Olio

8075 W 3rd St. Ste 100 Los Angeles, CA 90048(323) 930-9490 pizzeriaolio.com

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Food markets such as the Grand Central Food Market seem to be all the rage as of late, and I must admit I’ve taken the bait just as much as the next lemming. They’re sort of like a UN of cuisine. But giving myself a modicum of credit, I don’t love them simply because of the gimmick. They still have to live up to my high standards, regardless of the fact that they are housed in a cool, modern-day bazaar, with great energy. So no favoritism and no slack here. You either bring it or I pan it.

So as much as I would like to pan the pizza here, I found myself pleasantly surprised, especially in light of the fact that great LA pizza is about as rare as meeting a waiter who isn’t also an actor.

In descending order of greatness, at the top of the totem pole sits the spicy sausage and hot peppers. Obviously if you’re a vegetarian, vegan or just don’t like the thrill of fireworks in your mouth, then this pie should be a pass. But I have to say, it’s your loss, because it’s everything a pizza was meant to be and more.

But don’t lose hope just yet, because their roasted veggie pie (pictured) is also very good. Letting the quality of their ingredients shine, this pie is full of flavor and topped with a nice, peppery arugula. It’s a little more basic for sure, but it’s bangin’ basic. As is the mushroom and speck, which is a slight dial away from the usual mushroom and pepperoni. And a tasty dial it is.

The only pie that didn’t quite make the grade, however, was the old classic margherita. It was significantly lacking in flavor compared to the others, which perhaps points to a greater weakness in the sauce and the crust. After all, that’s the true measure of a pie and why LA pies never truly measures up to New York standards, because they always seem to have to cheat their way to the top via toppings. And to be fair, I honestly don’t mind it, because toppings have their place too (on top). But a strong foundation is everything and it’s also what’s holding LA back from ever being a real contender in the pizza game. That goes for you too Mozza.

3 teeth

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Hinoki and the Bird

10 W Century Dr. Los Angeles, CA 90067(310) 552-1200hinokiandthebird.com

Hinoki And The Bird, 10 Century Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90067

Frequented by the agents at CA, this extremely trendy haunt rose up from demand, managing to fill that mid-city void between the beach and West Hollywood. Set downstairs in a building just behind Century City, the décor is clean and modern with high ceilings, a huge windowed outdoor space, and a dining room walled with earthy materials and flanked by a trendy open kitchen on one side, and an equally hip bar on the other, sporting a handsome list of cocktails, wine and sake (including the sparking variety).

Because of our large party we “ordered the menu,” which is my second favorite way to dine… Other than with the wife, of course. So please don’t think that I had each of this dishes in full at one sitting. If I did, I’d be dead by now.

So, kicking things off, let’s start with the starters. And the Ultimate within, the crab toast. A dish I normally find to be a bid of a whatevs, but this crustacean is on fleek. Not too mayonnaisey, a little heaty with it’s chili, coriander and spicy cucumber and a lotta goody. Another dish I’d call tops is the unique prep of the okra, served roasted in a simple, yet artful row, dusted with cumin and superb to the taste.

Also impressive were the roasted Brussels sprouts, which were refreshingly unfancied up, compared to those at Cleo, Ilili or All’onda. Another veggie side sure to please are the yams done as a slightly contemporary twist on the classic, using Asian (purple) yams with a sour cream/crème fraiche drizzle.

The third side, the mushrooms, were the only bore of the trio, marinated in nothing out of the ordinary and served in an equally pedestrian way. But if you dig on the fungi, they are far from bad. Unfortunately they are just as far from memorable.

Another starter sure to put a smile on your face is the lobster roll, which looks remarkably like a cigar, due to it’s narrow stature and its black bun. It’s only about two bites big, but by mixing green curry and Thai basil into the mayo, they are a flavor-packed couple of chews.

