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Caulfield's in the Thompson Hotel - Beverly Hills

*Post by Angela.

I surely do love a good hotel bar. I really do. You always meet the most interesting people there, people moving through the city for business, for pleasure, from all walks of life and from all over the country and all corners of the globe. And travelers are often eager to make conversation next to whomever they're seated. It's a good time.

But generally, the allure of a hotel bar is more about the cameraderie and people than the drinks or food. Caulfield's Bar & Dining Room at the Thompson Hotel doubles down by offering dishes and a bar program good enough to entice even those not staying upstairs.



The first step inside Caulfield's makes it clear that this is no ordinary hotel bar. The interior melds old and new, transposing Art Deco themes into a slick, modern setting. It's equally easy to imagine Dick Tracy siddling up to the bar as it is to picture Bruce Wayne sipping a scotch. Past and present, and both cool as hell.



And Caulfield's offers a stellar bar program to match the stylish decor. Crafted under the supervision of manager Jeremy Back, the cocktails are creative, fun and most importantly, delicious. Take for instance, the Rye-ality (below, left), a spicy sipper composed of Templeton Rye, grapefruit, serrano pepper, cayenne preserves and yuzu Miracle Mile bitters. Another playful drink is the Bar & Dining Room (below, center), a drink that emulates something you'd be more likely to eat by combining Maestro Dobel, fig shrub, cracked black pepper foam served in a glass laced with proscuitto dust. It's like a liquid proscuitto-wrapped date and it's surprisingly drinkable. Also fun is the Bar-zillian (below, right), an enticing mix of Leblon Cachacha, lime and hrapefruit juices, egg whites and Forbidden bitters.



To complete the trifecta, the food would need to be top notch. So Caulfield's stacks the odds with chef Stephen Kalt, who has cooked under Daniel Boulud at the legendary Le Cirque and is a veteran of elevating hotel food (Corsa Cucina at The Wynn Las Vegas and Fornelletto at Atlantic City's Borgata Hotel and Casino). Kalt's food is both artful and tasty, and way better than our prior experiences with hotel bar cuisine.

It would be a mistake for anyone not to begin his or her meal with a selection of charcuterie (the options include pate Campagna, duck rillette, chicken liver pate, salametto, capicola, duck ham, bresaiola, and serrano ham). The terrines and pates are made in house and are outstanding, the artisan salumi is equally good, and the accompanying mustards, fruit pasts and jams are great.



Next, buttery slices of Pacific fluke crudo are garnished beautifully with pear, radish, coconut milk, finger lime and ginger. It's a nice balance of creamy and acidic, and it's light enough that it doesn't overpower the fluke.



Similarly, the big eye tuna confit lets the fish shine while pairing it with an interesting combination of  tomato, haricot verts, olives, new potato, white anchovy, egg and sherry vinegar.



For our second round of drinks, we knocked back more cocktails like the Lipstick (below, left) where St. George Botanivore gin cozies up with fresh beet and lemon juices, and some Bitter Truth Habanero shrub. It gets it name for the big lipsmack on the side of the glass - the product of beet juice rather than an unwashed glass. Then there's the Kentucky Kiwi (below, center) which mellows out Pure Kentucky XO whiskey with a kiwi shrub and Bitter Truth Boston Bitters. The O.K. Corral (below, right) serves up gin two ways. The first is served martini-style like a bijou with Oxley, Antica sweet vermouth and a sprits of green Chartreuse. The second way is a barrel aged treat that Back calls the Hanky Panky and for good reason: it's exactly what it's all about. 



The Little Angel pasta is both enthusiastically recommended by our server and well-received by us. Tiny  pockets of fresh pasta are filled with a delicate combination of artichoke, arugula, and peas, finished with butter, poppy seeds and nutty Montasio cheese.



Heartier and bolder is a crock of juicy and flavorful meatballs of ground lamb, bulghur, Moroccan lemon and savory tomato. It's the ideal dish for a cold night, and goes a long way in filling the space in our stomachs left by the earlier dishes.



