Tasting Kitchen

1633 Abbot Kinney Blvd. Venice, CA 90291(310) 392-6644thetastingkitchen.com

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One of my favorites in LA. Great décor. Great food. Great drinks. Great service. Which is a lot of greats. And why Tasting Kitchen is a home run no matter what you’re looking for. Dinner or drinks with a friend, a fun date night, it’s nice enough to take a client for dinner and it’s even casual enough to take your kids, mostly because the staff keeps it down to earth, unlike that blowhard next door, AKA G. Jelina. Speaking of which, since Tasting Kitchen is also right on Abbot Kinney, it makes a wonderful plan B should you not be able to get a table G. Jelina, which is probably all for the best since I like Tasting Kitchen better anyway.

Just about everything I’ve ever had there falls somewhere between good and awesome sauce. From the wonderfully fresh oysters to the simple, but brilliant pastas to a killer steak. everything walked that perfect line between inventive and effortless. And while I am tempted to call them a jack of all trades, it would actually be a bit of a slight, because they are better than that. So I’m going with a queen of all trades. Sorry, I can’t go king, but that would be an over promise, after all, there were no Ultimates. But perhaps that’s just a matter of time, because I can’t wait to go back.

4 teeth

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The Ultimate Salad

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Cocoon – Cannes, FR

With its warm goat cheese pastry wrapped in a wonderfully flaky filo dough and caramelized apples on top, it’s more like a dessert than it is a salad I suppose, but with such fresh greens and tomatoes, it somehow manages to pull itself back out of the pigeon hole and land firmly in the middle of magnifique!

L&W Oyster Co. – New York, NY

As I may have stated before, I’m not a huge fan of fried oysters. I much prefer them in the raw or roasted state. In fact, there’s only one other place that has ever made we swoon over the fried variety, Pearl Oyster Bar. But hats off to L&W, because this salad is so good- so beefed up with unsalad-like ingredients that you might even question if it’s a salad. But then again, why spoil the mood?

Three Square – Venice, CA

By now I’m guessing you’re starting to see a theme here as not one of these salads are a usual suspect, but that’s not to say that I don’t appreciate a good, all vegetable salad. I do. But when you compare that to the likes of a perfectly cooked, medium rare rib-eye, sliced over mesclun, with crumbled goat cheese, grapes and roasted pine nuts- there’s no contest!

5 teeth

Gjelina

1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd. Venice, CA 90291(310) 450-1429 • gjelina.com

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I’ve been here a few times- once before the hype and a couple after, and I have to say, I liked it a lot more before the hype. Not just because of the difficulty it now takes to get in, but more because of the pompous attitude that now comes along with it. Service is flat out terrible and unfortunately the food isn’t even worth the abuse. I say walk up the street to Tasting Kitchen for dinner or down to 3 Square for lunch or brunch. The food and service are better at both and the décor at Tasting Kitchen is every bit as cool, albeit different.

I would get into describing the food, but if you still want to go here I’m assuming it’s for reasons other than eating, for example you are a masochist.

2 teeth

The Ultimate Caprese Salad

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Jeans Georges – New York, NY

I know a lot of people find this place very hit and miss, but for us it was more of a grand slam. So many great dishes. And among those was one very simple classic, done with such an inventive culinary twist it left an enduring impression. Obviously in such a basic dish ingredients are key, so let’s just assume they were impeccable. But what one shouldn’t assume is that it was just tomato, basil and mozz, because you’d only be 33% right. It starts with a gigantic beefsteak tomato. Gigantic in both size and flavor. But then, it is topped with a layer of finely crumbled feta. And on top of that, raspberries? Now, of course there was also a wonderful oil and balsamic. And, there might’ve even been finely chopped basil to brighten the berries. But whatever it was, the one thing it wasn’t was forgettable.

Piccolo – Venice, CA

On a presentation level alone I have to tip my hat to Piccolo, because they break the mold and throw out the plate when it comes to their caprese. Served upright as a parfait, this tower of Summer bliss leaves nothing to be desired. And what may at first seem like a gimmick quickly translates to sheer oral pandemonium as its flavors ping pong around your mouth like the gold medal round of Olympic table tennis.

