BEST OF 2016
Looking back at 2016, I have to confess that I was fortunate to enjoy some stellar meals—some even more than once. From high end and pricey to “are you really going to eat that?” to relishing a second-to-none sandwich from a French Quarter hole in the wall, the quality of good eats knows no price tag. What’s good is good and below are my favorites of 2016.
FAVE MEAL OF 2016
I think my favorite meal of the year was sushi at Q Sushi in downtown Los Angeles. I was lucky to go for the first time back in March and then was able to try the new premium menu in December.
Q Sushi offers one of the finest high-end omakase style dining experiences in the city serving over 20 courses curated daily utilizing only the freshest ingredients served in an intimate and traditional environment. Nondescript from the outside, Q Sushi is located on the new burgeoning Restaurant Row on 7th Street, home to Bottega Louie, Más Malo, and B.S. Taqueria. Walk in and you’ll be taken by its simplicity and wood décor. Cozy with only 26 seats, ten at the sushi bar, your experience begins as you are handed a hot towel as is the custom in Japan. Then master chef Hiroyuki Naruke gives you a nod and your experience has begun.
The Otoro, the fatty part of the belly, is melts-in-your-mouth-good. The fermented sardine, which was new to me, was absolutely delicious. The Seared Toro came with the most amazing shishito pepper mix—think of it as the greatest salsa ever. It was so flavorful that I just wanted spoonfuls of it. And I’ll never forget the Marinated Sea Urchin as it was so pungent yet so delectable—it was an absolute treat.
ARE YOU REALLY GOING TO EAT THAT?
What started as an innocent lunch with a good friend at Slow Fish on Miracle Mile soon became a food challenge of legend when I noticed a neon sign showcasing the day’s lunch specials as the words “Live Shrimp” immediately caught my eye giving way to my obsession with eating live shrimp.
I wondered if I could I bring myself to eat live shrimp. I’m game to eat just about anything, at least once, but the idea of killing something myself for what is pretty much a novelty didn’t seem right. I asked my friend Chris Temple if he could do it and his first reaction was no, but then after a few seconds he switched to maybe.
After a lot of going back and forth, and a little soul searching to be honest, I decided I’d give it a try. Or at least attempt to do so. Temple and I went back to Slow Fish where Chef Sean An served us live shrimp.
I’ll never forget that the shrimp made an actual run for it as soon as they were brought out. Chef actually had to scramble to collect the shrimp so he could cut their heads off. As Temple and I cheered our shrimp bodies together, I said “Salud” and he howled in laughter as we chowed down. I’ll never forget eating the meaty head (would you even refer to it as the brains?) as it was so rich and flavorful. It caught me off guard as I didn’t expect it to be such a delicacy.
MAGIC MUSHROOM DINNER
To kick off the 8th annual Taste of Italy, L.A.’s premiere Italian food and wine event featuring award-winning restaurants and wineries, a preview truffle dinner was served at Celestino in Pasadena back in September.
At Celestino, one of the city’s best Italian restaurants, it doesn’t get better than its sensational seasonal mushroom and truffle menu throughout the month of February. So this fall truffle dinner was a real treat.
Decadent yet delicious dishes included Arancini—perfect Sicillian rice croquettes with black squid ink risotto and truffles; Zuppa di Funghi at Tartufo (mushroom soup with black truffles); Carpaccio di Vitello (veal carpaccio); ravioli with quail egg and truffle; and Veal scaloppini with porcini mushrooms and truffles.
The attention to detail is always staggering and the richness of every course was a heavenly assault on the senses. I think my absolute favorite dish was the Porcini Mushroom Soup with Black Truffle. It was so simple, yet complex, rich and decadent. The flavors were unbelievable.
FYI, the 9th annual Taste of Italy will be held on Saturday, October 14, 2017 so mark your calendars!
A TRIED & TRUE FAVORITE
Everybody knows I love to drink at 1886 in Pasadena but dining at The Raymond 1886 is equally as enjoyable. Amidst the competitive and cutthroat L.A. food scene, there are clear standouts and favorites. Some restaurants shine because of stature, some for flash and others for just constantly crafting pleasing cuisine. The Raymond 1886 may not be flashy nor one’s first choice if you don’t feel like trekking to Pasadena, but you can always count on it to serve stellar fare.
From serving L.A.’s best fried chicken sandwich to serving the most impressive bone-in rib eye, Executive Chef Tim Guiltinan never disappoints. One of my hands down favorite dishes was the incredible Grilled Alaskan King Crab—consider this a must have to share. A dazzling delight served with spicy Szechwan “Mála” sauce and watercress, this plate can also serve as its own delectable entrée. The crab was so fresh and so rich and better than any lobster dish I’ve had. Props to Chef Tim for this grand slam winner.
OLD SCHOOL DELIVERS
For more than 40 years now Harold & Belle’s Restaurant has been a favorite for Cajun and Creole cuisine, bringing the spice and flare of New Orleans directly to West Jefferson Boulevard. There’s a reason why this place is a Nawlins staple, because it serves authentic food without compromise. A week after dining here back in April I found myself in New Orleans eating fare that wasn’t any better than Harold & Belle’s, including the world-famous beignets at Café Du Monde.
The Shrimp & Crawfish Étoufée where crawfish tails were smothered in rich and spicy crawfish gravy and served over rice or pasta was one hearty and pleasing dish. Likewise, the Jambalaya, a Creole classic with rice, chicken, shrimp, beef sausage and mixed vegetables, was decadently delicious. All I could say was “Wow” after trying this bad boy.
L.A. loves its food festivals and I think this town’s top fest was Masters of Taste held back in April on the field at the Rose Bowl. Billed as a time to celebrate and savor the finer things in life, the inaugural Masters of Taste brought together approximately 2,500 foodies to indulge in fine fare from 40 culinary masters and restaurants; delight in an array of delectable sweets prepared by L.A.’s top sweet masters; and relish signature handcrafted cocktails and tastings from over 25 beverage masters.
A good time for sure, you just couldn’t beat the location as it was awe inspiring to be on the field of the famed Rose Bowl. The day was gorgeous and the view was spectacular and the food and drinks were top notch. This festival made quite an impression in its very first year.
The second annual Masters of Taste will be back at the Rose Bowl on Sunday, May 7. Buy your tickets now!
And because L.A. drinkers like festivals too, it doesn’t get any better than Art Beyond the Glass or as I like to call it, the Super Bowl of Los Angeles cocktail events. Held in June at Resident in Downtown, the event featured an impressive lineup of top bartenders mixing cocktails and showcasing their art, music, photography and much more, all while raising funds for Global Inheritance.
2016 saw Art Beyond the Glass takes its impressive show on the road as it held festivals in Oklahoma City, Chicago and Las Vegas. At Art Beyond the Glass, the cocktails are always inventive and impressive as friends from the bar community gather to celebrate their craft and show off their other skills away from the bar resulting in a good time as money is raised for a good cause. I know I can’t wait for ABTG6!
While in New Orleans, I stumbled upon Verti Marte, a local deli and grocery store in the French Quarter. A tiny hole in the wall, it’s known and beloved by locals and tourists in the know for its out of this world sandwiches, most notably its All That Jazz po’ boy.
The All That Jazz is an impressive mix of sautéed shrimp, turkey, ham, cheese and the Verti Marte’s special “Wow” sauce, which is kind of like tartar sauce. It’s a foot long and comes on soft French bread sliced in half and the flavors just lend perfectly. This po’ boy was so good we had it two nights in a row and it was just heaven.
Photography By: Jose Martinez & Best Of 2016 Above
Story by Jose Martinez