For variety, we opt for a grilled pizzette, a satisfyingly charred flatbread topped with creamy burrata and a bright basil pesto.



Our final dish of the night features plump slices of roasted duck breast and leg confit, drizzled with a rich reduction and served with gaviota strawberries, padron peppers, potato pearls, and cipoline onions.



It would be an understatement to say that the food and drinks at Caulfield's are better than they need to be. They are legitimately good enough to stand alone and apart from the hotel, and good enough that we'll definitely be back in the future. Because I do love a good hotel bar, and Caulfield's is definitely that.

*Disclosure: this was a hosted meal. 

Caulfield's Bar & Dining Room at the Thompson Hotel
9360 Wilshire Boulevard
Beverly Hills, CA 90212
(310) 388-6860

Hours: Seven days a week: 7:00a-11:00p

Caulfield's on Urbanspoon


Wit and Wisdom - Michael Mina does Modern American in Baltimore's East Harbor

*Post by Mark.

On our sole day in Baltimore, we managed to squeeze in a lunchtime trip to Michael Mina's Wit & Wisdom, located in the stunning Four Seasons Hotel just east of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. The menu under executive chef Benjamin Lambert, spins classic American tavern fare into the realm of fine dining. The food and service are premium, though diners may find the prices to be a little more fine dining and a little less tavern. 



The beatiful dishes, crafted using locally-sourced ingredients share the spotlight with the restaurant's interior design. The sprawling, gorgeous restaurant has a hip but cozy feel to it, like eating at your (very) rich best friend’s house. Helping the open feel of the interior are the picture windows offering a really lovely view of the harbor.



It was only Monday lunch, but I decided to crack open the libation menu anyway - a 17-page document that is more than just a list of spirits - it's a mission statement. Ingredients are all made in house, premium small-batch spirits are favored, and the beer list celebrates the best of the mid-Atlantic, with great beers from breweries like Dogfish Head and Victory having never strayed far from I-95 on their journey to the bar. At happy hour there are even National Bohemians (the unofficial beer of Baltimore, aka Natty Boh) for only $1.88.

I had difficulty saying no to the Sticky Wicket (below), a dark glass of Jim Beam, Fernet Branca, Smoked Maple Syrup and soda stirred and served over ice and an orange peel. After a few bad experiences with Fernet cocktails earlier in our trip, this smoky concoction paid full tribute to my favorite amaro.



The smoked house-made ricotta (below) was an excellent starter. A simple arrangement of ember-roasted eggplant, whiskey barrel vinegar and black walnuts helped provide some depth to the fresh, clean taste of the creamy cheese.



Our table shared the lobster corndogs (below). Served with a whole grain mustard crème fraiche, the bite-sized poppers were as delicious as they were cute - the light breading highlighted the sweet succulence of the crustacean.



The toasted peanut soup (below) proved another great starter as the server poured the soup into a bowl coated with sorghum marshmallow and garnished with crispy chicken cracklins. All together they made a rich, toasty and textured first course.



For entrees, W&W categorizes all the options into one of 4 protein sections: fresh-cracked Maryland blue crab, Chesapeake rockfish, organic chicken and Maryland Piedmont Ridge beef. Each of the sections offers 3 different preparations from which to choose - a great way to provide a little diversity on the menu without forcing the kitchen to prep a dozen different types of meat and seafood. 

From the beef section, we selected the shaved roast beef salad (below), with crunchy potatoes, creamy horseradish sauce, and smoky blue cheese, sort of a deconstruction on the classic roast beef sandwich, with the potatoes subbing in for the bread. The classic combination of flavors was really tasty, if on the light side.



From the rockfish section, we got a straightforward but glorious beer-battered rockfish sandwich (below), with shredded cabbage slaw and whole grain mustard. The batter was perfect, light, crispy and appropriately beer-flavored, and the fish was cooked nicely. The copious amounts of boardwalk fries were pretty good as well.



Every time we're back in Baltimore I always find something new that adds to the city's charm. Wit and Wisdom certainly fits that bill. I'm already looking forward to what we discover on our next visit. 

