If one of the resolutions you’ve made for the new year is to try new things, then your January agenda is looking mighty bright. You have plenty of palate-pleasing adventures ahead of you, thanks to Dine L.A. (Jan. 18–31) and San Francisco Restaurant Week (Jan. 20–31), which return to the two cities that have made California the vibrant dining capital it is today (and why Bravo’s “Top Chef” has dedicated its current season to touring the Golden State). In Los Angeles, over 300 restaurants are participating in Dine L.A., and over 100 are participating throughout San Francisco and the Bay Area. Special fixed-price lunch and dinner menus give chefs a chance to experiment with unique, new flavor profiles and truly showcase their signature dishes, while diners get a chance to enjoy them at discounted rates. As always, these restaurant weeks are an awesome opportunity for local food lovers to take their taste buds on a two-week journey through some of the best culinary experiences their towns have to offer.
Let’s take a look at some of the newest restaurants and dishes you won’t want to miss as you eat your way up and down the West Coast this month. (Don’t leave near SF or LA? Jump to the end for a list of 10 other Restaurant Weeks happening throughout the state from San Diego up to South Lake Tahoe).
Mama Shelter L.A.
Attached to the new Mama Shelter boutique hotel, this is not your typical hotel bar and restaurant. This fun new spot has a trendy, yet still timeless, vibe of a European café you might find in the heart of Hollywood. If you’re going for the lunch menu, try the Le Royale wagyu burger with Mama’s cottage fries. For dinner, you’ll want to go the classic route with fried chicken and waffles topped with buttermilk dressing.
From European café vibes to South American-style eateries, the best part about restaurant week is the eclectic mix of cuisines you can find and sample all over town. At barcito, you’ll enjoy a cozy, Argentine-style bar offering small plates and tasty cocktails. The first course of tapas offered on the Dine L.A. menu includes the cleverly named ñoiquis; its cross-cultural spin on the classic Italian dish gnocchi — ricotta-potato dumplings served with pistachio pesto — sounds like pure happiness. For your second course, you can’t go wrong with the asado — braised shortrib, sunchokes and chimichurri.
No, you didn’t just accidentally stumble into an episode of the show “Mad Men,” although the swanky midcentury-modern décor at Viviane, located in the iconic Avalon Hotel in Beverly Hills, might have you feeling that way sometimes. And after one (or two) 1950s-inspired cocktails at the bar, you might even believe it. At Chef Michael Hung’s new restaurant (named Esquire magazine’s Best New Restaurant), you’ll get to choose among shareables that include a foie gras mousse and filet mignon carpaccio. For dessert, indulge in Chef Hung’s selection of handmade cookies, including double chocolate, black sesame and candied ginger.
At Plant Food + Wine, “seasonal” and “local” aren’t just hip buzzwords. This restaurant actually maintains its very own onsite edible garden. How’s that for locally grown? Its exciting approach to plant-based (i.e., vegan) food is about community as much as it is health-conscious eating. Chef Scott Winegard’s Dine L.A. dinner menu lets you choose among vegetable starters of roasted cauliflower, delicate squash or Brussels sprouts, followed by a main course choice of squash-chanterelle ravioli, seared millet “polenta” or a wild mushroom-freekeh bowl.
And for dessert — dispelling any false stereotypes about vegans not knowing how to have a good time — there’s apple cobbler with sweet potato frozen yogurt, ginger crumble and caramel. Now, that sounds like fun.
San Francisco, not to be outdone by their more populous frenemies to the south, boasting its proximity to fresh seafood and a dogged commitment to organic and locally sourced ingredients, has two weeks of its own offering world class fixed-price cuisine.
An aatxe (pronounced ahh-CHAY) is a cave-dwelling spirit in Basque folk mythology known to adopt the form of a young red bull and to emerge under the cover of night to wreak havoc on the wicked. That sounds terrifying. Aatxe, the restaurant, is a delightful new San Francisco eatery featuring Spanish-style tapas with influence from the old Basque Country. Over the next two weeks, we hope you’re lucky enough to experience the latter!
Classic California rock band The Byrds once said, “To everything, there is a season.” At AQ, this axiom holds especially true, with a menu and restaurant décor that change, corresponding with the season. Keeping with the theme, its Restaurant Week menu starts you off with a dish of winter carrots with smoky bleu cheese and chestnuts. Then, we wish you luck in deciding between a choice of flatiron steak with salt-baked turnips or the local trout in bagna cauda. No doubt, the time to enjoy these wintery dishes is now — before the seasons “turn, turn, turn.”
If you love dining out, you are probably familiar (or overly familiar) with the British-inspired concept of the gastropub restaurant. Well, think of the brasserie as the cool, slightly more refined Belgian cousin of the gastropub. A Belgian-style brasserie takes the classic beer-and-bites concept but places an emphasis on simple dishes done deliciously.
For Restaurant Week, choose between a $25 lunch or $40 dinner menu. The coq au vin, or red wine-braised chicken leg and thigh with bacon, mushrooms and potato, is the star of the lunch menu, but don’t sleep on the dinner menu’s Belga pork pot roast — pork belly, braised shoulder, crepinette, Brussel sauerkraut and rutabaga.
Ichi Sushi + Ni Bar
Finally, it would be wrong to leave Restaurant Week in San Francisco without getting your sushi fix on. Located in the hip Mission District, Ichi Sushi + Ni Bar may be a low-key sushi joint, but the flavors of freshness packed into its fish are anything but. Its Restaurant Week menu includes a sashimi platter of six pieces of ultra-fresh seasonal sashimi. The sake flight sampling of three house sakes comes optional, but if you’re serious about a fun sushi-going experience, you probably consider it mandatory.
These restaurant weeks are your chance to seize the day and get a real taste of your city! To view a full list of Los Angeles and San Francisco eateries participating this year as well as full lunch and dinner menus with prices, visit www.discoverlosangeles.com and www.sfrestaurantweek.com.
Other California cities/areas participating in a Restaurant Week this year include:
Sacramento’s Dine Downtown Restaurant Week (January 7-16)
South Lake Tahoe’s Tahoe South Restaurant Week (January 8-15)
San Diego Restaurant Week (January 17-24)
Oakland Restaurant Week (January 14-24)
Newport Beach Restaurant Week (January 18-31)
Berkeley Restaurant Week (January 21-31)
Santa Ynez Valley Restaurant Week (January 24-30)
Napa Valley Restaurant Week (January 24-31)
Orange County Restaurant Week (March 6-12)
Sonoma County Restaurant Week (March 7-13)