Restaurant Rundown 2014: An 818 Year in Review (and a few wishes)

2014 was a pinnacle year for the culinary scene in the 818 with “over-the-hill” restaurateurs staking claim, a few wine and beer startups, mom-and-pop eateries and ice shop openings. The 818's Best Dish of 2014: Bone Marrow Ravioli at Firefly                                       […]

2014 was a pinnacle year for the culinary scene in the 818 with “over-the-hill” restaurateurs staking claim, a few wine and beer startups, mom-and-pop eateries and ice shop openings.

The 818's Best Dish of 2014: Bone Marrow Ravioli at Firefly                                                          Photo: Holly Frost

Before I delve into what is new, I would be remiss not mentioning Studio City’s Firefly, the 12-year-old restaurant responsible for the growth of the Valley restaurant scene. It has had its ebb-and-flow moments over the years, but now with the imaginative flair of executive chef Paul Shoemaker helming the kitchen, Firefly has made a comeback—with Paul creating some of the best dishes in the San Fernando Valley, including his standout bone marrow ravioli. No small wonder since he has Michelin credentials to his name, having worked at Bastide and Providence, among others. Plus, Firefly has the best-looking space around. 

Barrel and Ashes

With Studio City and Sherman Oaks as the dominant areas for restaurant development, in just the last few months we have seen some big-name openings. Most notable are Barrel & Ashes from restaurant impresario Bill Chait (Republique), with two classically French-trained chefs, Timothy Hollingsworth (French Laundry) and Rory Herrmann (Bouchon), cooking mouthwatering barbecue alongside complementary cocktails by LA's top mixologist Julian Cox (Brillaintshine); Mercadothe third location for Jesse Gomez and Jose Acevedo, who are bringing a refreshing new style of Mexican cuisine to Los Angeles; The Gadarene Swine, where Chef Phillip Frankland Lee (Scratch Bar Beverly Hills) has introduced an incredibly ambitious and artistic take on vegetables; The Woodman, a "rustic roadhouse" where elevated bar food meets an inspired drink list from LA’s preeminent beer guy Ryan Sweeney. Also on the "over-the-hill" list are food emporiums: Joan’s on Third (the second locale) and GC Marketplace (from Hollywood caterer Gary Arabia); and upscale, fast-casual chains: Lemonade, Mendocino Farms and Tender Greens.

Tipple & Brine

Sherman Oaks restaurateur Richard Desisto had a busy year closing Mad Bull's Tavern and Spitting Chicken Cantina, while opening Tipple & Brine (bringing choice oysters and "the luge" to the 818), Tunnel Bar and Murph’s Filling Station in record time—all with a serious cocktail program.

Cascabel

Over in Toluca Lake, Alex and Sarah Eusebio of Sweetsalt opened Cascabel, a sit-down restaurant in the former D’Cache location serving coastal Mexican cuisine, while Olive & Thyme tripled its size in a new location down the street.

Compañía de Café

And in the city of San Fernando—Compañía de Café, a coffeehouse and café inspired by Mexican culture, has award-winning barista Percy Ramirez manning a coffee bar unlike any other in Los Angeles, along with pastry chef Tamara Davis of Bottega Louie fame, creating works of art.

Ace wine and beer startups include: MacLeod Ale Brewing Co., a seven-barrel production brewery and tasting room in a Van Nuys industrial warehouse that exclusively focuses on traditional brewing methods of the British Isles; and Spin the Bottle, a Toluca Lake wine shop and tasting counter featuring imported and domestic small-production wines (it actually opened at the very end of 2013). Neither place offers food, so it's BYO … or often food trucks park outside. Food and drinks can be found at Luna Vine Wine Bar in Burbank, which offers a global and domestic assortment of wine by the glass and bottle, plus very tasty charcuterie, cheese boards and sharing plates.

Kathy and Ash Avanessian, The Grains and The Greens

Notable "mom-and-pops" and small businesses include: The Grains and The Greens, a boutique organic market with packaged and freshly-made food in Studio City; Spice Season, an organic, Asian-fusion eatery in Studio City; The Harvest Bar, a "superfoods" café featuring açai bowls in Sherman Oaks; Hyakumi Noodle Bar in Sherman Oaks with ramen, sushi and more; BatterFish for fish ‘n’ chips with a modern twist in Encino; Local Ice, a soda fountain and ice cream shop with house-made ice cream in Studio City; and mac-O-licious, the mac 'n' cheese food truck concept that moved into its own Valley Village brick-and-mortar.

Get Shaved

Shaved ice and snow cream made a big presence with Get Shaved, SnowPiffs and Brian’s Shave Ice in Sherman Oaks; North Pole in Studio City; and Rita’s Italian Ice in Noho and Tarzana.

Susie Cakes

Moving across the Valley, Studio City’s The Six opened a third location in Calabasas, while SusieCakes in Calabasas opened its 11th location in Studio City. Sherman Oaks' Blu Jam Café opened its third location in Woodland Hills; Burbank and Glendale's Granville Café opened a third location in Studio City.

Not to be forgotten: SunCafe's move to the former Zach’s location, which was renovated to include an awesome front patio and fire pit.

​My Wishes for 2015: Restaurants with originality, especially across the Valley west of the 405; less generic chains; turn off the televisions; no more small plates (unless in a wine bar); give Brussels sprouts, quinoa and kale a rest; put "farm-to-table" and "farm-to-glass" on the "do not say" list; open restaurants where you can have a conversation and actually hear the other person; no more communal tables; chairs should have backs; no more tired burgers or pizza; an authentic East Coast seafood emporium; a worthy independent steakhouse; and, pretty please, Salt & Straw or McConnell's ice cream. 

Thanks for reading The Sauce this year. Here's to delicious eating, safe drinking and all the best for a very Happy New Year! 

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