Wit & Wisdom Tavern on Urbanspoon


Freddy Smalls Bar & Kitchen

*Post by Angela.

To those on the Westside searching for a bad-ass neighborhood spot, your prayers have been answered. Owned by Jeff Weinstein (of burger chain The Counter) and helmed by acclaimed San Francisco chefs Jeremy Fox (a 2008 Food & Wine Magazine Best New Chef) and Charlie Parker (a 2011 SF Chronicle Rising Star), Freddy Smalls is the ultimate laid-back gastro-experience. The vibe? Chill as hell. The cocktails? A nice balance of the masculine and feminine. The food? Really fun and solidly executed, with flashes of brilliance. We visited about a week after opening with friend Aaron (The Savory Hunter), and the tiny bar and kitchen seems to have already found its stride.



The sign outside remains unchanged from the previous tenant, El Sarape. In fact, the restaurant's name was taken from an old piece of stained glass on the premises that said 'Freddy'. And, in embracing the theme of Freddy, when you walk through the front door, you are greeted by the wall of Freddys (No Freddie Mercury? C'mon people!). The pre-requisite soundtrack of 90's hip-hop thumps throughout the course of our meal. 



We sampled a handful of cocktails from the bar where Manager David Fleischer (formerly of Seven Grand) is also slinging wine and nine craft beers on tap. The Stumbling Cowboy tempers a manly dose of Wild Turkey Rye 101 and homemade sarsaparilla with a candied ginger and lemon garnish. The Planter’s Peace aims for the same balance with a sweet and fruity twist, combining aged rum with lemon, orange, pineapple, house grenadine, soda, lime & cherry garnish. The Mayberry Smash, maybe our favorite of the night, pairs the distinctive flavor of Death’s Door Gin with fresh berries, sage honey, lemon, and a mint leaf garnish.



For eats, the chefs have concocted a menu of elevated bar food. Think reasonably priced comforts like BBQ cashews peppered with spices and candied bacon, or fried brussels sprouts with goat cheese and apple cider glaze. When it comes to entrees, Freddy's offers fun fare like a playful 'remix' on the classic chicken parm- served en casserole, with fall-apart, dark meat chicken, confit garlic, tomato sauce and of course a smothering blanket of cheese (an item to try on our next visit).

For our first selection this time around, we were curious to try the flash-grilled steak tartar, which, mounded under a slow-cooked smoked egg yolk, was one of the most flavorful versions we’d ever tasted. The Worcestershire potato chips with which it was served gave a nice tang and crunch.  



The deviled eggs smashed together bold Point Reyes blue cheese and hot sauce, along with bits of crispy chicken skin for a texture contrast. We really liked these little mouthfuls, though we wouldn’t have complained about a touch of acid to cut through the richness.



Richness wasn’t a problem with the beautiful beet salad with red quinoa, fuyu persimmons and pistachio. Really the only lighter dish we had that night, it was really refreshing and played subtle sweet and nutty notes on our tongues.



We dived back into decadence with a dollop of smooth chicken liver mousse, served with a sweet red wine and shallot marmalade and violet mustard.



We would bet money that the luxurious mushroom and farro porridge can be attributed to Chef Jeremy, who took vegetarian cuisine to new heights at San Francisco “vegetable restaurant” Ubuntu. Almost too rich for our palates, the meaty mushrooms, hearty farro and unctuous broth combined in a way that made the lack of animal products a non-issue, even for near-carnivores like us.



The house-smoked trout with roasted baby turnips, pear puree, mussels and turnip top salsa verde is a dish for those with a real love of seafood. Lightly dressed in a creamy sauce, the intensely-flavored trout was the shining star of the plate.



The aptly-named Reuben’s Gluttony made our jaws drop. Every element of the dish, from the hefty portion of bone marrow and pile of thick corned beef slices to the piping hot hunks of Yorkshire pudding, glistened with (almost literal) heart-stopping goodness.