Another solid starter is the crispy suckling pig with apple jam and chili, albeit that one is somewhat of a lay up by description alone. Whereas the fried chicken is much more of a surprise with its perfect contrast from crispy crust to moisty bird. But both were outdone by the black cod (pictured), which might be the best I’ve had since Matsuisha invented the dish decades before.

As for the last of the starters, the fluke flunked. Just your standard sashimi with nothing unique to write about, and nothing so fresh to even swoon about.

But things starting with “fl” seem to cause Hinoki big trouble in little China, because the flank steak was also flucked up. So chewy, my jaw gave out after about three bites. Thankfully my friend with the kurobuta pork chop was kind enough for sharesies and while the chop wasn’t exactly divine swine, it was much better than chew toy on my plate.

And the downward spiral of entrees only kept spiraling through dessert as I found myself wanting to flick Hinoki the bird for wasting my caloric intake with buzz killers like the doughnuts with caramel dip and the ice cream sandwiches.

As a result, should you wish to follow suit, I think you would be much better served by ordering meze style here, with lots of starters and sides, as opposed to the traditional three course app, entrée, dessert. I know it almost doesn’t seem worth it to go now, but I give you my ferocious guarantee that if you stick to the top of the menu, you will be so happy with your order you won’t even think twice about what you’re missing, which isn’t much.

3 teeth

Red O

1541 Ocean Ave. Santa Monica, CA 90401(310) 458-1600 redorestaurant.com

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I know Rick Bayless is a name in the industry, but after that performance his name should be Please Cookless, because nada was bueno. Well, in terms of the food, anyway. The décor and energy (code for noisy) of the place is actually great. And they sport a nice range of tequilas should you want to go that way. They also have a pretty long list of cocktails as well, which I can only assume is designed to get you all liquored up so you’re awareness is impaired about the mediocrity you are about to eat.

Unfortunately the booze wasn’t enough to distract me from the piss poor service. Friendly for sure, but sloppy and slow. She completely forgot our guacamole order and missed on every recommendation, granted the fact that there’s nothing truly great on the menu makes it awfully hard to win in that scenario.

Amid the sea of asi asi (translation: so so) are the goat cheese tamales, which are okay on taste, but very mushy on texture. The duck taquitos, which were dry and tasteless, needing the addition of one of the salsas from the chips to give it moisture and make it worth half its salt. Oh, which reminds me… it needed more salt.

For the entrees, the shrimp and rice was “pretty standard” (to be read like Dr. Evil), the fennel lobster tails were a big ho hum and the NY strip with chimichurri, while the best of the three, is certainly no reason to come here.

Hell, they even managed to fuck up the churros, which are a foodie lay up, if you ask me. Way too hard and dry. And the chocolate and caramel dip wasn’t even close to being rich or flavorful enough to save them. But perhaps I’m to blame for not heeding the warning on the door. After all, “Zero” is right in the name. And that’s what this place is, a flaming red zero.

1 tooth

B Grill

1 World Way • Terminal 7 • Los Angeles, CA 90045 • (310) 646-5252

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Oh airport food, why do you mock me so? Giving me glimmers of hope here and there, only to smack my wishful thinking back to Earth again and again with your edible insults. And I just don’t understand why. Why do airports think that the moment you pack a bag, you are suddenly no longer discerning about what you stick in your mouth? Has not a traveler taste buds? If you feed a traveler, do they not say “mmm?”

Shame on you B Grill, you poor excuse for a BOA Steakhouse spin-off. Shame on you for your traveling bigotry. Serving crap OJ instead of fresh squeezed when you are clearly based in an orange yielding state. Double shame for using frozen blueberries in your blueberry pancakes. Triple shame on you for how chewy the pancakes were. Quadruple shame for putting a strip of bacon on the plate that was so shriveled up it looked like it had arthritis. And Quintuple shame for the albino fruit salad next to it.

