Indulge in Los Angeles at its iconic eateries

All cultish foodies, straight from the LAX airport head to a nearby In-N-Out Burger, a slowly-growing chain of fast food eateries founded in 1948. Unlike countless global cheep food behemoths, the family owned business has never stretched beyond the West Coast. Quality rules by using fresh, unprocessed meat from California and Texas, cut by the in-house butchers and all food is made to order, including the real potato fries. The ‘Animal Style’ burger is the crowd’s favourite (extra onions and pickles), while the carb-conscious go for the ‘Protein Style’ served between two enveloping lettuce leaves instead of the usual starchy bun. It’s plant-based nemesis is the sublime Yuba vegan reuben sandwich at SQIRL in Silver Lake. And I must admit, I was more smitten by that sublimely toasted sourdough sandwich than the famous burger chain.
best burgers in Americabest casual east in LA

Wolfgang Puck: the local food export

To indulge in Los Angeles means checking out one of the homegrown chefs original restaurants. If you are in the mood for something gastronomic and fresh, then dine at the gorgeous Bel Air Hotel. Wolfgang Puck’s newest LA restaurant lures with an outdoor heated patio and an elegant restaurant inside. As the flames of the heaters warm the cool desert evenings in the valley between the hilly Bel Air, the romantic soul in you will be awakened. Sustainable and locally grown produce in his California meets Europe-themed dishes are presented with an elegant flair. The Austria-born Puck was the pioneer of modern Californian cuisine some 30 years ago, when he blended the abundant local ingredients with other world cuisines. You can try his traditional Austrian breaded schnitzel after a raw fish carpaccio there.
Hotel Bel Air Barbest food in Hollywood

Spago in Beverly Hills was the chef’s first high-end success and still, after its recent revamp, remains popular. Here, ask for the Smoked Salmon Pizza, now off the menu, but they will bake it. Its wine list is hard to beat in town, but his newer venture at Bel Air is more consistent in pleasing your palate. Now an export, Puck’s Cut steakhouse is the flashiest of its kind in California and London. LA is the city of contrasts, so aside from some spare glitzy outings, most restaurants are rather simply decorated and you can venture almost anywhere casually dressed.

artisanal Iranian Sangak breadOmakase sushi

Marvelous ethnic cuisine in LA

The “City of Angels” is strongly influenced by its multi-ethnic neighbourhoods. Foodies can reach anywhere for a casual Cal-Mex taco from the moving food trucks (Mariscos Jalisco is a must!), splurge on a Korean bbq ideally in the Korea Town or dive into the new California cuisine blending it all together. The upbeat and trendy food trucks move around town so checking their current location online is a must if you have a specific craving. The ethnic casual eateries around the booming Downtown are hip, but one should also discover some Persian food around West LA for the Iranian community here is the largest abroad. In the Valley there are also some excellent Persian grocers baking the typical stretched flatbreads and selling authentic rose and saffron ice cream that a friend intruded me to unforgettably.

LA sushi  Los Angeles Japanese food LA sushi
LA is a haven for casual as well as high-end Japanese food lovers. From trendy modern sushi bars such as Katsuya, through unpretentious Sugarfish, Wa Sushi and its godfather Matsuhisa, to the ultra-lux and priciest omakase indulgence at Urasawa – the choices are abundant. Hiro Urasawa is often thought to be one of the best Japanese chefs in America and his mastery is demonstrated in the perfectly crafted courses served for a small group of lucky diners, who are not afraid to splurge on delicious food. Not far, still in Beverly Hills is perhaps even more enjoyable and less serious branch of Ginza Sushi Onodera (also in New York), where rare seasonal ocean bounty will take your breath away.

Omakase sushi in LALA fine dining

If your time is limited in LA, must-visit is Nobu’s first restaurant that started the global craze of chic and trendy Japanese dining. The casual Matsuhisa still frequented by Hollywood A-listers rightfully deserves its fame. The food is superb. In West LA along the Sawtelle Boulevard, Little Tokyo transports you far East. Kiriko’s sushi chef and owner Ken Namba creates nice omakase with a much better value than most in the city. Come in the evening and you will not believe you are still in LA. The local specialist grocery stores carry everything Nippon from sencha, seaweed, teriyaki and yakitori sauces to dozens types of noodles. LA is vast, so it has two Japan towns. The larger one in Downtown prides on Sushi Takeda treats you to omakase served only during the first 6:30pm seating by the master chef himself.

For the most sophisticated by Japan-inspired gastronomy head to n/naka by chef Niki Nakayama of the Netflix Chef’s table fame. Her restaurant in Culver City shook the local tastes with its airy lightness.

Best Italian food in America

Ingredients driven cuisine needs excellent produce within reach, and so a wave of Italian chefs made their mark on the LA’s shores. Superb freshly-made pasta can be enjoyed at the always busy Il Pastaio. Nancy Silverton used to create sublime meals at Osteria Mozza (6602 Melrose Avenue), but the pizza at the nearby popular Pizzeria Mozza (641 N. Highlands Avenue) is more worth the splurge today. The most discreet and adored by celebrities is the family managed Giorgio Baldi. Giorgio’s son Edoardo runs it now next to his restaurant e.baldi in Beverly Hills. Schooled in the perfect pasta making, must try are the signature splendid Sweet-corn Agnolotti in white truffle sauce. Sharon Stone is a regular.

Michelin Los Angeles best Italian dining in LA

For more gastronomic Italian experience head to Massimo Bottura‘s Osteria Gucci on Rodeo drive. The legendary Italian chef behind Osteria Francescana in Modena simplified the menu at his first casual dining branch in Florence and transplanted it successfully across the Atlantic. The young chefs duo create a signature tasting based on local ingredients finished with perhaps the best desserts in America by the Northern Italian pastry talent Tamara. Her Santa Barbara pistachio gelato is a must even for the followers of plant-based lifestyle as there is no dairy in it. To indulge in Los Angeles one must try some vegan options sprouting bountifully around.

Pizza at Gjelina

You cannot indulge in Los Angeles without trying once our favourite casual and trendy rustic new American eatery. Before Venice Beach became trendy, you could eat at Gjelina. Now, it is super hard to book. Unless you pop by for workweek lunch, reserve weeks in advance for dinner or wait for hours after walking in. The small plates and thin crust pizza from a wood-burning oven spitting out original toppings are lip smacking! You will not taste the same food anywhere else. Ideally, sit at the back outdoor inner patio with fireplace, from where you can peek into the kitchen. It feels like you are having a gourmet picnic. The restaurant is inconspicuous and easy to miss on the busy Abbot Kinney road, but the assembling people around its corner and the aromas of a freshly baked pizza will lure you in.

For a quick bite next door takeout a superb pizza at Gjelina To Go or drive to nearby Santa Monica for an authentic Californian seafood at Ivy at the Shore. Their crab cakes are luscious, the oven-baked lobster pizza generous and the salads XXXL. Another, more sophisticated yet hearty and casual option in the area is the Michelin starred Rustic Canyon.

mezzebest in LA

Hollywood eatsBejewelled crispy rice

On the other (eastern) side of the city in Hollywood, a must is an Eastern-Mediterranean inspired meal at Kismet, breakfast or hearty brunch at SQIRL in Silver Lake, where you must buy their locally sourced marmalades and the mouthwatering whipped ricotta on toast next to the wholesome savoury bowls. I share more of my LA lunch tips in another post.

LA eats

As you drive through the expansive city seeking to indulge in Los Angeles, do not forget that drinking alcohol while driving is not tolerated, and keeping this in mind saves you troubles. Just check the tabloids for the infamous of celebrities that got into a jail for that! Take your ID to any place that serves alcoholic beverages since you might be asked to prove that you are older than 21, enjoy the pleasures of the City of Angels!

José Andrés: The Bazaar in Beverly Hills is a theatrical trip to culinary wonderland

Any meal at The Bazaar is fun, topped with the quality seal of a James Beard Awarded chef. José Andrés is a Spanish-American Michelin starred chef (Minibar) who brought the small plates dining to the US soil. The Bazaar in Beverly Hills is his high-end, multi-dining pursuit among the myriad of restaurant concepts he oversees. The culinary setup at the SLS can be confusing – Trés, a bistro comfort with an additional self-service desert counter, SOMNI serves chef’s tasting menu in an intimate 10-seat counter, while The Bazaar forks out into two dining rooms — a classic spread on sleek checkerboard tiles in a dim-lit Rojo; and Blanca, a more modern, living room-like comfort. The menu remains same at both rooms. Connecting all that activity is Bar Centro where inventive cocktails stir the night.