And we finished strong. The crispy-on-the-outside, doughy-on-the-inside Belgian waffles with soft, intensely sweet slices of Pink Lady apples and bourbon-maple syrup were pretty darned good on their own, but honestly? We viewed them more as a socially acceptable delivery system for the fantastic bacon butter.



We’re not West LA-ers, but even so, we’re tempted to claim Freddy Smalls as our new spot – the place is just so damned cool. Actually…forget you read this post. Freddy Smalls is OURS.

Freddy Smalls Bar & Kitchen on Urbanspoon


Michael Voltaggio's Ink

*Post by Mark.

Most will recognize the talented, young, tattooed chef from his run on Top Chef - beating stiff competition, including his brother Bryan, to win season six. Locals may recognize him from his stints at Jose Andres' The Bazaar and more recently the Dining Room at the Langham. However you might know him, his popularity, successes, and a little help of some branded pop-cultural appeal have made Ink one of Los Angeles' highest profile openings for the year. If you're reading this, I'll assume familiarity and spare you the rest of the back story. I'll also do my best to steer clear of the ink puns. 

Reservations for the first thirty days - while slightly less cut-throat than LudoBites reservation pandemonium - were still a premium commodity. All slots were entirely snatched up the morning the system went live and we were lucky to grab a table one week after opening. Not only would the week give the kitchen and front of house time to work out some of the kinks, we also timed it to celebrate us having survived one full year in Los Angeles.

It seems fitting, actually, that we would end up here for a celebration. I remember plugging in the TV in our new apartment and seeing a Taste of Beverly Hills cooking demo by Voltaggio. Not long after that, he announced his new restaurant Ink would be coming to West Hollywood. After nearly a year of planning and numerous setbacks, Ink finally opened its doors in September. 



Inside, we ordered drinks while we waited. Mixologist Devon Espinosa heads the bar, and started us off with the vodka cocktail ($10, left) - a house rendition of the Moscow Mule with ginger, lime and soda served in the traditional copper mug. We also tried the Mezcal ($12, right), made with lemon, ginger, clover honey and angostura bitters. Like Voltaggio - to a lesser degree - many might recognize Espinosa from television, as he recently did a stint as the cocktail mixing sidekick on Marcel's Quantum Kitchen, but locals may best recognize him from behind the bar at Abbot Kinney's Tasting Kitchen



As our table was ready, we were led back inside the dark restaurant. Past the bar and soon-to-open omakase table. Past Voltaggio's open kitchen.



The decor is very simple. The walls are lined with shuttered windows and as the sun fades and the lights dim, the focus shifts to the spotlight of the open kitchen and more importantly the art in the form of food that would soon arrive on our plates. The word 'ink' is a play on "incorporated" and can be attributed to the sleeves of tattoos Voltaggio wears on his arms. But here, the ink can be found everywhere. The concrete floors are spotted with large inkblots, just as black dots of ink punctuate nearly every dish on the menu. 




Soon our food began to arrive. Our first dish was the young turnips and radishes ($9). The gently cooked vegetables rest in a bed of coffee-cardamom soil. The soil's crunchy texture is reminiscent of flavorful coffee grounds, while the cardamom and curry-like vadouvan steer the dish towards the genus of Indian cuisine. Even more textural contrast is endowed by the jellied nasturtium laid like train tracks beneath and piles of frozen yogurt dusted across the plate like fresh snow. This would be one of our favorites of the night - a dish filled with twists and turns as textures and flavors were allowed to combine on our forks and in our mouths. 



The hamachi ($16) came next. Tiny parsnip chips and unusual but tasty chunks of sesame cake were scattered over top the fish. Slices of grapefruit and jalapeño along with dots of parsnip cream and soy gelee added helpful accents without overpowering the soft, buttery fish.  



Time for some more drinks. Our next round included the tequila cocktail ($11), made with lime, grapefruit, and soda. The drink acquired a little kick from serrano peppers and a nice floral aroma from its garnish. Angela opted to check out the short (but nice) beer list. She went for a can of the G'Knight Imperial Red ($7) by Oskar Blues. The hoppy, American double IPA is brewed in Colorado, and you'll be hard-pressed to find a better beer served in a can. We both enjoyed it immensely. 