But maybe they just suck at breakfast and they’re amazing at lunch and dinner. I mean judging from that picture above, it would certainly seem that way. Then again, pictures of food are like pictures of real estate, always looking so much better than the real thing.

1 tooth

Crimson

2901 Ocean Park Blvd. Ste 127 Santa Monica, CA 90405(310) 396-2400 crimsonla.com

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If you hate Tommy James and the Shondels, the University of Alabama football team and Tom Clancy novels about submarines, then your crimson ship finally came in. In the form of hummus wraps stuffed with fresh tabouleh, bursting with flavor. Dip that in a side of their tzatziki and you’re golden. But speaking of gold, their Turkish style grape leaves drizzled with a harissa yogurt are so good I think they should be made mandatory for all other restaurants to emulate. Even their Arnold Palmer was pretty decent, making this an all around great spot for a grab and go, delivery or a casual bite.

I’d elaborate more, but this one is a solid fastball down the middle. And besides, you have too much work to be sitting around reading lengthy blog posts waxing Hemmingway about a dolma anyway.

3 teeth

Foodlab

7253 Santa Monica Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90046(323) 851-7120foodlab-la.com

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Having only ordered from here, I think it’s safe to say that things are still in the clinical trial phase, because not much was nailed. The iced tea was bitter and basic. And the grilled cheese (pictured), while made with gruyere, tallegio and gorgonzola on 5 grain with glazed onions and grain mustard, proved to be a bit too much of one note. Granted it’s a good note, but not as interesting as one would hope after reading that epic list of lovable ingredients.

The best thing for me was the prosciutto and fig sandwich on a baguette with ricotta and honey, then drizzled with a balsamic reduction. However, do not be fooled by the menu description, because it is NOT served on raisin walnut bread. Also, do not be fooled into thinking this sandwich is SO good that I am recommending the Lab on the whole. All I’m saying is, if you’re going to have to eat here, this is my suggestion.

2 teeth

R+D Kitchen

1323 Montana Ave. Santa Monica, CA 90403 • (310) 395-3314 • http://rd-kitchen.com/locations/santamonica

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Don’t hold this against RnD, but it’s actually the sister restaurant to Houston’s. I know. I know. But hear me out, because she’s one hot sis and an awesome plan B should you not be able to get a reservation at you’re A. So awesome, in fact, that this might just become your new plan A, if only they took reservations.

The décor is pretty standard, like a contemporary version of a Bennigan’s, with lots of booth seating, wood paneled walls and an open kitchen. And the wait staff runs a tag team method of service, which actually proves very nice, because there’s always someone around to take care of you, so no need to flag any one down like you’re a castaway on Gilligan’s Island.

The Jack Rabbit was our cocktail of choice for the evening, a tequila and grapefruit combo that was good, but not exactly memorable, hence why I had to ask my friend what the hell the name was again.

For a starter, with resounding praise, I recommend their deviled eggs (pictured) with a heavenly hit of horseradish. But as sinfully good as they were, even better is the Ding’s Crispy Chicken Sandwich, dubbed their best seller and for good reason. It’s an Ultimate, right up there with the one at Son of a Gun, if you ask me, which I assume you are since this is my blog. But beyond the fried chicken, what makes the Ding sing is the wonderfully soft, fresh-baked bread from Bandera, the generous amounts of slaw and the contrast that’s created between all of the crunchy elements and the pillowy goodness of that bun.

The other entrée we tried, the salmon, was also good, but not quite at the same level as the Ding. Served up with a sizable mountain of mashed potatoes and sauteed greens.

Sadly we were so full at this point that we didn’t order dessert. But happily that didn’t matter, because our server wouldn’t hear of it, tapping into her inner Jewish grandmother by bringing us their warm, chocolate chip, oatmeal cookies on the house. Which were hard to resist, because A. they were warm and B. they were free. So that helped a lot. Enough to have me debating between three and four knives. But I lean four because it’s a chain. And for a chain, that’s worth a golf clap right there.