SLS Beverly Hills

modern tapasBazaar by Jose Andres

Tradition meets modern culinary techniques at The Bazaar

Generally in LA, the ingredients are highlighted over technique, and ethnic cuisine over experimental transformation. José Andrés, heading from the West Coast seeded the change for chefs like Jordan Kahn of the late Red Medicine and now Vespertine to bloom food magic in Los Angeles. The sprawling metropolis has never caught up with the starchy seriousness of Manhattan dining, eating out was about ethnic food, California seasonal wholesomeness and wear a mini or your sweatpants kinda outing, yet the show part of entertainment has surprisingly kicked out fro its margins.

A proud offshoot of the Spanish modern culinary maestro Albert Adria, who with his brother seeded Catalonia as a progressive pioneer of the 21. century food culture, The Bazaar like Minibar employs molecular techniques in its repertoire. José Andrés includes OLIVES FERRAN ADRIÀ (image above) where modern molecular morsels marinated in escabeche are served next to traditional stuffed green olives, in a homage to his mentor. Your head might turn over the extensive offerings. Some 80 items pop on his menu at the SLS Hotel in Los Angeles. Divided into two sections – traditional and modern tapas – to ease you into the distinct experience. We always order from both camps.
tapasJose Andres restaurant

Extraordinary Iberian produce stars at The Bazaar by José Andrés. Ham, olives and sardines are brought from Spain, while American farms provide most plants and seafood from the American coast. The “traditional tapas” include hand-cut JAMÓN IBÉRICO DE BELLOTA that has been sustainably produced by the pig breeders by law required to allow the grazing animals access to their favourite snack, the acorns. Due to such indulgence their meat tastes like no pork you have ever had. Its nutty, cured salty richness masks any potentially unpleasant smell a pork dish may carry. A side of Pà Amb Tomàquet, Catalan-style toasted white pan de cristal with fresh tomato. Ham croquettes with fried quail eggs and escalivada purée, seafood tapas (the pan-sauteed SCALLOPS are exquisite, my husband loves the SAUTÉED SHRIMP, but I don’t like the guts in my seafood, the Spanish style) and cheese plates honour the classic Spanish culinary excellence. The OCTOPUS TOAST avocado, tomato, serrano chili, sea lettuce is rich and soft in its core. We also love the wild MUSHROOMS & CREAM with fried egg and pan de cristal. Nevertheless, the PAPAS CANARIAS potatoes with mojo verde & rojo were too dry and shrivelled.

modern Spanish cuisinemodern Spanish cuisine
From the Iberian quesos we always get the famous hard sheep MANCHEGO and PASAMONTES” LA SERENA, the creamy, sheep cheese from the Extremadura desert.

trendy LA dining
Descendientes de J. PalaciosIberian ham

raw cuisineContemporary tapas

I met the celebrity chef at food conferences across the US. Immigration and sustainability his mea culpas, the Washington University alumnus proudly praises anyone moving the culinary world forward in a mindful way. Chewing through his bocadillo (a Spanish ham sandwich) during a talk focused on “Immigrants feed America”, the outspoken, round bellied, sweat-dropping and everyone embracing Spaniard showed his tender heart. From the rather eccentric mini sandwiches, the Philly cheesesteak in its lightest miniaturisation of still recognisable, yet 90 per cent different mini me may disappoint gluttonous diners accustomed to this iconic Philadelphia street food staple, where a large steak meets melting cheese and onions in dozens of mouthfuls. At The Bazaar, the “PHILLY CHEESESTEAK” was rendered as a finger size puff filled with creamy cheddar cheese and topped by a thin slice of fatty wagyu beef. Andres takes you to the new millennium, when sedentary lifestyle calls for restraint without compromising on flavour. On the mains though, the grass-fed Tomahawk for four makes for a substantial and simple main to share. 

Contemporary tapas

Through entertaining curious eaters The Bazaar dishes surprise, each in a unique facet. For example the SWEET CHIPS like many other mystery foods of the molecular cuisine deceive. Looking like whipped cream, the goat cheese, tamarind and star anise dip for vegetable fried chips are fun to share.

From the the Eastern-inspired morsels, the SEA URCHIN STEAMED BUNS (three baos) with avocado, generous eel sauce and crisp tempura flakes, the KING CRAB baos, and CHICKEN with miso are yummy.

cuisine by Jose Andres

The female chef de cuisine at The Bazaar in Beverly Hills served me delectables at the Star Chefs congress in New York. Her wide smile and warmth radiate generous hospitality. By far the best bites I savoured during the three days of mental as well as physical gluttony. Stripped from the menu in LA, the PORK BANH MI was not a sandwich but like a mini burger, the succulent meat patty in Vietnamese coat impressed. I relished in the reduced, intense flavours in the MUSHROOM RAMEN with a side of pork belly, and finally her personal tweak on The Bazaar chicken, cooked sous vide, so slowly that the bird almost melted without chewing. Served on an umami bed of miso with mustard seeds, a perfection.

SWEET CHIPSmolecular cuisine

José Andrés at the SLS Hotel in Los Angeles includes entertaining finale if your sweet tooth allows for a transfer into yet another part of the lobby living room. Philippe Starck designed the entire hotel in his signature shine and surprise glamour. Either in the deep sofas or by high sharing table order a la carte or browse through the market of sugary indulgence. Bordeaux canelè, macaroons, flavoured chocolate squares, marshmallows, cotton candy, but also more substantial cakes displayed like jewellery in Monsieur Pierre Hermé fashion seduce even those not intended to succumb to temptation. Our friend, a dwarf of tiny pilates instructor, who eats less than a rabbit, gets it going at Trés. When we “shop” at this devil’s counter, her interest does not rest with visuals. Discerned pastry globetrotters, who sampled the best desserts in Paris and Tokyo, won’t wonder of its display, but everyone else will be impressed by the presentation.

desert bar
chocolate sculptureliquid nitrogen

Order a pot of tea or tisane, for late owls coffee can be brewed and a nightcap served as a finale to the gustatory journey with José Andrés at the SLS Hotel in Los Angeles. Time for bed, or…

The SLS Hotel conveniently borders the vibrant West Hollywood and the well-heeled Beverly Hills. The Bazaar promises a unique food show under the umbrella of Starck design that has for over a decade entertained diners of all ages. The popular chef is also an activist (immigration reform) and philanthropist (Hurricane relief in Puerto Rico) and was featured in Times Most Influential People List twice. Expanding South from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, South Beach, Florida, Texas, Mexico City and Puerto Rico, his entertaining food empire grows.
The SLS Hotel: 465 La Cienega Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048
Closed Mon-Tue, Wed-Thurs: 5:30-10pm; Fri & Sat 5:30-11pm
+1 310-246-5555

Invisible: Hiking the wild-side of LA and finding peace in nature

California offers splendid trails as sprawling as its legendary roads. Naturally traffic-free, hiking the wild-side of LA and finding peace in nature is my favourite thing about the stretched sunny metropolis. My chosen hikes reward any traffic jam battle with cleaned mind, lungs, an aromatherapy of wildflowers and well-lubricated joints. Finding peace in nature is a healthy maintenance for the body and mind.
California hikes

How to become invisible in the City of Angels

Hiking is trendy. As nude bodies promenade through Runyon Canyon, poodle-clad barbies in Griffith Park join the bussed in Chinese groups aiming for the Hollywood sign, a true naturalist covers one’s eyes. To be unseen is the underlying desire not just of most privacy seeking Hollywood stars, but also of genuine nature lovers, inner calm seekers and flâneurs. Living in a city with an access to hundreds dusty miles of trails, all within a short drive, is the most precious asset of Los Angeles.
Still, unless you live by one of them, you have to board a vehicle to reach the hills. There is always parking, some free with gratitude to the generous donations, some pricy, since necessity pays off. Forget the Culver Steps, parking there is a hell of luck, plus too touristy. Some local natural workout buffs climb the widely-stretched rocks of steps up, other jog on the hillsides.
Desert hiking
I still hike the Griffith Park, but I found some less populated hillsides east from the Greek Theatre (free parking). Above the tennis courts, circle the hills around their back spine with views over the Universal City and the San Gabriel Mountains, and circumnavigate the Mount Hollywood where picture hunters set up their gear. Parts of the trails you can jog, shirt off (not you, lady!). There is not as much living wilderness as at some other LA hikes though.
East, also inland in Pasadena, the San Gabriel Mountains attract hikers to its 40-foot waterfall on weekends, so better stroll around during the week. Park by 1999 Veranada Avenue, Glendale.
More people can puff up safety for solo hikers, but the constant distraction of human chatter, and the Americans share their intimate stories loud, how entertaining! Oh no, gasps the escapist. For space and freedom, move elsewhere.
hikingGriffith Park
The safest and best maintained is the Tree People Trail. Ever since my first few hikes with a personal trainer to Robbie Williams, the singer, this central touch with nature has become more populated. Off the scenic Mulholland Drive, splitting the Valley and Beverly Hills, the scenic hike practically stretches the stiff limbs of freelance workers al fresco. Tree People is a charity educating, providing support for visitors and free parking. Electric charging booths inclusive. Wooden chairs shield from the sharp desert sun and comfort your weary legs, perhaps accommodating a good read at hand. Spreading over the Willacre Park towards the Coldwater Canyon east, dotted over with California sycamores, black walnut and coast live oak the loop takes about an hour. My go to hike when I am short of time.
La hikesrest

