One of my favorite parts about living in Southern California is the abundance of incredible food. From fine dining to taco stands, we have it all. With so many hungry foodies in this city, there is a constant demand for new food concepts, so there's never a shortage of fresh restaurants to try. When a cluster of hot restaurants open up, my favorite thing to do is what I call a dinner hop; think a food version of bar hopping. Because Los Angeles is so vast, I like to choose one neighborhood and dine at two to three restaurants in the same night, enjoying a few shared plates at each. I’ve compiled a list of five of my favorite exotic dishes in and around DTLA. They are each unique, delicious, and they showcase some of the fascinating dining experiences in Los Angeles.
Lamb Tartare at Bavel
Bavel is a new Middle Eastern restaurant in the booming Arts District, headed by chefs Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis, who also run the ever popular rustic Italian restaurant, Bestia. The food at Bavel draws inspiration from the rich flavors of Israeli, Moroccan, Turkish, and Egyptian cultures. Bavel features an open layout in a historic brick warehouse with a bright ambiance accented by lush open skylights and hanging green ivy. It's a gorgeous space to dine and would be perfect for a stylish girls' night out meal. I loved my visit here; everything I dined on had a burst of intense flavor! My favorite dish of the evening was the lamb tartare; served over a charred onion crème fraîche with mint leaves, toasted sesame seeds, pickled chives and a light dusting of cinnamon. It was accompanied with a chili oil slathered laffa, and pita bread. This was an amazing version of the French steak tartare, full of complex flavors that when tucked into a warm piece of laffa, formed the perfect bite.
Frog Legs at Here’s Looking At You
Here’s Looking At You is an inventive, fusion restaurant in Koreatown, just minutes outside Downtown LA. The restaurant is sleek yet quirky, with contemporary furniture alongside taxidermy antelopes, rows of books, and other whimsical knick knacks. The cuisine is just as mystifying, with exotic items like blood cake, cow’s tongue, and frog legs. Here’s Looking At You executes their dishes with skill and a great balance of flavors. Their use of spice and acid is key to their fusion concept, which combines Asian, Latin, and American flavors with surprising ease. Their frog leg dish is what keeps me coming back. It pairs juicy fried frog legs with a fiery blend of chili oil, lime juice, scallions, and raw sliced peppers. While dining on frog legs might sound bizarre to some, I assure you that this dish, along with a cocktail from their impressive Tiki menu, is the perfect snack!
Lamb Belly at Redbird
Redbird is a gorgeous restaurant in the Historic Core, tucked away inside the magnificent Cathedral of Saint Vibiana. The building was erected as a parish in 1876, and with it’s stunning Roman architecture, the space alone is worth visiting. It's interior is warm and inviting, with mid century furniture accents and bright pops of color throughout. It’s a trendy place to enjoy a cocktail and a great meal! Their menu stays constant with slight variations through the seasons and on my most recent trip, I couldn’t get enough of the lamb belly dish. Tender lamb served atop socca, a griddled chickpea cake, and accompanied by dollops of roasted eggplant and red pepper purees, pickled walnuts and crisp cucumber and red onion. Getting all those elements in one bite was a must! The creaminess of the socca and the purees was perfectly accented by the crunch of the nuts and raw vegetables. I’ll definitely be back for this tasty lamb belly dish.
Foie Gras Funnel Cake at Otium
Otium is an impressive restaurant next to the Broad Museum in Bunker Hill. The space is striking. It’s black steel and wooden frame is surrounded by a large courtyard of olive trees and has a backdrop of the bright, undulating exterior of the Broad. The interior is just as bold with floor to ceiling windows and accents of mixed metals, stone, and wood. The food is refined; everything is carefully executed. My visit was fantastic, but the highlight of my meal was the last course, the foie gras funnel cake. This was an elegant dish that featured an item usually reserved for amusement parks or county fairs, an odd pairing that worked so well. The crisp funnel cake was brushed with a balsamic glaze, topped with crunchy fennel, strawberries, and creamy foie gras mousse. Heaven! I would suggest this to anyone who is a lover of sweet and savory pairings. I’ll definitely be ordering this dish again.
Corn Mousse at NoMad
The ambitious renovation of the 1920’s era building, Gianni’s Place, has reopened as the dazzling NoMad Hotel located in the Financial District, and it’s been bustling since its launch in January. I for one can’t get enough of this spectacular gem. I could sit in awe of the sumptuous interiors featuring a jewel toned lounge with ornate, coffered ceilings, Corinthian columns, and an all around regal vibe. I would encourage anyone to visit for a cocktail, but if you can snag a reservation in the lobby or mezzanine, do it! The hotel’s cuisine is helmed by acclaimed chef Daniel Humm, so a meal at the Nomad will be the hottest ticket in town for months to come. I’ve enjoyed dishes both in their lounge and on their rooftop, and while their burger is always to die for, and their sea urchin crepes are little bites of heaven, my most recent visit introduced me to a corn mousse that was simply divine. The mousse was richly flavored with sweet corn and bonito, which are Japanese fermented tuna flakes. The mousse was tucked under kernels of fresh corn, topped with an ample amount of plump trout roe, and finished with chive blossoms. This dish had a wonderful balance of sweetness from the corn and umami from the bonito. It left me wanting more!