We were off to a good start, but things got even better with the Octopus ($16). Served with piquillo pepper and spinach over a bed of buttered popcorn puree, the octopus was soft, tender and cooked as well as any we've ever had. While the decision to pair octopus with the taste of buttered popcorn seems a crazy idea, it proves surprisingly justified. The buttered popcorn puree gets a small touch of sweet spice from a ribbon of red pepper. One of our favorites of the night. Octopus and popcorn. Who knew? 



The bay scallops ($14) were just slightly less well-received. All of the individual components were fantastic - the cream of dehydrated potato, bone marrow, potato skins, and the buttermilk-shellfish broth all were executed perfectly. But I think this was a dish that suffered from the lofty expectations set by its peers. We certainly enjoyed the finely cooked scallops and the neatly abstracted baby potato skins each on their own. And we were more than happy to slurp up the gelatinous discs of beef marrow, but like the other ingredients, they added little contrast in texture or flavor to the scallops. Nevertheless, put this dish on a menu in countless other restaurants, and it would probably be a showstopper.. 



The beef tartare ($16), with horseradish, hearts of palm, and sea bean chimichurri was virtually the opposite, with the dish's individual components coming together to create something really special. The tartare was a little plain on its own, but came to life when combined with the other ingredients. Perhaps our favorite single ingredient of the night was the light, airy, horseradish cream that we were advised to mash and mix in with everything. The cream's potency was perfectly rationed. If this stuff were bottled and sold, I'd buy a jar every week. This may have been our favorite savory dish of the night. Or was it the octopus? Or the turnips and radishes? 



The quail ($19) was perfectly cooked and its particularly succulent meat kept us nibbling at the bones long after the rest of the plate had been wiped clean. The small bird was served with charred onion, greens, an herby sorrel cream, and a banana polenta. The polenta had just enough banana flavor to be interesting, but not enough to be obtrusive. Definitely one of the more straight forward dishes of the evening, but very satisfying.



Our next course was the Iberian pork ($22). The meat was stacked with long strings of burnt orange, and the fleshy roots of saffron-salsify over top, with the ubiquitous "ink spots" provided by splashes of black olive oil. Another straightforward dish, here, highlighting the salty, flavorful pig flesh.



The seaweed mashed potatoes ($8) were served as a side to our entree courses. A carry-over from Voltaggio's time at the Langham, this extra thick, extra creamy serving of potatoes came whipped together with sea grass and sea beans for a gentle but noticeable taste of the sea. 



The veal cheek ($17) was another course that elicited slightly less excitement then its predecessors, only for want of a little more seasoning. However, we enjoyed the meltingly tender cheek served alongside a red curry, soft nante carrots baked in salt, and crispy husks of fried sticky rice. 



We ordered two desserts, but to pair with them we chose a duo of cocktails based on our server's suggestions. The brandy cocktail ($13, front) with fig, mint and lemon paired with the goat cheese dessert, and the scotch ($13, back) with lemon, apple cider, egg white and cinnamon was to pair with the apple dessert.  Both were really lovely, elegant and subtle.



The Goat Cheese ($10) dessert was beautiful to look at - the combination of textures and tastes from the ash, concord grape sorbet, and arugula gave a unique twist to the light, creamy fromage. The goat cheese flavor dominates, but since we're fans, it was a plus in the ledger.



I'm not usually a big fan of apple desserts, but Angela talked me into it. Needless to say, Voltaggio's apple dessert ($8) immediately became our favorite dish of the night. Joining the small bits of apple is creme caramel, an ice cream-like burnt wood sabayon and crunchy bits of walnut. I won't bore you with gushy adjectives, but this may have been the best thing I've eaten in recent memory. 