Best hiking season in LA

Spring is the best season to hike around LA. The inland desert greens up approaching the ocean. Waterfalls gush with the spring rain, wildflowers bloom into carpets of sunshine, and the verdant hallmarks of photosynthesis light up the paths with leafy salutes. Some of the local plant specimens are easily searchable on the Santa Monica Mountains app. Give curiosity the fodder it craves if the phone signal happens to reach the corner you hike yourself up to. The mild temperatures and much welcome rainfall (usually in February and March) awaken the hidden mysteries of the desert. Be mindful, eyes wide-open.
After a few incidents, I advise bringing layers and plenty of reserve water as in the coastal desert the climate differs marginally from the cooler oceanside to the inland blaze. Between December and May it is not scorching hot neither too dry as in the fall. Still, wearing long pants, sunscreen and a hat is wise in the ozone-poor Southern California, where added perils throw in prickly desert plants, ticks, snakes and poisonous spiders. Your bare skin lures them, fragrant with perspiration. Apart from the coiling rattlesnakes and hairy tarantulas, it is dusty too. Ideally do not plan fancy lunch right after your hike. A meal before is better as we often do at the Farmshop bordering Brentwood and Santa Monica or the airy Malibu Farm. Coming before noon cuts the waiting line there with precious minutes to add to the day.

Getting wilder

For a scant human presence and real mountain lions, I like the Temescal Canyon hiking in LA. So far, I have not had the pleasure of meeting one of the sharp-toothed cats from eye to eye, instead, once a lone crazyman rose my adrenalin to the red high. Topping the looner, I was cursing the lack of water I took along and virtually zero phone signal. I strongly advice don’t hike there alone as I did. Either find a pal or a hiking guide whose CPR and first aid certified skills and a backpack well-stocked with water can literally save your life. I found Bikes and Hikes LA ( responsive and able to accommodate my last minute request. The over two-hours-lasting private hike cost $195 with self-transport. Picking you up it would double. In groups, the hikes are much cheaper. From all options the back approach to the Hollywood sign is the most popular.
My guide Eric, a former radio host, was a great companion, knowledgeable of most plants, and further expanding my knowledge of LA gossip as well as lending an ear to my ramblings about life. As an experienced hiker, I was a piece of cake, still he got a great workout keeping up with my antelope legs.

From the Temescal Canyon you can easily transplant into the Topanga State Park as we did. The vast, spiky phenomenon looks like Taiwanese mountains or the hilly island trails around Hong Kong. The air is dry and due to Californians eco-consciousness, way less polluted than most Asian trails that I absolved. In its vastness, getting lost is not that unusual, as the signage wipes off the further you go. You can start at the Will Rogers State Park, where the paid parking, keeps your vehicle safe. Depending on season you may catch buckwheats flowering, sticky monkey bush in its neon bloom, the brick orange of California poppy, the cherry blossom-like of lemonade berry, the gushing whiteness of Chaparral Yucca next to edibles like sage and lupine.

High above everything, the Pacific fog hijacks you from the car maze of LA, if alone on a meditative stroll, suddenly you feel freedom unlike anywhere in the city. Now, it is you and the nature. Hiking is liberating.

Spring bloom in California Malibu hiking trails Malibu hiking trails Malibu hiking trails Malibu hiking trails
For a similar, yet closer to the ocean and the Pacific Coastal Highway, experience the Malibu hiking trails. Spanning over the stretchy coastal community, there are countless routes, some signposted other unmarked. With a local friend we embarked on shorter, about an hour-long hikes. Spring thrust surprises on each trail. This April millions of monarch butterflies, migrating north, swiped over the coast in hiving gusts of flickering wings. Sadly many get injured and lose a wing or chip some while madly seeking community. We were awestruck by their numbers. One could forage too, with edibles like wild fennel, rapeseed, sunflowers and cereal grains lining the hillsides for a plentiful spring feast. The Cameron Nature Preserve trail has very limited parking along the last houses before the road ends, but rarely full. We only met two musicians and a fit lady marching up.
The Malibu Creek trail further north is more frequented. M.A.S.H. staged there so fans visit specifically for the snaps on the scene. When lucky with rain, jump in the rock pool to freshen up your weary legs. The longer eight-mile loop is a close enough encounter with barred nature. Park at 1925 La Virgenes Rd, Calabassas.
Unlike the sweat in gymnasiums, their artificial air, ears-busting cardio machines accelerating the human rat race, and heavy weighted shrieks of macho males, moving in nature gives you freedom, space and calm, perhaps even inspiration.

Experience California through sustainable, health-conscious and mind-opening activities. Hike LA and you will see it like a local. Feeling happy, replenishing Vitamin D outdoors, the endorphins last longer after an hour or more in the oxygenated La La Land.

