LA + PDX
We spent last week on vacation on the West Coast — first with our friends Becky and Robert in LA and then with Darcy’s family outside of Portland. Freezing weather aside, we had a great and relaxing time. Here are the food and drink highlights. No, we are not paid spokespeople for the Ace Hotel — we just like the place a ton, ironically except for the one back home in New York.
3 Square is my kind of place — simple and modern, with a menu full of vegetable sides and German beers. I had the perfect cafe dinner — a crabcake on a roll with sweet potato fries. Great way to start our trip.
Where there are hip people and old buildings, there are new and trendy farm-to-table restaurants. Williamsburg, the Pearl District and downtown LA are full of them. Many proudly wear the vestiges of their former function, be it warehouse, factory, jewelry store or bank. Nearly all have chalkboards, repurposed furniture and light bulbs in construction cages. Most have good things like craft beers, bourbon drinks, bar snacks and vegetable sides. A few approach Portlandia, calling the menu a bill of fare, making you read more footnotes than a law review and dressing staff like extras in Boardwalk Empire.
Laurel Hardware in West Hollywood is proof not only that the industrial farm-to-table trend retains some sanity, but also that there is great pizza on the West Coast. Hey New Yorkers, it’s not the water. Laurel Hardware is a repurposed hardware store that looks airy and industrial and has all the buzz you expect in the new venture of a well-pedigreed local chef — Mario Alberto, formerly of Lazy Ox and Chimu. And that pizza. It’s thin, chewy, crisp on bottom and topped with well-charred eggplant and summer squash and gobs of burrata. Burrata is mozzarella injected with cream, which is just as delicious as it sounds.
French bistro in a former Nabisco loading dock downtown. I had the best dish of our trip — a long, skinny plate of farro, chopped mushrooms and roasted root vegetables, topped with a perfectly round and runny poached egg. I wish I could poach like that.
Son of a Gun is one of the hottest restaurants in LA and the second smash hit for Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, after Animal. The authors of Two Dudes, One Pan are known for simple, slightly in-your-face cooking, whether hoof-to-tail, like Animal, or seafood, like Son of a Gun. That all said, we had a surprisingly easy time getting a seat on both our visits here.
This time, we drove to West Hollywood for drinks after dinner elsewhere (white pizza with truffle oil at the mall in Santa Monica – yum). We stuck our heads into Ink, which is highly hyped and very trendy, styled in the mold of Animal and Lazy Ox in LA, Beast in Portland or the Breslin in New York — big, fatty, haute comfort food with a rock and roll attitude. We weren’t too impressed — it was half empty, with a dull, contemporary decor. Not much rock and roll there. So we hoofed it to trusty Son of a Gun a few blocks away. I love the kitchy maritime theme, and we scored two seats at bar. I was impressed to see penecillin on the menu — it’s a cocktail with scotch, ginger and lemon made famous at Milk and Honey in New York, usually an off-the-menu order elsewhere. Theirs was spot on, and I finished with a refreshing beer shandy. Oh, and smoked mahi dip, despite not being hungry.
I’ll go back to Son of a Gun any time I’m in LA. Did I mention that they serve amazing fish and chips (from last year’s visit)?
Darcy and I have a thing for the Ace Hotel — we’ve eaten a few time at Clyde Common in Portland (see below), stayed at the Ace in Seattle and braved the crowds to get a single drink in the lobby in New York. Palm Springs is my new favorite, a converted Howard Johnson’s and Denny’s in a gorgeous location, a desert flush against mountains. The Amigo Room screams roadhouse — a dark and slightly sinister bar, although in this case the sinister is ironic. It would be a good place for a UFO full of hipsters to grab a drink after crash landing in the desert. We had the place nearly to ourselves for a few good beers and left hoping to go back to Ace in the summer – the day was freezing.
Last trip to Portland, Darcy and I took a day trip to taste wine in Dundee, not far from city. This year was all about beer — we visited three breweries or tasting rooms in Hood River (Full Sail, Double Mountain and Phriem) and a few more in Portland (Rogue and Deschutes). Pfriem was our favorite by far. Launched in 2012, it serves only Belgian beers and does not ship to east coast. We drank a flight that showed you can make a Belgian beer in nearly any style — session, amber, traditional dark and even IPA. Too bad you can’t carry beer on a plane — we did make all the guys in Darcy’s family happy with growlers.
If I lived in Portland, I’d stop by Clyde Common every week. It’s just a great gastropub, with seasonal and unpretentious bar food, awesome cocktails and a happy hour that makes me extra glad to be on vacation. The place nails comfort food — truffled popcorn, simple kale salad, grilled cheese and crispy Brussels sprouts. That said, I was disappointed with my first brunch there — poached eggs floating in an absurd amount of oil, served with truly nothing on side, not even toast. And kind of a pouty attitude all around. Next time I am sticking to happy hour.