomars in Beverly Hills). I always love the eclectic design (although they are often large hotels, they have a boutique-hotel-type feel), and this one has a pool table (not to mention an outdoor pool), Skee-ball, table shuffleboard and darts, so I am pleased. This offers a nice way to literally pre-game with large screens to watch games as well. Free wine at happy hour is a great perk.
I strongly recommend starting a night out at Apoteke in Lincoln Heights (on the outskirts of Chinatown). Bar folks in the know will tell you it’s the best mixology bar in LA, and it’s on the same odd-looking strip as Majordomo, David Chang’s recent outpost where ICE alum Marc Thompson (Culinary, ’04) is chef de cuisine. Majordomo is beautiful, and that’s obvious before you walk in the door. It starts with yet another huge space (by NYC standards) that’s indoor/outdoor with heat lamps available. (Sensing a trend?) The weather’s just too nice here. Cool graffiti is strategically incorporated into a really well-designed Cali-industrial-chic look, except on this occasion, it makes more sense as all you see around this area are warehouses.
Overall, this is the best restaurant David Chang has ever opened. It probably didn’t hurt that he was in the house that eve sitting a few tables away. Initially, I encounter a growing trend that irritates me: you have to dine to sit at the bar. In all fairness, there are areas to drink, but I like to do my drinking at the bar. Fortunately, the drink I have is a good one: a Rosita with mezcal, Mexican amaro, dry vermouth, quinquina and serrano pepper. As for the food, there are too many things to rave about. Get the Santa Barbara uni, stuffed peppers with sausage and the super-light foie gras with bing (which is a wheat-based bread similar to a flatbread or French galette). Not only is the food incredible, the presentation is great without feeling too fussed over. It’s definitely worth another visit.
Pro tip: The menu changes often, and the servers are really good. Trust them to help sort out what to eat. Some of the least likely suspects could be the best.
With lots of dining ahead, I go light for breakfast with a smoked salmon bagel at the hotel. For lunch, I return to Culver City for Lodge Bread. It’s as good as any bread I’ve eaten anywhere and that’s saying quite a bit coming from NYC. Get the pizza. I have mine with mixed wild mushrooms, taleggio, chives and parm. It’s insane and the silky, creamy hummus (with tahini) might be the best I’ve had, especially with the pita. Do not miss this stop on your trip.
Before dinner, I sit at the beautiful art-deco bar at the Montage Beverly Hills and order a single barrel-aged old fashioned and hob-nob with some big shots (or big shot wannabes). You feel like you went back to a bygone era of glitz and glamour here. It’s fun, and the drinks are solid.
Down the block at Wally’s, I sit at the communal tables and start with a proper Nolet’s Martini. Then I order a charcuterie plate and cheese (the selections are fabulous, including my favorite cheese, Epoisses) and a bottle of wine (a wonderful Rhone from the Chave Estate, another favorite), and settle in for a fun night with an interesting take on cacio e pepe (with a tomato jam). This is not the place to go home early. The people watching is part of the plan.
Pro tip: Browse the extensive wine list for some really good bottles.
We grab a quick continental breakfast because we’re going back to the beach ⎯ this time, quiet Hermosa Beach where you’ll find The Strand (a path, right off the beach, to enjoy walking, cycling or just watching) and some really good eats, especially when you include nearby Manhattan Beach. It couldn’t be more different than DTLA or Beverly Hills. This place is totally chill. Stay at the Beach House, which is on the beach.
After a 5-mile walk on The Strand, we head to Good Stuff Restaurant on the beach. I’m a breakfast-is-the-new-lunch sort of guy, but the fried chicken salad is really good, as is the California wrap.
Find a rooftop to watch the incredibly beautiful sunset. The sun seemingly explodes across the horizon then disappears as if never there. For dinner, Fishing with Dynamite in Manhattan Beach is one of my favorite spots in LA. (Get reservations in advance.) Here, you’ll find the freshest fish with a somewhat Japanese accent. Start with Peruvian scallops, littleneck clams and king crab, all served with a variety of condiments and mignonettes. Most importantly, get the Koshihikari, a particular variety of rice found in Japan, Australia and sometimes the U.S. It comes with chicken dashi (Japanese stock), uni, fresh egg, crab and shrimp. The hamachi (yellowtail) is incredibly creamy and perfectly seasoned as well.
On Wednesdays, there’s a small farmers market near the Hermosa Pier. While not the most exciting, there is really great Greek yogurt. I put some fruit and honey on mine and set out on bike (via The Strand) for Venice Beach. If you make it there (and back), it’s about 22 miles, and what a great ride it is! You get to see palm trees, surfers, ships, planes (LAX is on the route), other walkers, runners and cyclists on this incredible path that weaves across the beach virtually the whole way (you do head inland for a spell at Marina del Ray – check out the gorgeous yachts).
When in Cali, you need to hit In-N-Out Burger. There are two nearby, one in Redondo Beach and one in Torrence. They’re equidistant from Hermosa and I prefer Redondo. I have to admit, while I really have a great dislike for fast food, this is my one exception (okay, I do like Shake Shack, but honestly, not as much). There are fans of “Animal Style” with onions, a mustard-grilled patty, extra pickles, etc., but I’m a purist. I get a cheeseburger (okay, a double), fries and a Diet Coke. Mission accomplished.
I recommend Darren’s for dinner. This restaurant is run by Darren Weiss, a CIA-trained chef who happens to be deaf. Read the reviews ⎯ this guy’s the real deal. The food is exceptional. The style is Cali–American with some Asian and Mediterranean thrown in the mix. I opt to sit at the bar (I do this more often than not), order an excellent Boodles Martini with blue cheese-stuffed Kalamata (I’m usually a twist of lemon guy) while enjoying some of the best chicken wings ever (over a nice house-made slaw) and some fantastic pretzel bread (sea salt and hot/sweet agave mustard). Follow that up with some King Salmon or Dayboat scallops (with risotto), or order more selections from the bar menu (crispy fried pork belly) and call it a day.
Take the 2.5-mile walk up the beach to Uncle Bill’s Pancake House. Plan on walking back because you’ll need to work off the calories. For the record, this is my favorite breakfast place anywhere. It’s the same breakfast food you can find in any given cafe except it’s done right every single time ⎯ eggs cooked to perfection, pancakes impossibly fluffy, sausage with that perfect snap and hash browns with a nice crunch. The coffee could be better (a touch stronger), but I could eat here almost every day.
Heading east, use the 2.5-mile uphill trek to work off breakfast and build up the hunger you’ll need to tackle lunch at Sion Mexican. Then, walk back thinking about the impossibly big plate of cheap, delicious Mexican cuisine you just experienced. I order one carnitas (pork) and one ground beef taco, both hidden under a tremendous bed of cheese, onions, refried beans, rice and guacamole.
Pro tip: The two musts when visiting LA are going to In-N-Out and eating great Mexican-Cali-style tacos. The third may be getting great Korean.
Spend a final dinner at Love and Salt on Manhattan Beach. Start with an Endless Sleeper (rye, lavender-ginger syrup, lemon and egg whites). Get the sausage and peppers pizza (it will not be like any you have had prior ⎯ check out Jimmy Nardello chili peppers). The pasta with bone marrow, cheese and breadcrumbs is mixed tableside, which is a nice touch. The mixed pickles are also a must have (again, unlike most you’ve ever had, this is more like a salad than a pickle plate), and the Nutella doughnuts are a nice way to finish off the week.