KISMET: turning Hollywood dining upside down

KISMET is a locally sourced, contemporary bistro turning in food savvy Angelenos. Brisk, unpretentious, yet unique, past the star-studded boulevard on its quieter strip, at KISMET Eastern Mediterranean traditional cuisines meet contemporary expression. The James-Beard Award nominee stamps abundant vegetarian choices over spare animal protein on its creatively and nutritionally balanced menu. Still, vegans move on (Moby’s plant-based restaurant is not far) since dairy is a staple in the authentic Israeli, Persian and Turkish cuisines from whose culinary traditions KISMET whipps mouth-watering adaptations.
floral designrestaurant design
KISMET invites East Hollywood into its noodle-stretched, naturally hued dining room cum counter bar that with your stride melts into an open kitchen. A neighborhood eatery, you arrive to truly enjoy the ingredients-zoomed food at your leisure. Creative, talented, working crowd of all ages communally munches in its light, polished wood-clad, and minimalist room. Simple flowers crown each table and random plant pots pop along the walls.
Unlike the nearby, hip SQIRL, there are no day-cutting lines. We welcomed the proper, old-school reservations. After the strenuous drives around LA, comfort with one’s food is key to sanity. Urban life calls for efficiency for a smooth ride.
It is said that our tech-age, gunned with rarely ceasing stimulation, demands constant newness. Yet, human biological cravings also seek the familiar. Welcome, at KISMET most of the menu morphed into staples. Since the opening, we went three times so far, retasting old favourites and sampling those left yet to be discovered.
One of the repeats, the crisp Tokyo turnips with looots of raw golden butter are better ordered with the house barbari bread, a focaccia-like savory sponge. One just cannot eat a log of soft butter in one meal, so share it as most of the dishes. Preserved lemon, fresh oregano and toasted crushed cumin sprinkle curates the otherwise simple, you-would-have-never-served-it-that-way plate. Also indulgent are the Freekeh fritters covered in fluffy strings of cheese with a pickley green sauce dip. The ancient cracked wheat replaces chickpeas in this falafel-like nibble. Starting with a long strained, dense rosewater labneh with parsley seed za’atar or the outstanding, luscious tahini with green or spicy condiments like Israeli zhoug, order either the barbari or the flaky Middle-eastern bread.
Seasonal playfulness enters the game, suitably altering the menu. The most refreshing starter – Persian cucumbers included sweet, ripe persimmons in fall, in April fresh mint and za’atar spiced it up. Both perfect renderings over the sesame-rich tahini.
Not just the “SALAD-Y” bowls of seasonal bounty, decadent in most preparations, the “DISHES” are mostly veggies too. The wholesome Carrots roasted with chickpeas, spices, cilantro in an almond broth warmed us up. An evolved Kabocha squash was served in a chickpea curry, peanuts, with citrus and aleppo pepper. Infused with Japanese nuances, the spring-fresh Oyster mushrooms, leeks, bloomsdale spinach, pickled prune and yuzu cream, called for a side dish balancer. The granate-red barberries topped Jeweled crispy rice worked with almost any plate. Comfort squared, hiding a melting egg yolk inside, the baked delicacy radiates a strong Iranian influence on the menu.
In the meaty realm, a must order to start are the Lemony chicken and pine nut pies. Served golden, the two flaky triangles were stuffed with the minced bird in the Moroccan pastilla style, the coating of sesame and addition of a creamy tahini bed enriched the pastry. Buried under generous greenery of fresh parsley, these snacks are lighter than most and perfect for sharing.
I recommend the juicy plate of steamy clams in a broth with canelini beans and spinach or mussels when on the menu and the fat-streaking lamb belly for ketogenic dieters. Living in the desert area, a rabbit on the menu is a sustainable choice. There are way too many bunnies running around Southern California, and if the coyotes cannot keep their numbers in check, then chefs should. KISMET cues to “go big” with the whole rabbit for two. The “feast” includes a flaky bread, seasonal greens, house pickles and the unique Eastern-Med twist of tahini and labneh. No need for extra sides, still, the indulgent jeweled rice is too good to miss.
ancient grainsKISMET
KISMET does lunch (until 5pm) and weekend brunches too. A twist on granola, toasts with Bub and Grandmother’s superb bread, egg shakshuka, and “honestly, the best scone”, the recipe of which changes daily. Curious as a former Londoner, I got a perfectly crumbly blackberry scone with an orange zest labneh, to go. A few minutes later thumbing it up with joyous mouthfuls.
For a breakfast-y feast order the “Turkish-ish” have-it-all assortment of mezzes for a pre-hike fuel or as a shared adventure. Lettuce, herbs, Persian cucumbers with house labneh, tip-top marinated olives, spicy Israeli zhoug to dip in the corners of the springy barberi bread, a soft-boiled egg in spicy olive oil, delicate crumbled feta with sweet grapefruit over roasted marinated tomatoes, spinach and cheese dip and dried dates round it sweetly up. It was not too heavy for American standard, so the two of us added a luxurious, sesame crust sourdough, toasted and soaked in moist labneh, all piled up with tenderstem broccoli, spices and fresh mint leaves. It was less messy than it looks as the sharp knife cut through easily.
mezzeVegetarian brunch inLA
An evening dim invites candle lights in ushering in a cosy meal.
The qualitative consistency of the food at KISMET is impressive. The trio of desserts recently included a Bay leaf custard. The perfect balance between unique, not too sugary (salted caramel), light (rhubarb) dessert spiced with a dash of black pepper. Almond eyed cookies are served with tea or coffee after the meal.
East LA eatsbest eats in LA
The beverages focus on natural wines that the passionate team loves. These low-intervention wines, with a minimum added sulphur, oak, chemical vineyard treatments address authentic winemakers. From the concise (one page), laser-focused list. We ordered a glass of dry Hungarian Furmint from Tokaj, some off-the-beaten path American loves, while a bottle of the Austrian Gut Oggau one evening, and a Macon from Southern Burgundy another as a better value than its grand cru Northern cousins.
Natural wine workdays (noon-6pm) highlight three changing wines by the glass $10 each or a half glass of all three for $15 to taste more for less. North American apple wine is included for a local quirky twist. I had my taste in Charleston once (anything from blueberry through cherry wine), but I prefer grapes.
natural winenatural wine
For nonalcoholic sips, tap water is free, aromatic rosewater lemonade (can be blended into a spritz) and a tulsi (sweet basil) tisane from San Francisco’s superb Song Tea get a non-caffeine hydration. Sugar-free iced and hot teas from New York’s organic Tay Tea and coffee by Parlor, a Brooklyn hip roaster boost you up. The Turkish style coffee served on the rocks was popular at lunch.
If you do not live nearby, then make the drive worth either by coming on weekends when the traffic is more lose or before a show at the Greek Theatre or the Hollywood Bowl. These concert venues are minutes drive from KISMET and this is how how we make our LA stay more enjoyable. Uber helps when wine is involved.
Weekdays: 11am-10pm Weekends: 10am-10pm
+1 323 409 0404
4648 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90027

CLOSED American Tea Room: talking and sipping tea in coastal California

The American Tea Room was a shining diamond sparkling just off the Pacific coast. After closing its first branch in Beverly Hills, the other two – Downtown Los Angeles and Newport Beach also closed down for business in 2018. The concept tea store that has pioneered the American tea revolution in the health-focused California for 15 years.
tea in Beverly Hills
Here is my interview with the late founder of the best concept tea room in America to date. His battle with cancer took its toll. Hopefully, some passionate tea connoisseur will take inspiration from his visionary approach to tea.
The philosophy of the American tea Room is inspired by “America as a melting pot, which does not have its own tea culture, but is curious about blending different cultures and tastes together”, said the cofounder of the American Tearoom David Barenholtz during our interview.
American Tea Room
Iced tea is hugely popular in America. “It is more like a cocktail with a wonderful flavour“, he added. Iced teas do not need to be loaded with sugar and lots of chemicals like most of these sold bottled in stores. “If you buy our teas, you can infuse them and make without the negative chemicals at home, put it in the fridge to cool and then taste the wonderful natural flavours that are intensely fragrant on their own.” No need for any artificial additives and flavours, nature has it all.
Their fabulous recipes for homemade iced teas from the American Tea Room blends pioneered the recent trend in tea cocktails. Tasting the real kick of ginger, the sweetness or tartness of dried fruits, spices and the other natural ingredients in these tea blends gives you an entirely different quality perspective about iced tea.
David spoke very passionately about his teas and as he fired his know-how I wondered, why he has opened a tea room after being a businessman for years? “When I was traveling to Europe I had so much great tea, I liked the tea houses in France, Austria, Germany and wanted something like that in the US.” So, he went for it with his partner, and now the American Tea Room can rank amongst the best tea rooms in the entire America.
Tea bar by the American Tea Room
The redesigned store in Beverly Hills opened at the beginning of 2017 with a more appealing, cleaner and hip to hang out at space than was its previous layout. As all my photos show, the space is now brighter and more fresh. “We try to change the image of tea not being just something healthy to drink, but we want to show the great taste and encourage people to try new things that are actually thousands years old.” Further, the company aimed at teaching people about each tea and how to brew it correctly. There were Tea*vents on the premises, but also when you bought tea, you were advised in detail about the preparation on the label. David explained the main challenges:  “People are sometimes intimidated by tea, as they do not know much about it, but I always tell them – you also do not know much about all food and still go to restaurants and try it. The tea business is now like the wine business in the 1970s US, people do not know the differences between tea from Assam in India and tea from Yunnan in China. But, luckily it is evolving and there are more people like us educating our customers about our products.
For my favourite blends by the American Tea Room check my earlier post on the American Iced Tea.
American Tea Room

Global tea accessories at the American Tea Room

Serving tea in style was not only important for the Victorian ladies in England, but the modern tea accessories have never been as diverse and practical as they are now.
Alongside the established global and innovative manufacturers, the American Tearoom shop in Beverly Hills also introduced their own range of tea pots, cups, tins, spoons, strainers, and other accessories.
The company is not afraid of technology and I always found an interesting gadget making my tea enjoyment easier. From temperature controlled tea kettles to smart and stylish ice tea jugs.
They also pack your teas in elegant bento boxes with a wrapping paper in the tea spirit. The wide selection of teas including their house blends make a nice gift.
Cast iron tea potAmerican Tea Room

Tea Trends

We spoke also about the current tea trends in America, and David confirmed that: “Cocktails with tea are now increasingly popular with bar tenders, baking with tea is also the new trend and even in cosmetics tea is being used.” Like with wine, tea infuses our everyday life not only from the inside but also from the outside. Matcha has caught the palates of healthy lattes fans, but at the American Tea Room it is also prepared pure as a concentrated shot served with a slice of orange.
Chocolate with tea is also very popular. The American Tea Room offers Mast Brothers chocolates and further works with the chef Valerie Gordon, who creates scones and other sweet and savoury tea pastries.
tea pastry and chocolateMatcha shot
As people travel much more now and visit countries like China and India they come to contact with tea more and bring it back from their travels. Then they seek these teas back home.
Even tea drinkers in countries like Taiwan, that has one of the most refined tea cultures and uses high technology, they import a lot of tea (or they buy lots of Indian tea plantations in Darjeeling) and import the tea to drink it at home. The Japanese do that as well since they only produce about 5% of all tea in the world.
This all considered poses a significant challenge to the further supply of high quality tea. Since tea cannot be grown elsewhere, its price will inevitable rise. Thus, rise your cup and enjoy it in full before it gets too pricy! Cheers.
In Beverly Hills, there is a large Persian community accustomed to drinking tea all day long. Tea has a huge potential to appeal to the local palates more than coffee. Tea consumption is now blooming even in the country of Starbucks. The coffee giant acquired Teavana, a specialty tea and tea accessory chain originating in Atlanta and merged its products into its own branches. So, what is next for tea business in LA?

