Monday, April 21, 2014

Where to Eat: The Oyster Bar @ Tipple & Brine (Part 1 of 2)

The Eats: A daily selection of oysters from around the world and other inventive dishes with an emphasis on seafood

The Location: The Valley (Sherman Oaks)

The Vibes: Barn Chic

Good for: Dates, groups, solo

When-To-Go: Dinner, daily beginning at 5 p.m.

The $ Factor: $$; Oysters are $3-$3.50 each; entrees are in the $15-$30 range

The Names behind the scenes: Owner Richard DiSisto (Vantage Restaurant Group); Executive Chef Mike Williams (Epic Roasthouse and Boulevard, The Tasting Kitchen, The Parish); Chef de Cuisine Logan Jones (The Parish, Axe, The Tasting Kitchen)

The 4-1-1: Owner Richard Disisto built the entire restaurant…by hand. As if that's not impressive enough, he skillfully used refurbished materials to make mostly everything; light fixtures, walls, stools, etc.

I’ll Be Back…: For the oysters and the Brussels Sprouts!

The Thursday before its grand debut (on Monday, April 14), Tipple & Brine held an Opening Party to provide a sneak peak of what it plans to offer, once its doors officially open to the public.

Guests experienced complimentary champagne, bite-sized hors d’oeuvres, craft cocktails and one of the main attractions of the restaurant—the oysters.

Oysters are a very big deal at Tipple & Brine. From displays instructing how to properly eat them to signs that proclaim "It was a brave man that 1st ate an oyster," it's clear they reign supreme here. At the end of the cocktail bar is a vibrant oyster bar, where daily oyster selections are prominently displayed and the team that attentively prepares them are hard at work. Each day there will be six types of oysters served on the half shell, hailing from both the East and West Coasts, and from around the world, that you can mix and match, at $3 to $3.50 each. They’re carefully hand picked and selected—I saw the team mercilessly toss multiple oysters if they didn’t look or smell “right”—and platters are accompanied by lemon wedges, vinegar and a tangy mignonette sauce.

Aside from oysters, Tipple & Brine will have a select menu that features other seafood and land-based entrees and a rather impressive selection of vegetable dishes. Servers passed out bite-sized portions of some of the appetizers, entrees and the two desserts that are currently on the menu—the carrot cake and an amazing, chocolate concoction called the Chocolate Cremeux, pictured below, with caramel, pretzel streusel and brown butter whipped cream.

Although the focus is mainly seafood, it must be noted that the vegetables are most certainly pulling their own weight. The favorite for many guests of the night, and a few servers I talked with, were the Brussels Sprouts, which are fried, drenched in a sweet chili vinaigrette and topped with misonnaise and green shallots. The Cauliflower with pickled chili and currants wasn’t passed around, but I heard is most certainly another “must-try” item. Aside from the veggies, I also thoroughly enjoyed the fried chicken with raw kale and a Green goddess dressing made in-house, pictured below. That may have been a special for the night as I didn’t see it on the regular menu, but if it happens to somehow magically appear, definitely order it. You won’t be disappointed.

While I did get to try all six of the types of oysters on deck for the night, I didn’t get to experience the entire menu, so I will definitely be back to do that. I’m already getting ready for what I’d order; the Lamb Shank with creamy grits and the much-talked-about Cauliflower.

Tipple & Brine is part of DiSisto’s dream to turn the stretch of Ventura Blvd. where the restaurant is located into a “downtown Sherman Oaks,” with same pull that downtown Los Angeles, West L.A. and other prominent city neighborhoods have, with their scores of reputable bars and dining destinations. I’m sure with the spectacular oysters and unique menu, that won’t be much of a problem.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Tipple & Brine—an in-depth look at its cocktail program!

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Where to Eat: The Present and Past Merging @ Faith & Flower

The Eats + Drinks: California rustic cuisine + turn-of-the-century cocktails

The Location: Downtown

The Vibes: Renaissance meets modern; upscale, eye-catching, intimate

Good for: Groups of friends, dates, solo dining and/or drinking

When-To-Go: Open evenings, after 5:30pm every day

The $ Factor: $$ - Prices range from $6 to $85

The 4-1-1: The restaurant derives its name from the street that it’s on: Flower is the current name of the street and Faith was the street’s alleged name in the 1920s. Also, the menu is in the form of a book. Don't just read the beginning; read it in its entirety!