4 teeth

 

One Pico

1 Pico Blvd. Santa Monica, CA 90405 • (310) 587-1717 • bytheblueseasantamonica.com/restaurants-pico.html

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Shutters on the Beach is an anomaly of a hotel. It’s quaint, yet massive. Low key, yet cool. Cool, but not trendy. And while I do love it, I also hate it. The valet circle is such a debacle I wish someone would carpet bomb it and start anew. The layout of the hotel is more confusing than The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. The bar area, a.k.a. lobby, is so understated that no one ever states anything about it. And their fancy restaurant, One Pico, is less impressive than the casual, much cheaper option below, Coast.

Now, apart from having a pair of mediocre meals there, my other gripe is the name. Sure, I get that it’s the hotel’s address, One Pico Blvd., but who are we kidding, they purposefully made the word “pico” diminutive so that the ONE is center stage, clearly going after a double entendre, that in my opinion failed misérable, because if ever there was one restaurant to go to in Santa Monica, this would not be it. It’s your typical hotel grub with a jacked price tag.

But if you really feel like staying in, my advice, at least walk over to the sister hotel next door, Casa Del Mar and eat at Catch. You can still put the bill on your room even if you’re staying at Shutters and I give you my ferocious word you’ll be MUCH happier with your meal. Not to mention happier than the chef at One should they ever read this review and see that I’m giving One… only two.

2 teeth

The Ultimate Creamed Corn

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I think the thing I love the most about eating at steakhouses is the fact that you get to eat your vegetables like a kid again. Creamed spinach, creamed corn, mashed potatoes- you name it, everything is so jacked up on sugar and butter you don’t even know where the veggies end and dessert begins. And that’s exactly why these two corns of the cream are Ultimates with a capital U.

Mastro’s – Los Angeles, CA

Within the tapestry of creamed corns I’m really not sure if I’ve ever had a bad one, to be honest. That doesn’t exclude the possibility for there to be ones that are even better than great, however. And this is where Mastro’s steps in to claim it’s rightful ownership of the pedestal. A simple, faithful recipe without much to it beyond béchamel, salt and pepper. But apparently that’s all it takes to blow you away.

Quality Italian – New York, NY

As if creamed corn weren’t decadent enough, the folks at QI felt the need to go one better and brulee the stuff. That’s right, the same creamy, corny goodness you’ve come to know and love is then topped with a crackling ceiling of melted sugary sweetness, turning what was once considered a side dish into the main event.

Dominick’s

8715 Beverly Blvd. West Hollywood, CA 90048(310) 652-2335 dominicksrestaurant.com

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I’ve been to Dominick’s twice now, with about 10 years in between those two visits and not much has changed. It’s still just very mediocre Italian food and a waste of your money and time. Especially when there are so many better Italian options in the city (Capo, Via Veneto, Piccolo, Valentino…). But since most of the great Italian is on the West side, I suppose Dominick’s has its place in a pinch. Granted I’d still take Villa Blanca in Beverly Hills over Dominick’s any day, but enough of the woulda, coulda, shoulda- If you go, be sure to get a table in the garden at the back, it’s much nicer than the inside. No need to add insult to paccheri.

Of my two-time sampling, the soft polenta with black truffles proved far and way to be the best thing on the menu and the only thing I would ever dare use a word more effusive than “good.”  The spaghetti and meatballs was a very distant second clocking in at one notch past average. Everything else from arancini to artichokes, was a big ole C average.

There was, however, one other exception on the dessert menu, the pear fritter/begniets were pretty solid. But other than that, the rest of the desserts were back to blahsville. Oh, and as for that pic above, that’s their crawfish boil, and I must admit, it does looks pretty damn tasty. Not sure how Italian it is, but people seem to swear by it, so perhaps I’ve just been ordering wrong? guess I’ll have to find out when I return to Dominick in another 10 years.

2 teeth