Farmshop: families and locavores indulge casually California farm produce in Santa Monica

Like a city barn filled with edibles Farmshop is a casual eatery and food market inside the Brentwood Country Mart. Set in the concurring triangle of Brentwood, Santa Monica and Westwood, spotlighting on superb, locally sourced ingredients, artisan snacks on the go and mouth-licking pastry to devour reaches beyond the typical American diner.
rustic table setup at FarmshopStracciatella Cheese with squash blossom pesto, toasted almonds, pine nuts & gjusta sourdough

Scaling down: from America’s and Europe’s best Michelin kitchens to Farmshop

The chef owner’s pedigree spans Michelin greats from The French Laundry through the former mecca of molecular gastronomy – elBulli in Spain. Jeff Cerciello is also a veteran of The Thomas Keller Restaurant Group and opened the Bouchons and Ad Hoc restaurants. Through Farmshop, his first own food business, the savvy chef introduces weekly changing produce from the meticulously scanned California farms, ranches and artisan butchers, cheese makers that he has honed ties with for years.
Farmshop Los Angeles

Clean eating Califonia indulgent style

Farmshop is the ideal place for families to celebrate over the weekends and for the local food lovers indulging their decadent brunches and casual dinners over bare wooden tables setting. Browsing in their sweatpants after a morning run or in a beach dress in the cooling afternoon the Farmshop regulars enjoy the lower carbon footprint meal in a company. I like the transparency of the Farmshop listing its purveyors on their website, so clean eaters can rest assured that no hormones, pesticides, unnecessary carcinogens and artificial fillers and seasoning touched their lips.
breakfast bagel
From breakfast through dinner everything is sourced responsibly and decadently seasoned to please the high pitched California palates. Generous, simple, fatty, but never too oily and veggie-friendly. Vegans should go elsewhere, but the rest of LA’s health food conscious diners will find their little plate or something to share at Farmshop.
We mostly come for a generous, yet wholesomely balanced weekend brunch to Farmshop. My American husband loves to let his appetite rule going for the House Made Pastrami & Poached Eggs, Thorne family farm broccoli di ciccio, charred red onions 
& olivade on Gjusta (Gjelina‘s bakery) sourdough and adds the perfectly crisp antibiotic-free bacon on side to the Rolled Omelet with soft herbs, fried potatoes & butter toasted croissant. The toasts are still the Americana queasy blandness of paper white empty calories, so go for these brioche, sourdough or croissant matches.
The eggs for omelettes and frittatas are sourced from the biodynamic Apricot Lane Farms. A bagel baked in-house and toasted is served with cured salmon, whipped farmer’s cheese and pickles. For sweet breakfast the fluffy pancakes, scones or muffins (gluten-free pastry basket available) come fresh from the adjoining bakery.
Vegetable cruditesFarmshop Brentwood
At lunch the menu introduces more vegetables like the biodynamically farmed seasonal harvest from Apricot Lane Farms, but also citruses from Schaner Family Farms, sustainable melons from Weiser family or other seasonal fruits grown by Frog Hollow Farm. Proteins like hormone-free poultry or grass-fed beef and family-farmed pork from Northern California farm Let’s Be Frank and other quality driven, small-scale farms and line fisheries. The Poached Chicken Salad is served over Windrose farm baby kale, herbed local walnuts, flying disc ranch dates, shaved radishes & whole grain mustard vinaigrette. There is more chicken than vegetables, and despite being tender, I would reduce the ratio to favour the greens in this “salad”, but the regulars like it this way as the server recommending this plate claimed.
Leaving aside gustatory disagreements, the waiters try hard and even when the restaurant bursts with dining activity over the brunch, they are efficient. If a coffee forgets itself somewhere along its way, they will bring it in not charge you. On weekends the dining room and the shop in front of your diner’s gaze buzz with families, birthday parties and friendly encounters of the locals.
Farm beets

The ravishing Gioia Stracciatella Cheese topped with squash blossom pesto, toasted almonds, pine nuts & Gjusta sourdough is thankfully on most the brunch, lunch and dinner menus, try it. Farmshop does not bother to surpass the local top bread baker serving the Gjusta’s Rustic Sourdough Bread with anything from the Verment creamery cultured butter and Jacobsen sea salt to the breakfast eggs. Another great starter to share is the charred eggplant dip Baba Ganoush style propped by roasted sesame seeds, pink peppercorns and generous heaps of pomegranate seeds in the fall when this fertility fruit ripens in California.

I wish that the Baked beets topped with feta like a moist ricotta and poppy seeds stayed since this is one of my favourite plates at the Farmshop. Now the 100 Mile Farm Roasted Beets are served with hazelnut salsa, saffron & Strauss greek yogurt.
The lively day meals turn into a more subtle, quieter evenings, and after the all day chaos some cooks’s lethargy may land some plates not up to the restaurant’s standard. We never returned for dinner after the one and and only rare debacle night.
To go, get daily fresh salads (my faves quinoa, celery and kale), cold cuts (no antibiotics, hormones, added nitrates, nitrites, and some like Fra’mani preserved only through light cooking and salt), choose from a wide cheese offer, crackers (Rustic Bakery), jams (the local hits by SQUIRL), olive oil, condiments, US-made small batch chocolates (my favourites Dick Taylor, Askinosie, San Francisco’s Dandelion, and the LA made Letterpress). To indulge, bite into the freshly baked pastry, muffins, scones, bagels, buttery croissants conceptualised by Jeffrey Deleon also of Thomas Keller Group pedigree, accompanied by hot beverages at the corner cafeteria.
Farmshop Santa Monica
Coffee is roasted by eco-sourced Lamill. They create the Farmshop signature blend served alongside their espresso and a line of blended, mostly organic teas. While there is not much tea to choose from at the Farmshop, the Health Ade kombucha from Oregon fills the gap. Spindrift nothing artificial sodas and Organic and Biodynamic juices and cocktail mixers by Wild Poppy get the non-alcoholic side match to the nicely composed one-page wine list.
 Brentwood Country Mart, 225 26th St #25, Santa Monica, CA 90402
+1 310 566 2400
Mon-Fri: breakfast 7:30–11am; lunch: 11:15am–2:30pm: dinner 5:30-9:30pm; weekend brunch 8am-2pm; dinner 5:30-9pm

Rustic Canyon by Jeremy Fox

Jeremy Fox is one of the leading LA chefs who embraced local sourcing for his flagship restaurant Rustic Canyon. On the menu in Santa Monica and in his well-received recent cookbook On Vegetables Fox gratefully heralds the farms growing his culinary ingredient box. Rustic Canyon mostly sources from Coleman and Waiser Family, Murray, Terry farms (quince), Thao (white yams, jicama) and Windrose Farms, Rancho Gordo (hominy), and other by quality and sustainability driven California breeders and growers.
restaurant by chef Jeremy Fox

Unpretentious American fare in a wine-centric setup

In the dimmed dining room he does not sell Instagrammable concepts though, just feeds you well.

The culinary seasoned chef does not need to promote himself if his kitchen team continues serving such comforting, seasonally attuned and perfectly cooked food as we have enjoyed at the Rustic Canyon for years. I discussed his fidgety past and the rebound to stardom in my critique of On Vegetables, yet bright days now linger over his culinary talent. Supported by the chef de cuisine Brittany Cassidy, we were consistently served decadent meals inspired by diverse American traditions from Mexico, through Southern, to California, all with a generous pinch of Europe. Calling itself a wine bar is understatement, since Rustic Canyon offers beyond the standard snack food

restaurant in LA by Jeremy Fox

Minutes away from the Pacific ocean washed beach of Santa Monica, the noisy chatter as if echoing the crashing waves fills the dining room. For more comfort ask for a table in one of the booths lining the back wall. The rest of the dining room is exposed to the communal hankering of nightly sounds. If you arrive before the rest of your party, sip on an aperitif in the tiny, usually packed bar behind the hostess. As you drive in, you may get a message recommending a cocktail at the Rustic Canyon, but there are also over two dozen intriguing wines by the glass to start with. Seduced by a white Grenache from California, Spanish white Tempranillo, red indigenous Corsican Niellucciu or a Malbec from Cahors, France, you began to appreciate not having to drive thanks to the convenience of the local riding apps.

Rustic Canyon food

Generous, unpretentious and shared dining experience at Rustic Canyon

Moving to your table, the signature green olives marinated in orange rind, fennel, and garlic are perfect to nibble on, far better than the Ferran Adria alginates served at the SLS by Jose Andres in LA, and large enough for a whole family sharing. Either, the board of ciabatta baked by the associated Milo & Olive with organic butter or the nose lifting Salted Pretzel bread with whipped cheese, olive oil and mustard jam take their turns, generously warming up the taste buds. According to the contemporary trend, the menu is not divided into the typical three course meal. Encouraging sharing, the groups are summoned around the more simple basics, the veggie focused, the animals and the sweet finale.

