Top Chef Season 13 aired its first episode on December 2, 2015. If you’re not familiar with this popular series, the premise is simple. A selected number of chefs face a variety of cooking challenges that test their skill and ingenuity, and one individual is voted off at the end of each episode. For its 13th season, Top Chef journeyed to California including stops in Los Angeles and San Diego.
California is known, among other things, for its mild weather, easy-going lifestyle and innovative cuisine. Some “cheftestants” from current and past seasons have made The Golden State their home and opened eateries that reflect their passion, creativity and vision.
Here then is a whirlwind foodie tour of Southern California featuring some popular attractions, upscale accommodations, and great places to eat.
The San Fernando Valley is a good starting place to begin your visit to LA, and The Garland Hotel (www.thegarland.com/) in North Hollywood is an excellent choice for luxury accommodations. After undergoing an extensive $20 million renovation, this property has been redesigned into a 70s-style retro hotel that showcases “classic California architecture.”Once owned by the late screen actress Beverly Garland, the hotel has garnered some major accolades of late, including being ranked #5 out of 15 Top Hotels in Los Angeles from the 2015 Conde Nast Readers Awards.
The property has all the amenities you would expect and an indoor/outdoor restaurant called The Front Yard which features some excellent cuisine and libations.
Spend the day exploring some of LA’s major attractions including Universal Studios, City Walk, NoHo Arts District, and the Hollywood Bowl. An authentic on-site trolley offers free rides to the LA Metro and Universal/City Walk. The latter is a neon-lit food, shopping, and entertainment extravaganza.
If you have never had a Pink’s hot dog, you are in for a treat as there is an outlet here. There are several types of “dogs” on the menu, and after one bite of any of them you’ll know why this eatery, founded way back in 1939 by Paul and Betty Pink and now run by their grandchildren, is a Los Angeles institution (www.pinkshollywood.com).
Here are a couple of dining options located a short distance from The Garland:
Barrel & Ashes
11801 Ventura Blvd.
Studio City, CA 91604
Chef-owners Timothy Hollingsworth and Rory Hermann, together with Chef de Cuisine Michael Kahikina and mixologist Julian Cox have created a Southern-style barbecue lover’s paradise in the San Fernando Valley.
Barrel & Ashes has a mouth-watering menu that will turn many a vegetarian into a carnivore if given half the chance. You can choose from tender meats slow-smoked over California Red Oak including brisket (cooked 16-18 hours), spare ribs, sausage, chicken, pulled pork, and pork roast. Sourcing is paramount to good tasting food and the owners make a point of obtaining some of the best products from Mary’s Free Range Chicken, Salmon Creek Farms, and Greater Omaha beef.
Bring your appetite because there are several delicacies on the menu you’ll want to try. Start with a snack such as “Frito Pie” or the “Hush Puppies.” Their “Kale Caesar Salad” with almonds, parmesan and croutons is out of this world and might make you a fan of this leafy vegetable. Our table couldn’t get enough and enjoyed this as much as the barbecue. Be sure to look at their vast drinks selection as well.
The Gadarene Swine
11266 Ventura Blvd
Studio City, CA 91604
Owned and operated by Phillip Frankland Lee, one of Top Chef Season 13’s “cheftestants,” The Gadarene Swine serves vegan-friendly cuisine.
Lee features a 7-12 course tasting menu along with wine pairings. Visually, Lee sees himself as an artist creating an edible masterpiece on a plate, using simple vegetables and combining spices like turmeric, ginger, and honey to create flavorful sensations which he believes even many meat eaters will love.
One of his most popular dishes is “Blackened Cauliflower.” He starts with a base of cauliflower puree, then layers the dish with roasted cauliflower (including colorful stems), lemon and red onions soaked in lime juice, sea salt, and tops it off with pistachios.
After you’ve had breakfast, whether at The Garland or a nearby eatery, head over the hill to West Hollywood to start a full day of sightseeing and culinary exploration.
8800 Sunset Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90069
For lunch, why not plan on Estrella, one of the latest restaurants to open in the competitive LA scene? At the helm is Top Chef Season 9 “cheftestant” Dakota Weiss, who, together with partners Alan Nathan and Brett Nestadt have created a culinary haven in the middle of the busy Sunset Strip.
Estrella was designed as a nostalgic throwback to the Bohemian bungalow culture that was all the rage in the Hollywood Hills along Laurel Canyon in the 60s and 70s. Hippies and counterculture types hung out here, with the music of Joni Mitchell and “Mama” Cass Elliot filling the airwaves.
Chef Weiss has taken great care in developing each menu item, with taste-tantalizing variations of classic dishes. Her “Peking Duck Cobb Salad,” for instance, substitutes succulent duck for chicken, an unexpected but tender and tasty surprise for most.
Other popular dishes include “Roasted Bone Marrow with Confit Quail,” “Sliced Figs and Turkey Chorizo” with pomegranates and mint, and “Sous Vide Hanger Steak” with orange habanero chimichurri, and arugula.
After lunch, take a stroll over to the revitalized Hollywood Blvd. and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. This is spread along 15 blocks and features terrazzo and brass stars embedded into the concrete, each one honoring one of more than 2,500 actors, directors, costumers, and other luminaries from the entertainment industry.
