Birthday at Bestia, Dinners at Chez Emily, The Hart and the Hunter & The Coconut Club


When you look at these pictures, you’re not going to believe me when I tell you I’ve been on a bit of a health and fitness kick lately. That’s right: five days a week at the gym, salads, chicken breasts, the works. My strategy, though, is to reward myself on weekends and birthdays and at dinner parties–haha, I know you’re rolling your eyes–which is how I can justify what you’re about to see. Because last week I turned 35 and Craig surprised me with dinner at a restaurant I’ve been dying to try ever since I first heard about it: Bestia in downtown L.A.

The whole night was a surprise, actually, starting with drinks at the new Ace Hotel, also downtown. The view from the rooftop bar is pretty spectacular:


And this drink that I had, with coconut milk and chiles and lime juice, was unbelievably good and refreshing:


Then it was off to Bestia, which is kind of tucked away down a dark alley. Walking inside, though, you feel like you’re entering a night club, the room is exploding with so much energy.


Craig scored us seats at the pizza counter which was pretty entertaining, watching these guys at work:


The first thing that we ate was this taste of steak a waiter mysteriously served us:


It’s pretty weird to start a meal with a piece of steak like this but I kind of liked the outrageousness of it. And man, was that good: perfectly cooked and everything.

Then came another decadent treat, grilled bread topped with lardo. Oh man:


Then more meat in the form of meatballs. What was going on here?


Ah, a salad with nicely roasted beets:


But don’t let the healthfulness of that deceive you, here comes my favorite dish of the night: braised tongue.


I love that whole presentation, such a meaty, gamey dish topped with such a light array of herbs. It’s brilliant.

Then, of course, we had to have the charcuterie platter:


What a stunning presentation this was with the multi-colored carrots, the positively glistening mound of chicken livers (cooked with something sweet, Port?) on grilled bread, the head cheese, salami, duck prosciutto and a mustard made with radish tops, I think, or was it fennel greens? This place is unreal.

At this point, I could’ve waved a white flag, I was so full. But we hadn’t received our entrees yet and Craig and I each ordered pasta. Mine was a stinging nettle affair with stinging nettles in the pasta dough and fried stinging nettles on top, plus a meaty ragu:


Craig had the hand-rolled cavatelli with sausage:


You’ll be relieved to know we only ate a little of these and had the rest packed up to take home. For dessert, though, I had to have something, so I ordered a frozen lemon tart that came topped with whipped cream and a broken up meringue…a genius touch, really. Oh and a candle:


Bestia is inarguably an amazing restaurant, one that’s built for feasting and special occasions. I can’t wait for another occasion (Earth Day? My Bar Mitzvah anniversary?) to go back.

A few days later, Craig’s manager, and our friend, Emily, invited us over to her place for dinner. Here she is hard at work:


What’s she cooking up? Why, marinated flank steak that she served with a Bloody Mary tomato salad and a horseradish cream (recipe from Food & Wine):


Look at that presentation! And she did all that after work.

For dessert, it was macerated strawberries and an ice cream sandwich:


Well done, Emily!

Ok, now we’ll skip backwards in time for a meal we shared with our friends Jim and Jess at The Hart and the Hunter, a Southern restaurant hidden inside the PaliHotel.


Can you spot Jim mugging for the camera? I think you can!

As a former Atlanta resident, I was delighted by the food at the Hart and the Hunter. It’s Southern comfort with a sophisticated edge. We started with this fried chicken skin, something I’ve made before, crunchy and amazingly delicious:


Then it was the pickle plate; the pickled green tomatoes had a really unique flavor, almost clove-like:


Of course, we had to have the biscuits. Everyone who’s been to The Hart and the Hunter tells you to get the biscuits, and for good reason. They’re served hot out of the oven–with pimento cheese and blackberry preserves and honey–and they’re pretty hard not to love:


We all enjoyed this refreshing kale salad:


And this dish of smoked trout on toast; well the toast is on the side:


Entree-wise, there was steak with something fried on top (mushrooms? oysters? I don’t think I had one):


And a NOLA-style shrimp boil, which was big on flavor:


For dessert, we enjoyed the Lemon Ice Box pie and something chocolatey in the background:


This is Southern comfort food at its best; we’re lucky to have it here in L.A.

Finally, my friend Andy Windak of the blog Wind Attack hosted a pop-up dinner this past Sunday at a warehouse in downtown L.A.


He called the dinner The Coconut Club; here he is introducing it:


The style was “tropical kitsch”–think Tiki Bar–and tropical kitsch definitely presented itself with the first course: a skewer with regular pineapple, dried pineapple, pine-flavored apple (oy!) and a white gummy bear:


Drinks were by Nathan Hazard and Elana Lepkowski, including this yummy one served in a coconut:


My favorite bite of the night may have been this Hawaiian sweet bread with pineapple butter:


There was also a pupu platter with coconut-braised yam (yum), a rice-flour fried chicken wing (eh) and a duck bun (very good):


(Check out that presentation: there’s a mni-tiki torch that Andy made himself the night before!)

Here was a witty dish, Chicken Tikka Marsala (get it?):


A salad of farmer’s market pea tendrils and a smoked octopus:


And a surf and turf entree with steak and sea urchin on top:


The dessert was pretty spectacular, presentation-wise. It was a Pineapple Inside Out Volcano; here’s Andy lighting it on fire:


And here’s the dessert on the table all aflame:


For someone in their 20s (I think Andy’s in his 20s) to pull off a meal like this was nothing short of remarkable. I feel like his next step has to be interning at a great restaurant like Manresa or Coi (he’s totally self-taught!) so he can fine-tune his skills, work on the little details, and become a serious player in the world of cooking. If he does that, I bet you anything you’ll be reading about him in Food & Wine some day.

And that, my friends, is all the food I’ll be burning off on a treadmill right now while I watch The Barefoot Contessa! Wish me luck. I think I’ll have to run for 16 hours straight.

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