Far from being vegetarian, although in his preface he clarifies that his food open to any responsibly sourced ingredients, the Jeremy Fox’s cookbook On Vegetables can mislead the diners coming to Rustic Canyon for the first time. The animal main plates like the slow roasted Organic chicken, tutti frutti farms delicata squash, spaetzle with crispy sage and the Grass-fed hanger steak with charred calcite onion and almond blended with hazelnut romesco, are still healthier versions of the mass market produced antibiotic, hormone and grain fed meats. They must be shared though for the juicy cuts bathing in the meat’s succulent reduction take over a large plate. Most of my female friends would struggle with finishing them. Some lighter accompaniments should broaden the menu. Cooking most of the recipes featured in On Vegetables revealed to me that, in a produce adoring Mediterranean style his food is far more simple than most of the over-combined California fare.

From the veggie centric plates we ordered most recently, the preserved Beets with quinoa, mint, amaranth, ripe blackberries enveloped in a dense beet hummus dressing and pistachio dukkah spice were a sweet meets sour spot on. Also delectable were the Munak’s tomatoes, with basil sliced under a scoop of burrata cheese gently enhanced with murray’s pluots. The brothy Green pozole, hope ranch mussels, Rancho Gordo hominy, poblano covered in tortilla strips was otherworldly succulent, in fact, the best dish of the night! Slightly disappointing was the Grist & toll polenta, fresh ricotta, terry farms quince and woody herbs (add an egg for extra $3). Even the runny egg did not save the mushy porridge. Baking the polenta would make it better, we all agreed. If there were a competition for the best plate, then the delicate Ricotta dumplings served with Momotaro tomato, caper, olive, parmesan and breadcrumbs would compete for the hedonistic throne. Smoothly melting away on my tongue, the Mediterranean Italian charm overwhelmed my senses, I succumbed to its seductive perfection.

If you have an expansive appetite increasing with each glass of wine as we do, after the meal the artisan cheese plate served with seeded rye crisps by Milo and Olive, sweetly coated hazelnuts and a house preserve fills the cravings. Teasing out the most fragrant dairy bounty of America, the California goats, Vermont cheddar, and other regularly changing US made cheese seal the best of my turf deal. At Rustic Canyon, neither the sweet treats are taken lightly. I relished in the See Canyon jonagold apples, toasted oat crumble and the unusual sunchoke milk, but the creative flair of gelato flavours like earl grey, turkish coffee, honeycomb and the mango citrus sorbet impressed me more.

The wine list prides in the “focus on artisan, hand-crafted producers making excellent wine throughout California, Oregon, Italy, France, Spain and other distinctive regions around the world”. Setting their wine program the number of cases produced is disclosed next to the wine to “show just how special and unique each bottle you’re drinking is”. Some big American names like the opulent Sine Qua Non appeal if your wallet is ready for a splash, but insider labels such as the excellent California Chardonnay by Aubert fuel the wine lovers intellectual desires. Although the offering is extensive, a corkage fee of $25 per bottle (two max per table) is a surprising welcome by a restaurant defining itself as a wine bar. Artisanal beers from Belgium, Germany, Japan, American bottled craft beers and beers on tap widen the socialising outreach. Tea-to-tellers may be seduced by the refreshing house flavoured sodas like Beet & Geranium, Meyer Lemon-Ginger, Passionfruit or Strawberry Shrub.

Owned by a growing restaurant group couple, the husband-and-wife Bryant & Kim Ng, Rustic Canyon is being challenged by their newcomers, but Jeremy Fox has forged his signature style so precisely, that we still crave returning to his kitchen’s comforting embrace. Recently co-working in a local Mexican cantina style project Tallula’s is worth trying for even more off-beat experience.

1119 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica CA 90401
+1 310 393 7050
Dinner only from 5:30pm daily

Little Pine: Moby’s gourmet venture into vegan food

Little Pine was conceived through the love of animals by Moby, the award winning west coast musician, who adopted vegan activism and Los Angeles as his mindful lifestyle nests.

art photographyMoby’s vegan activism is voiced through Little Pine’s comforting, on great taste-focused, yet balanced plant based cuisine. Like at Crossroads, another great vegan restaurant in LA, Italian and Mediterranean nuances meet the chef’s creativity on the plant-based plates. Little Pine serves a weekend brunch and a seasonal dinner menu in a candle lit intimacy daily. Sharing all is encouraged in a community centric philosophy. Integrity is served on Moby’s plates since atop the delectable food all proceeds are donated to a selected animal charity.brunch at Little Pine Little Pine restaurant menu
Further, eco-consciousness holistically resonates through Little Pine. Filtered water is served in re-usable glass bottles, recycled paper menus and reducing food waste by offering carry home boxes for unfinished plates, are increasingly the norm in casual restaurants. Little Pine is relaxed enough that you do not need to dress up, after yoga leggings are totally fine here.
fresh focaccia
Almost everything is made in-house, no packaged vegan cheese and fake meat wrapped in plastic foil roll into the kitchen. A delicate vegan house mozzarella pinched on the Caprese skewer alternating watermelon and tomatoes and painted over with a viscous stroke of dense balsamic vinegar was served at dinner late in the summer and early fall. The nut-based mozzarella balls would beat most of the dairy mozzarellas in terms of taste as well as melting away texture. Unless, you compare it to real buffalo cheese or care about calories, then the cholesterol free, but with healthy fat energy packed nut stuntman is a no brainer.
Vegan polentaLess appetising were the vegan sausages dipped in a hearty marinara sauce floating over crisp polenta. The baked polenta with roasted tomato sauce saved it and we cleared our plate without hesitation. Also on the Italianate note is the side of fresh focaccia triangles served with an extra virgin olive oil. In fact, one of the best focaccias we had in America. For no gluten sensitive foodies a must order as are the perfectly prepared al-dente ravioli. The vocal chord was a deep bass in each mouthful sliced off the three large artichoke and spinach ravioli noshing in a smart accompaniments of sage, toasted walnuts and cranberries. Succulent, satisfying and indulgent. For gluten-free pasta the vegan Macaroni and cheese at Little Pine or the seasonal risotto can stage as your large plates.
vegan gluten free pastaA large plate of young Broccolini, hazelnuts, avocado mousse, red onion, could have been half the size, or at least with the option to get it smaller as it is more of a side dish better eaten next to some plant protein. In October broccoli was also balled into dairy free take on the Sicilian rice arancini with pesto. Heartier warm bowls and plates enter the menu with cooling weather. There is usually some soup year round, from a seasonal vegetable gazpacho to potato leek hot soup.
plant-based restaurantFor a hearty sweet brunch try the nut ricotta pancakes, but you can also dine light since the vegetables take over half of some plates like the Tofu scramble with roasted potatoes, home made ketchup, cherry tomato salsa, warm sourdough toasts and a vibrant bundle of green rocket with pink rainbow turnips. The refreshingly light Heirloom red gem salad with watermelon radishes, rainbow carrots dressed with mustard vinaigrette doubles on the brunch and dinner menus.
plant-based brunch in LAThe desserts also change seasonally, which means that the best key lime cheesecake ever, will be accompanied by some other natural bounty once the Indian summer is over. Seated on refreshing sweet lime coulis, the cookie base was subtle and the coconut whip surpassed any dairy whipped cream my tongue has ever come in contact with. The key lime sourness balanced the nut cream “cheese” sandwiched in between the two. The Brownie Sundae my husband ordered was sadly the only disappointing serving at the Little Pine. The chewy and powdery texture of the hot fudge cocoa base was unappetising, while the peanut butter soy-based ice cream atop was not really iced, but rather tasted as a rich flavoured pudding. Lucky for him, I was inspired by the generosity of the restaurant owner, Moby, and eager to share my superb cheesecake.
plant-based dessertplant-based dessert
The one page wine list hints mostly on the trendy natural wines served in stemless glass (PYT in Downtown is also infatuated by some unusual natural, added sulphite-free and low-intervention wines, while the ever so popular Gjelina in Venice skins off the scum and distills the best natural wines into its one page card). Pickings not only from America, but also France, Italy and Spain at Little Pine. Starting with California Pinot Blanc and moving to a Spanish single varietal Graciano, I enjoyed the diversity, but the unusual Chardonnay by the Berkley based Donkey and Goat winery was too bread-like for our taste, so we moved on.