Once you’ve found the stars you’ve been looking for (and you can find out who has a star and where it at www.walkoffame.com/starfinder, catch a movie at the historic TCL Chinese Theater (formerly Grauman’s Chinese Theatre), also on the Walk of Fame. The first movie to debut here was Cecil B. Demille’s film King of Kings in 1927, and for more modern events, three Academy Awards ceremonies have been held here!
Prior to dinner, take a walk to the completely restored Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. This landmark has seen more than its share of celebrities over the years including Marilyn Monroe, Carol Lombard, Clark Gable, and many others. Most recently, the hotel hosted Bravo’s Top Chef Season 13 “cheftestants” who completed a food challenge near the iconic Hollywood sign.
Stop in at their Library Bar, an intimate space with wood-paneled walls, plush seating, and dim lighting. Rather than have a set menu, their mixologist creates cocktails just for you from a variety of fruits, vegetables, and spirits.
1634 N. Cahuenga Blvd.
Los Angeles, 90028
Birch, located within walking distance of the Roosevelt Hotel is the perfect place for dinner.
Chef Brendan Collins has applied his extensive restaurant experience from England and Los Angeles to make this chic eatery a place which customers will come to again and again.
Start with his delicious “Chicken Liver & Foie Gras Mousse” with port wine jelly, toast, and cranberries, then choose from a variety of flavor-intense entrees such as “Rabbit Baklava” with dates, white beans, pistachios and carrots.
Check out of the Garland and hop on the freeway towards Orange County and your next stop, the City of Irvine, a planned community with some 200,000 inhabitants. This will just be a foodie lunch break on your way to San Diego but one you will enjoy.
Twenty-Eight Dine + Drink
19530 Jamboree Rd.
Irvine, CA 92612
The restaurant known as “Twenty Eight” is owned by Top Chef Season 11 finalist Shirley Chung’s and showcases her concept of “modern American cuisine with a Chinese soul.” Chung creates her global flavors and cuisines and presents them in a fun, approachable way.
For lunch, she offers small and large plates in a bright and informal atmosphere. Her “Twice-Cooked Pork Belly Buns” are one of the most popular items and a popular starter. Entrees include her not-to-be-missed “Lemongrass Marinated Hanger Steak” with roasted potatoes, garden greens, and citrus garlic sauce.
Artfully plated, each dish seems to have a playful element such as her
“Good Fortune” dessert. This comes in a goblet with a crackable sugar cap and is a confection of dark chocolate mousse, coconut geleé, chocolate wafer, curry croquant, and an edible fortune with some rather creative sayings.
Enjoy your drive along the coast on your way to San Diego and your next suggested accommodation, the AAA Four-Diamond Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa (http://estancialajolla.com/).
La Jolla is an affluent suburb of the city and this property is located just a short distance from such major attractions as Sea World, The San Diego Zoo, and Balboa Park.
If you arrive on a weekend, be sure to make your way to Little Italy to enjoy their Farmers Market for locally-grown produce, homemade foods, and a fun, relaxing atmosphere.
Afterward, book a spot on a Brew Hop tour (brewhop.com) where you can take a tour of a variety of craft breweries and sample some of San Diego County’s best brews. Incredibly, this is one city that is on the cutting edge of the industry, with more than 150 breweries!
Some of these such as Ballast Point Brewing Co., Alesmith Brewing Co., and Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens-Liberty Station are well known, with the latter being one of the top ten largest craft breweries in the United States.
San Diego has some excellent dining possibilities but here are two that have a great vibe and will excite your palate:
Juniper and Ivy
2228 Kettner Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92101
Serving “refined American food with a left coast edge,” this restaurant is run by Executive Chef Richard Blais, one of Top Chef Season 13’s guest judges.
One of the newest dining spots in San Diego, Juniper and Ivy has al fresco dining with an informal ambiance. The open kitchen is a whirlwind of activity and the large staff seems to have service down to an efficient science.
Their “Deviled Eggs” are unlike any you have had elsewhere, with egg white meringue, yolk mousse, and mustard caviar seed. If you are a seafood fan, try the “Fanny Bay Oysters” which come to your table as culinary art complete with its own steamy environment courtesy of some liquid nitrogen.
Everyone in our group was also raving about their “San Diego Chicken,” roasted chicken breast with brie bread pudding and king trumpet mushrooms. The combination of the crispy skin combined with the tenderness of the poultry had us ordering seconds.
2259 Avenida De La Playa
La Jolla, CA 92037
With his love of Mexican food and culture, Executive Chef and partner Trey Foshee is the creative inspiration behind the flavor-filled dishes at Galaxy Taco.
As you peruse the menu you will see items that are familiar (“Chicken Enchiladas”, for example) as well as some with a gourmet twist such as the “Grilled Octopus Tostada” with bean puree, avocado, tomato, and burnt orange-habanero salsa.
One of the standouts here is actually their soft tortillas which are all made from scratch using non-GMO heirloom corn. These come warm with a slight sweetness and in my humble opinion, were the best tortillas I have ever had, including in Mexico.
Of course, what would Mexican food be without tequila and you can choose from several varieties as well as specialty drinks and beers.
When you are done with your meal, take a 5-minute walk to La Jolla Shores. What better way to end your culinary tour of Southern California than to relax after your delicious meal as you watch the sunset over the Pacific Ocean?