Capo – Santa Monica, CA

This is the most traditional of the lot, but even Capo takes a slight detour from the norm, opting for a ridiculously creamy burrata in lieu of your standard mozz. The tomatoes are also something special. A medley of heirloom in a host of flavors, shapes and colors ranging from sweet to meaty to “no, I’m not sharing.”

Piccolo

5 Dudley Ave. Venice, CA 90291(310) 314-3222 • piccolovenice.com

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Move over Capo, Valentino’s and Georgio’s. There’s, well, technically not a “new” game, but “new to me” game in town.

Decor is clean and simple. Basically dark wood and white.  The service, and particularly our waiter, was very authentic and very passionate about the restaurant’s offerings. So passionate that I think it took nearly 30 minutes for him to explain the burrata caprese alone. That said, the burrata caprese is phenomenal. So inventive. Easily the best I’ve ever had.

Another incredible dish is the tagliatelle with venison ragu. Seasoned with cinnamon and clove. Such incredible flavors layered in every bite. It was truly masterful and like nothing I’ve ever had, before or since.

Some other solid dishes were the carbonara with quail egg and the seared scallops with truffles. But while very good, they just weren’t at the same level as the first two.

And then came dessert. A make or break for 5 stars. And with me not typically being a fan of Italian desserts, save the cannoli, an improbable task to say the least. But Piccolo delivered. Two different desserts rocked my world. The dark chocolate gold leaf cake was insane. So intensely rich, but not overdone. Handled with complete elegance on the palate. And the crowd favorite, the chocolate cream filled pastry balls. Sort of a variation on a profiterole. Like a bomb of chocolaty, creamy goodness exploding in your mouth.

I think I’m in amore.

5 teeth

The Ultimate Pasta Dish

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Piccolo – Venice, CA

Unlike the other pastas on this list, Piccolo’s Venison, Clove and Cinnamon Pasta is a bit on the wintery side. And after the insanely brutal winter we just endured I’m sure about half of you just skipped to the next one. Well, your loss. This pasta is truly something special. And unique. I haven’t had anything like it anywhere. Nor have I ever even seen it on a menu since. But I can tell you this, shitty winter or not, next time I’m at Piccolo, I’m getting it again.

Capo – Santa Monica, CA

The Quattro Fromaggi is like a pillowcase stuffed with dreams. Only the case is made of pasta and the dreams are made from four of the creamiest cheeses to ever explode in your mouth. It’s literally as if fireworks made of cheese are putting on a show for your taste buds. And it’s about a dozen other metaphors I could think of as well, but some of them are sexual and gross, so perhaps the single most compelling thing I can say is this: One time my wife couldn’t make the trip to LA with me, so I begged the chef to vacuum seal an order of the pasta, so I could fly back with it and she could have it at home. Yes, it’s THAT good. And yes, I remind her of that every time I do something stupid… So about once a day.

NoMad – New York, NY

The crab pasta is so deceptively simple that you’ll likely overlook it on the menu. Well, that is, unless you heed my advice. So what makes this pasta all that? Balance. Proportions. It is a clinic on the alchemy of cooking, made effortless by the way its impeccable ingredients come together. The spicy hit from the black pepper. The acidity from the lemon. The tender, meaty, saltiness of the crabmeat. And the starchy, crunchy bed of al dente pasta. It’s simply divine.

Osteria – Philadelphia, PA

You won’t find it on the menu, which only makes it that much more fun to order, because you’ll impress anyone else at the table who’s not in the know. And impress them you will, because it’s easily the best thing they make. Now, for some of you, here’s the rub. It’s chicken liver pasta. But wait, wait, wait! It’s friggin’ awesome chicken liver pasta. So rich and savory. I mean if there was ever a time to give chicken livers their day in court, this is it.

Manzo – New York, NY

It’s not often that you come across a pasta that can hold its own in the company of steak and pork belly. But the anglionotti at Manzo does so quite handily. As if the juices from a perfectly cooked rib eye were somehow magically injected into the dumplings, so when you bite into them, it’s that exact same sensation you get when you bite into a wonderful, medium rare cut. Bellissimo!