I’ll Be Back…: For the Chicory & Asian Pear Salad!

Last week, I was invited to a pre-opening dinner for one of the latest additions to downtown, a swanky new restaurant, Faith & Flower.

The night before its official opening, a friend and I joined hundreds of industry guests—the owners, other bloggers, magazine editors, hotel execs and others—in the beautifully decorated restaurant, which features high ceilings and a handmade sunburst wall installation in the main dining area; a long black, sleek communal table and an intriguing wall mural by Robert Vargas in the bar area (pictured below); and other eye-catching accents scattered throughout. Its d├ęcor is most certainly a nod to a more regal time period of Los Angeles, with a sense of glam that thrived in the Old Hollywood Era.

Faith & Flower is the first SoCal brick-and-mortar venue for Coastal Luxury Management, a Central California company that produces the Pebble Beach and the Los Angeles Food & Wine Festivals. There’s a ton of well-known names attached to the restaurant: Executive Chef Michael Hung (Michelin-starred La Folie), Lead Mixologist Michael Lay (Restaurant 1833 and Rose.Rabbit.Lie.), Executive Pastry Chef Ben Spungin (Bernardus Lodge) and restaurateur Stephane Bombet (Picca, Mo-Chica and Paiche).

From the pre-opening night, two things stood out to me:

First and most importantly, the food was absolutely impeccable. Plates are family-style—to be shared amongst your group—and out of all of the dishes we tried, there wasn't one that I didn't like. The cuisine is coined as California rustic, but appears to have less of a focus on one specific region and instead incorporates global themes into everything.

The Deviled Jidori Eggs had an Asian flair, with kimchee and Korean chili adding a rich and bold flavor to the traditional recipe of deviled eggs.

I’m convinced someone from the South came up with The Black Eyed Peas. Hidden below the flavorful black eyed peas are a bed of tender, braised greens, with small pieces of delightful smoked bacon nestled inside.

The Chicory & Asian Pear Salad reminded me of the gastronomy of Spain, with its thinly sliced Serrano ham. Hazelnuts added a surprisingly pleasant crunchy affect to the salad and the Malvarosa cheese and pears added a fun play on tart and sweet. It was all tossed in a very faint hint of a tangy dressing—so faint it almost didn't seem like it was there—which was nice, because you really got to taste and appreciate all of the ingredients of the salad itself.

Since I don't eat beef, I didn't try the Oxtail Agnolotti, but my friend and the couple dining next to us raved about it all night and asserted that it was the best item on the menu. The waiter explained to me its genesis—that it was heavily influenced by both African and Caribbean cuisines that frequently incorporate oxtail into their dishes.

Last to note, the cocktails are most certainly what you'd call hand-crafted cocktails. Intricate and rare ingredients are featured in many, making them quite complex and curious. As someone who is easily pleased with a basic two-ingredient drink (i.e., a Jack & Coke), initially reading the menu, I was slightly intimidated by all of the ingredients that I simply didn’t know (i.e., Bigalette China-China Amer). Fortunately, my waiter provided guidance and surprised me with this great blend of gin, Mandarin Napoleon, lemon and a spray of absinthe, called the Dutch Gin Crusta.

If you're looking for a place to grab a simple, standard martini, this might not be the place; even my friend’s Jameson and ginger ale featured ginger ale made in-house, with fresh ginger (although yes, there are wines, beers, absinthes and amaros by the glass). But, if you’re looking for 19th and 20th century cocktails that Faith & Flower claims were widely popular in L.A.’s former speakeasies, then this is definitely the place to check out.

In closing, Faith & Flower’s price point is very competitive for what you get, which is top notch dining, drinks and presentation. Cocktails are $10-$14. The smaller plates range from $6-$10; larger plates are around the $20 mark. One of the only extravagantly priced option I saw on the menu was the $52 Whole Tai Snapper. We didn't get that, but we saw it delivered and it looked like it could easily feed at least five people. In all, we ordered about three small plates, two entrees and two desserts and were thoroughly and satisfactorily filled afterwards.

All in all, I think this is a fantastic upscale addition to the downtown neighborhood. Centered right in the middle of downtown and walking distance from The Staples Center and other landmarks and entertainment, it's easily accessible and an ideal location for drinks after work, a dinner date or shareable bites before a night out.

See you there soon!

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