For the last two years, I was living in Iowa. Which was OK. Sort of. They had fun minor league baseball teams to watch, and occasionally it snowed. While enduring the cold Iowa winters, I was surprised to find that what I missed most about Los Angeles wasn't the weather, but the food. Don't get me wrong, Iowa had a few good restaurants (I miss the Lincoln Cafe, in tiny Mount Vernon, which was like an oasis of great cuisine in a cornfield of diner food), but on the whole, it was pretty grim. I found myself longing for good Chinese food, or a decent burrito, or some California cuisine. Basically, the kind of food that's as ubiquitous in Los Angeles as freeway traffic or overpriced drinks. Suffice to say that now that I'm back in Los Angeles, I'm taking full advantage of the ever-widening selection of restaurants.
Conveniently, Chowhound has polled a group of LA-based foodies and come up with their Ultimate Los Angeles Restaurant of 2006. The results are in, and the clear winner is Providence , a two-year old seafood restaurant. Runner up was Spago (Better luck next year, Wolfgang). Sadly, I haven't been to Providence yet. Taking a quick look at the top twenty restaurants, I've been to several. Jar, at which I ate two weeks ago, came in at number eight. I've been to Jar twice. The first time I was blown away. I had the Kobe beef special (which was also on the menu the second time), as well as fries and an appetizer of black mussels, ong choy, lobster Bearnaise, and fennel salt. The fries are served in a little newspaper cone. It was sick. And by sick I mean, completely amazing. Last time I was there, however, I wasn't moved. I had the rib eye, and again the fries. My wife, Edan, had the Kobe, and she was impressed. The rib eye was good, but it was no Kobe. Lesson learned. Also, I was there with a friend who eats kosher, which made it difficult to order any starters, since pretty much everything was rich with shellfish. All in all, I would eat at Jar any chance I get.
Further down the list is the recently-opened Maryland-style seafood spot The Hungry Cat. I ate there a few days before my wedding with Edan and my grandmother. I had a Thai-style Alabama bay shrimp concoction that I see has since been removed from the menu. So it goes. Edan had squid stuffed with tomatoes, and my grandmother had the peel-and-eat shrimp. The restaurant was packed, and we had to sit on the patio, which was actually quite nice, much cozier than you'd think, considering it shares a courtyard with a Border's books. The general consensus was that the food was tasty, but relatively small portions (everything is a la carte). I give the service bonus points for taking it in stride when my grandma ordered her beer "on the rocks."
Even further down the list was BLD (whose website still says it's "coming soon." Come on, BLD! You're big time now. Get a webmaster, already.). Edan and I ate there with a friend. We had purchased tickets to see The Queen at the Grove (I hear it's great) and thought we'd catch a late dinner, then see a really late movie. The only problem was that without a reservation, we ended up waiting about half an hour for a table. It's a testament to the great atmosphere at BLD that we decided to wait and risk missing Helen Mirren's tour de force performance as an embattled monarch. We all had the prix fixe dinner menu, which offers a choice of steak, chicken, fish, or a vegetarian option, coupled with sides and a dessert. I'm fairly certain we all had steak, and I know we all left happy. We never saw The Queen. I hear it's great.
A few of the old standards made the list, including Langer's, Sanamluang, and of course, Zankou Chicken. Mmm, Zankou...