Scaling down the alcohol level with large servings of fizzy fermented tea kombucha we had with the brunch, the black tea with peach came out as our favourite, Moby is a tea to teller so the non-alcoholic beverages are equally interesting at the Little Pine. House-made almond milk or organic soy milk can enrich the chai or coffee lattes. A wide selection of green, oolong, black, white tea by “T” brand or herbal, yerba mate and guayusa is all poured over with triple filtered water. I chose the herbal blend of tangerine and ginger for its warming comfort, but also lemongrass, after dinner tea for digestion, rosehips and hibiscus to supply Vitamin C, while the cucumber mint flavoured native American plant guayusa is great for low acid caffeine boost.
vegan candlephoto art at Little Pine
Silver Lake is now breeding the East LA knack for restaurants. From the all day vegetable-centric dining at Botanica to the best selling “Everything I Want to Eat” long queues pulling Squirl, the residential and with low-key artists planted neighbourhood is like in all directions stretched Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice. The East Los Angeles has not yet become as hipster, so hurry in before the international selfie ‘trendsters’ arrive. I wanted to dine at Little Pine for years, but the long drive was deterring. Yet, there is so much more to see (contemporary independent art galleries in Hollywood and the Griffith Park a short drive away) and do (pilates and yoga studios steps away, Thai spa,…) on the eastern side of LA now and if you go on a weekend, the traffic is much more smooth, making that hybrid Uber ride worth the trip.
Little Pine vegan diningvegan restaurant in LA
The design is welcoming, feeling like a wooden hut in the mountains tucked in the Rowena Avenue with a five table nation a the back. There is a shopping corner so if you wait for a vacant table, browse through the mindfulness enhancing book selection, natural birch and black pepper scented Little Pine candles and other lifestyle enhancers located smartly by the entrance. The kitchen is right behind it so peak in for an inspiration.
Take out and delivery through Caviar lets you order if there are no tables available during the most desirable hours. Moby dines at Little Pine often. At our first brunch there, he sat right next to us. The returning diners can rest assured that the ultra friendly service and the quality of food remain up to the hight standards that the black frames sporting, grey bearded and calm spoken thin man set for his charitable, design-driven and ecologically sane community gathering space in LA.
 2870 Rowena Avenue, Silver Lake, Los Angeles, CA
+ 1 323 741 8148
Daily for dinner from 5pm, plus brunch on weekends from 10am-3pm

n/naka: modern kaiseki by Niki Nakayama in Los Angeles

N/naka serves modern kaiseki handcrafted by American born, Japanese female chefs duet in Los Angeles. To the Chef’s Table Netflix series audience, chef Niki Nakayama is a celebrity, yet her talent was for long obscured by her modesty. With her partner in life and in the kitchen Carol Iida-Nakayama, the couple creates rare dining environment in LA. By typing its own personal story into the food n/naka challenges the fine dining concept of the LA’s offbeat culinary scene.
n/naka by chef Niki Nakayama chef Niki Nakayama

Empowering women and showing America the art of seasonal dining

The typical loud dining in America is challenged by the gender balanced team taming the atmosphere in the room. When entering the Cal-Japanese house of n/naka a sculpted – rocky boulder meets bonsai – garden introduces a zen mindset and fengshui balancing aesthetics. Right from the start, you know that this is not your typical LA outing. Niki Nakayama goes further, provoking in the Netflix show: “people aren’t distracted by anything when eating at my restaurant”. Except for the muted conversations around the table, I can confirm her bold assurance. We were curiously immersed in every single course that appeared in front of us, and while remaining focused flattered to the chef’s skills with fresh ingredients.

n/naka by chef Niki Nakayama n/naka restaurant LA

The food is presented as an art form, but at the same time the seasonal produce is not excessively covered by sauces or foams. Any unnecessary disguise of the natural ingredient is against the rules of kaiseki, the Japanese multi-course tasting menu coveting seasonal abundance. “Complicated recipes might sound good on paper, but when you put it in your mouth, if it doesn’t taste good, it’s not a good dish… you crave things, you want to eat certain things.” the chef confessed for ‘The Talks’ interview. The tempura batter is used wisely with the Agemono,fried dish of SOFT SHELL CRAB with BELL PEPPER VINAIGRETTE, but the SUNCHOKE, TOFU, ZUCCHINI, CAULIFLOWER with BELL PEPPER VINAIGRETTE AND PURPLE YAM PUREE on the vegetarian menu got somewhat lost in the powerful embrace of the deep-fried flour coat. The sticky rice MOCHI WRAPPED WITH FRIED TOFU, MISO, SCALLION ON THE HOUBA LEAF, shone though the tofu tempura dip. This was the vegetarian Niku, usually a meat course in contemporary kaiseki. Unlike with kaiseki ryori, monks vegan tasting menu similar to the New York’s Michelin stared Kajitsu, the vegetarian menu at n/naka ($160 per person) contains egg and dairy and any modification or vegan requests are declined. 

Japanese traditionseasonal tempura

Inspiration for a culinary seismic shift conceiving n/naka

After three-years working in Japan, cumulating with cooking at her relatives’ inn Shirakawa-Ya Ryokan where she trained under chef Masa Sato in the traditional art of kaiseki, she learned to allow her instinct to rule over her emotional and very personal cooking. Further inspired by “one bowl of soup at the perfect temperature, so simple, so clean… the seasoning was spot on” at her favourite restaurant in Japan – Kichisen, n/naka serves a multi-course menu in the kaiseki mode: Balance, strict sequence, and seasonality. The excellent three Michelin star modern kaiseki in Kyoto was coincidentally the first kaiseki that I had in Japan, and I am not surprised that dining there turned Niki Nakayama on to devote her new, very personal story of cooking at n/naka.

fish at n/naka

Deeply personal cooking

The restaurant uses the typically Japanese acronym of the chef’s name for its identity. In ‘The Talks’ interview she explained how mindfulness and instinct guide her through her creative process. “Certain dishes allow me to get to that point of singing to myself in my head because I’ve made them so many times, while others require more of my attention. For me, the goal is to reach that point where I’m not necessarily completely present. It’s a flow. And that’s what’s so enjoyable to get to in any work: to reach flow.” As a writer I cannot more agree. Still with discipline setting some limits to her creative flow she asks: “does it still taste Japanese?” If the answer is yes, then she sends it out of the kitchen to your table. Her first omakase sushi restaurant Azami “became very limiting” so creating “a unique experience in custom menus for every table” as “a very clear statement” of her cooking became the signature experience at n/naka. Each table experiences a slightly different menu. She tries to accommodate any requests ahead and curates the modern kaiseki to the person’s preferences. The well of customer knowledge stems from her detailed notes of each meal the reserved guest has at n/naka.

Modern kaiseki experience by Niki Nakayama

The thirteen courses ($185 per person) arrive in a relaxed sequence lasting about three hours. For some sparely eating ladies, this may be too much, but their dining partners (male or female – my appetite defies stereotypes) are eager to help. Nothing goes to waste as my chopsticks firmly clasped the superb leftover sushi of our petite Taiwanese friend.

The first time we dined at n/naka we went for the unmodified modern kaiseki built upon the chef’s whim. Niki Nakayama accommodated a beef replacement for one person. Grilled fish was served instead.

After my first open discovery, on my next visit I embarked on the vegetarian menu. I wanted to compare it with Kajitsu, the New Yorks Michelin stared plant-based kaiseki ryori. At n/naka the vegetables like tomato, eggplant, cucumber, shishito pepper, chives, shiso leaf, passion fruit and micro leaves are from the chef’s garden. Cheese is handpicked by the chef from the nearby Santa Monica Farmers Market and tofu is from Meiji tofu in Gardena.

Modern kaiseki is lighter than the traditional style mostly served in Kyoto. The temple of kaiseki in the former imperial capital is Kikunoi. Generous, and for non-Japanese diners it can be so atypical, that eating a turtle soup may offend you. We tried, but could not comprehend its appeal, it just tasted quite bland and the texture of the animal was unpleasant. I would advise the risk-averse avoiding meat or go all vegetarian there.

The recent menu we had at n/naka. V stands for the vegetarian tasting. My comments are brief for an open-minded experience.

Saki Zuke



V: GOLDEN CARROT, BEET,  AVOCADO SAUCE – simple and genuine





V: YUBA WITH TRUFFLE, TEMPURA RENKON,  NATTO (a sticky fermented soy bean paste)


APRICOT STUFFED WITH PLUM JELLY – original play with local bounty

Modern Zukuri


MAGURO, BEET PUREE, NORI SAUCE, AVOCADO AND CHIVE SAUCE – exquisite tuna, the avocado cannot compete for me



(STILL WATER) soup – one of my favourite comforting courses at n/naka




TRADITIONAL SASHIMI – a plate of superb quality raw fall fish

V: SEASONAL VEGETABLES – little boring without more diverse sauces







UNI, LOBSTER, SATOIMO PUREE AND DASHI – Santa Barbara sea urchin, so luscious and tamed in the dashi broth




SPAGHETTINI WITH ABALONE, PICKLED COD ROE, TRUFFLES – excellent served each time we dined at n/naka

V: PURPLE YAM RAVIOLI, SAGE BUTTER, PARMESAN CHEESE – decadent, not measuring up to the spaghettini though


(MEAT replacement for vegetarians )

JAPAN MIYAZAKI WAGYU BEEF A5 , FOIE GRAS WITH HOUBA MISO – showed up each time we dined at n/naka

V: MOCHI WRAPPED WITH FRIED TOFU, MISO, SCALLION ON THE HOUBA LEAF – presented in the same fashion as the beef, this was a revelation I chewed through with a delectable grin




V: STRAWBERRY ROSE, CUCUMBER, PASSION FRUIT AND TOMATO SAUCE – minimalist edible flower arrangement

Shokuji/ Sushi

SEASONAL FISH – four different pieces in two servings served raw on a rice bun

V: SEASONAL VEGETABLES – marinated matsutake, shiitake mushroom, cabbage, mountain yam, … the best veggie sushi ever.