Everything from the service, decor and attitude felt very accessible. Everything, that is, except the cost. Prices are indeed high. Or perhaps portions should be considered too small. Either way, the plight of the budget-conscious diner is really heightened by the fact that there are so many things here to covet. We let ourselves get talked into extra dishes and extra $13 cocktails, and each time we were glad we did. Our overall experience here was enough to justify the splurge but if you want to try Voltaggio's food but can't foot the tab, check out his reasonably-priced, inventive sandwiches next door at ink.sack

Between the two of us we made it through more than half the menu. Three or four people could comfortably order the entire menu to share. If you're planning on coming in with an even bigger party, keep your ear to the ground for reservations for Voltaggio's special Omakase bar seatings. The table seats eight and will likely book fast. 

The service was smooth and efficient. Our server was always close by when food arrived to run through the ingredients. Ink seems to be above immediately cashing in on their imminent popularity and instead appears to be playing it safe in their opening weeks. The restaurant was notably under-booked and the floor seemed comfortably over-staffed. This is all part of what appears to be a sound model that hopefully makes this Ink permanent (okay - just one ink pun).

ink. on Urbanspoon


City Tavern

*Post by Mark.

Bit by bit Culver City's been collecting new restaurants, making itself more and more relevant in the the Los Angeles foodisphere. But I wasn't thoroughly impressed by Culver City until recently. That was when City Tavern opened its doors on Culver Boulevard right next to Sony - a gastropub with a special focus on craft beer. Culver City, you've arrived. 



A mixture of wood and brick invites the California sun into a relaxing and welcoming environment. A few widescreen TVs round out the modern tavern experience without being obtrusive. Comfortable and unpretentious, this is the perfect home away from home to enjoy a glass of suds. And unlike many of Los Angeles' budding craft beer pubs, City Tavern comes with a fairly sophisticated menu in its own right. 



On the surface, what makes City Tavern unique are its table taps (below). Three of City Tavern's booths offer the convenience of pouring your own beer- the only downside is that there are only three options per table. Stone IPA, Telegraph White Ale and Lost Coast's Downtown Brown are all nice choices but perhaps the most easy-to-find of City Tavern's extensive craft beer list. Aside from the initial thrill of pulling the handle yourself, there are better taps to be found in the house.



The really good stuff comes from the bar, where you'll find over twenty craft beers on tap (below). Plop yourself on a stool and cozy up to the bar, and the beertenders are ripe with suggestions. I nursed a Cruz Control by Santa Cruz Ale Works and ogled the beer menu while I waited for some out-of-town friends to join me for lunch. City Tavern really impresses with a diverse variety of local craft brews, all of which you might note are brewed in California. Drinks can be ordered by the glass or the pitcher, like the chipotle coffee-infused Black Phoenix by Fullerton's own Boot Leggers Brewery. For only $3 or $4 you can also try a generous 'taste' serving of your choosing. 



Soon my lunch companions arrived and we settled at a table outside in the sun. The impressive brew burger (below) was the signature dish on the lunch menu. Served on a tasty pretzel bun with pub cheese, greens and mustard aioli this version was definitely preferable to the menu's other burger option, the CT burger. This burger even comes crowned with an ale-battered onion ring and a can't-complain-value at $11. 



$3 dollars extra gets you a side with your sandwich, like these french fries topped with parsley and garlic. 



The jidori chicken panini came with manchego, quince and almond pesto was the less memorable option, but the side of brussels sprouts with bacon and preserved lemon was a nice addition. 



Can't decide on just one beer to savor with your meal? My friend sprung for a couple of the 'taste' pours (below). Less adventurous (i.e. boring) drinkers can still get bottles of Corona, Blue Moon, Sam Adams... or dare I suggest Miller Lite. Surely the staff would serve it to you with a smile, but given the wonderful house-culture of celebrating craft brews, you may get a look or two from your fellow patrons. 



As a gastropub that truly embraces the versatility of beer and the ever-growing list of local brewers, City Tavern can expect my return business. I'm eagerly looking forward to coming back for their dinner. In fact, City Tavern occasionally throws special dinners with beer pairings. If you're interested in the table taps, you may want to call ahead to make a reservation for the obviously popular booths. CT may also reserve the right to hold your party to a time limit during peak hours. 

City Tavern on Urbanspoon