To any of the modern kaiseki menus an extra hand roll (veggie possible) can be added.

Dessert by pastry chef Leslie Bilderback for n/naka


The desserts were co-produced with Niki Nakayama’s former culinary teacher Chef Leslie Bilderback. To refresh your palate an apricot, melon, or as we had the last time a plum sorbet is scooped into a small cup. Then comes the main deal. An unusual ice cream flavour like genmaicha (popped rice green tea), popcorn, toasted milk is paired with some seasonal fruit typically, but also grains like amaranth or black rice. We tried these three, but the latest tart was by a slight margin my favourite.




Chocolate truffles

A bowl of freshly whipped matcha tea with a granita seals the meal before the final sweet touch of house chocolate truffles tames any remaining cravings.

Wine or sake pairing is available with global wine offerings and a good sake breadth. As Japanese bottled beers became also popular in the West, the options broadened also at n/naka. We went for Kenzo Estate Sauvignon Blanc. The zesty freshness of this white wine from the Napa Valley accompanies the elegant, delicate cooking of Niki Nakayama. Moving to Sea Smoke Cellars Ten Pinot Noir, a blend of 10 clones from the Santa Rita Hills with the typical California fruit power, but there are also wonderful old world choices. German and Alsace Rieslings next to a bright Pinot Blanc would accompany most of the tasting menu wonderfully. The corkage fee is $35 per 750ml bottle not represented on the wine and sake list.

Contrary to wear whatever in Los Angeles, at n/naka the dress code is business casual. Recently, some guests arrived straight from the airport with their rolling suitcases parked in the rear. As one of them was rolling out of the restaurant, a wide smile on his face, apologetically he responded to our turning heads: “I did not want to miss this! I had to come dine here, whatever it took.” He seemed satisfied, and so were we.

 n/naka 3455 S. Overland Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90034
 +1 310 836 6252

Valet parking is available behind the restaurant.

 Two seatings between 5:30 and 6 pm; then 8:45 and 9:15pm, but the later usually involves hankering outside until the previous tables roll out of the restaurant.

Juice Served Here … so take a flight

Creatively envisioned by a perfect fit of trendy jeans and cultish Alternative Apparel brains, Juice Served Here is unlike most juice brands out there. The G-star Raw executive Alex Matthews and his partner Greg Alterman, a successful supporter of sustainable leisure clothing, shared a passion for cool design and health. Naturally, a juice business followed.
As America still relishes in the super nutritious combo of juicing and liquid meal replacement, there are now hundreds of “juiceries”, offering very similar products. It is therefore not enough to be raw, cold-pressed, vegan, no HPP, no GMO and zeroing anything artificially sounding, but you must come with an interesting story, a standout design, arresting recipes and ideally, plenty of celebrity snaps and Instagrams as they walk out with a bottle of your juice. The duo behind Juice Served Here, is best equipped to do just that. Gwyneth & co sip on their juices, seeking eternal youth, ultra-slim figure and a topic to discuss on the next Tv show or a lifestyle magazine interview.
Juice Served Here LAJuice Served Here

Juice Served Here differently

How are you feeling? You might hear this welcoming greeting at one of the sleekly designed branches (and growing) of Juice Served Here. Well, if you came straight from a yoga class you might want to continue that blessed relaxed ohm further into the day so having something with warming ginger and sweet apple in an alkaline lemon water you can be directed to “Pipe Cleaner”. If you need a boost of energy before a workout or replenish your stamina in the middle of a work day, then honey and cayenne in “Hot Lei” will sharpen your senses up. But if your answer is, I just need something healthy to fix my cravings, then the coconut meat delicacy bottled in “Cream Party” or “Turmeric Tang”, a smooth concoction of sweet carrot with tangy orange juice, will indulge you without the guilt of a whipped cream cake. Promising eternal youth and slim figure is sometimes not enough to make up your mind. What all these names mean after all?
Juice Served Here

Taking the flight

Deciding or actually knowing what we want does not always flow out from our brains when we need. With the ingredient-based creativity and possible combinations not having set limits, there are plenty of flavours in those bottles that are hard to imagine on your palate. How that “Green Milk” can taste? Will I like it? Should I risk paying the $8-$12 (for a no-booze sold in a recyclable plastic box!??) for this whimsical concoction? Should I take a “Pipe Cleaner” or “Pixie” (kids favorite) or go straight to “Charcoal Lemonade”? Wait, I could actually drink a charcoal? Yes, you can, but how much of the carbonised wood dug from deep under is still beneficial for your gut has not been scientifically established. The ‘miraculous’ drink companies, after all, are not liable for any of their marketing or health claims. In conventional medicine charcoal is used when you suffer diarrhea or a food poisoning since it absorbs the toxic contents in your stomach and thus alleviates your discomfort. If mixing it powdered with water would zero any nutritional misbehaving of your past meal is a plain speculation.
What counts though is taste. If you like the healthy juice, you will buy it again. You will even crave it! While some juice stops offer samplings, usually these are limited and do not include the two juices in your dilemma. A brilliant by wine inspired stroke of genius solved the cell damaging inner tension usually involved in decision making. You should be pampered at a place where you were supposed to be rejuvenating. At Juice Served Here you can get a flight of their 10 most popular bottlings for eight bucks. Please, fly me in!
So what was in my flight? The above picture sums up my healthful degustation on my last trip to LA. From the ten cups of three bird sips, my favorites were: number #5 Bloc Rockin’ Beets, a veggie only spicy blood builder with energizing and refreshing feel
Number #4 Turmeric Tang, a balanced coconut cream, sweet carrot with zingy lime, orange and anti-inflammatory turmeric.
Number #5 Bloc Rockin’ Beets, a veggie only spicy blood builder with energizing and refreshing feel.
Number #9 Green Milk, a satisfying nutty green juice with a dash of feel clean green veggies.
Number #12 Cream Party, like a dessert rich coconut meat blended into creamy sublimeness with coconut water.
Juice Served HereJuice Served Here

Fitting the right juice into your healthier lifestyle

The first months of the year are usually devoted to cleaning up the waste accumulated in your body from the comforting indulgences of winter. The toxins from the holiday meals, imbibing yet another cocktail before dinner, the ski trips filed with fondues, chocolate brownies and mulled wine, … the juice is sold! Juicing can be messy at home, so all these healthful fueling stops in our cities that popped like umbrella hawkers by a London tube are inviting. As I wrote about detoxing in my past musing Detox, Declutter and Dream though we should not just think about sweeping our bodies, but also our minds and our surroundings. By having your juice organic, you do something little better for yourself but also for the environment, even better if the fruits and veggies used are seasonal and sourced from the local farmers. At Juice Served Here, they bring sustainability further sourcing from “hand-selected local, biodynamic farms” and juicing their ultra-clean ingredients at their “state-of-the-art arctic cold-press, zero-waste facility“.
Your mind might be detoxed from worrying about what you need to cook. Calories counting with every inhale when passing a nose tingling bakeshop on your way is not healthy for your head. Raw juicing offeres simpler path to including more plants into your diet and may be more ecological than cooking meals, but it also carries more adverse risks from bad bacteria contamination than a well-cooked or preserved food would. Therefore, always check if your juices are stored in a cold fridge, ask about the date it was bottled and never! buy the sales items since these are more likely to have harmful bacteria hiving in.
These rules apply to any juice sold anywhere around the world. Even though Los Angeles is a peculiar case, lucky to have plenty of California-grown fruits, nuts, and veggies, at its feet, some can carry harmful bacteria. What is exciting here is that the entertainment capital gushes with ideas designed to please the novelty seeking consumers. Not only Juice Served Here takes a more fun approach to serving their juices, they view their products as a luxury. Proudly announcing on their website “we are Never Conventional” they appeal to aspiring and moneyed tribal crowd that wants to feel like making a difference through their daily life choices. Indeed, I always feel elated and so green when sipping on my freshly pressed locally sourced juice, so I am caught in the well-doing phenomenon.

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