Eileen Shields Jan 3, 2019
If there was a food trend in 2018 it might have been a move to more ease, less fuss.
In response to a news cycle heavy with conflict, we hunkered down, broke bread, tried to simplify where we could.
A couple of new grocery stores, Gelson's and Lazy Acres, appeared with an emphasis on prepared options. Grab and go cases popped up in casual eateries like Homie, the new Rockefeller and Yellow Vase.
The largest new addition to the food scene was undoubtedly Apollo Landing bringing the South Bay's first Shake Shack, along with Philz coffee, Tender Greens, Pier 76, Calo Kitchen and Randy's donuts. Finally, a pretty new lounge offered the quiet comfort of a perfectly blended cocktail.
Here are my highlights of past year:
Pho Hue Oi in Redondo Beach serves authentic Vietnamese dishes adapted to an American palate. Their Pho Dac Biet is a slightly sweet, clear beef broth with rice noodles, tender bits of sliced filet, brisket, flank, tendon, and hunks of seasoned meatballs. It arrives with a side of bean sprouts, basil, jalapeno and lime so you can add texture or heat or sour to your liking.
Redondo's new cantina, Enrique's invented a whimsical spin on chicken and waffles called the 4C's, crispy chicken, churros and chicharones topped with a syrup of agave and jalapeno. It's a can't-miss tower of sweet, hot, salty and fried.
Also in Redondo, the charming Gabi James offers several Spanish style Tapas. My favorite is anchovies matrimonio, a spin on anchovy toast will surprise and delight even diners who've had a bad anchovy experience in their past. The tiny fish are light and fresh and wonderfully salty, tossed with butter and chilies and tangy slivers of caper berries, served with a hunk of grilled bread perfect for smearing.
Kotosh in El Porto brought us some terrific Japanese-Peruvian fusion including cebiche mixto, a generous portion of mahi-mahi, octopus, shrimp and calamari marinated in citrus, garlic, celery, and ahi amarillo, (a sunny hot yellow pepper), composed in a bowl with a mound of Peruvian corn and a wedge of parboiled sweet potato, balancing the acid with a creamy sweetness.
The new Westdrift hotel in Manhattan Beach keeps things snazzy but beach casual at their signature restaurant Jute. Their Spanish prawns with chorizo bring the flavors of classic paella, but rather than rice, it's served with crystal bread—similar to ciabatta—that they ship from Spain. And the fennel, common in paella, is fried for a surprise crunchy element, and keeping things authentic, the shrimp is served with the heads intact.
El Segundo really stepped up their game with Workshop Enoteca—which after a name dispute rechristened itself Jame Enoteca. Chef Jackson Kalb, most recently of Brentwood's Bottle Fish and DTLA's Factory Kitchen is using his first chef-owned spot to showcase his pasta skills. His ricotta gnocchi topped with pastrami lardons, charred cabbage, and a bit of dill, tastes like an elegant pasta spin on a Rueben sandwich.
The Trio Plate at Sister's Barn in Redondo Beach is perfect for the diner who wants to try a bit of everything. A mound of shredded pulled pork shoulder, a slab of fork tender smoked beef brisket, and slices of house-made pork sausage flavored with coriander, cumin and chipotle served on a platter with ramekins of spicy dijonaisse and an ancho chili barbecue sauce, made slightly sweet with the addition of golden raisins and apricots. On the side a pile of pickled jalapeno heirloom carrot rounds make the perfect counter to the rich meats, with their crunchy, acidic heat.
At Angel City Grill Richard Demian brings food truck swag to his invention of Bacon Chicken Schwarma; chicken breast and pork belly seasoned in a spicy dry rub, thrown on the spit with bacon, then sliced thin and tossed on a griddle with onions—topped with a chopped cucumber tomato parsley salad for coolness and crunch and garlic sauce for added zing. It's a flavor bomb.
Calo Kitchen, one of the Apollo Landing restaurants, serves Modern Mexican cuisine alongside a menu of specialty Margaritas made with an endless list of rare and exotic tequilas. I flipped for the grilled pineapple and chili Margarita; tequila muddled with agave, jalapenos, limes, and tangy juicy bits of grilled pineapple, the rim ringed with a chili salt. It was spicy, refreshing, tart, and sweet—legitimately delicious.
The most recent incarnation from Chef Luca Manderino is Hermosa's Sosta, where each night he serves a trio of crudo. While it changes from day to day, depending on what is fresh and available, I loved his spin on the Venetian classic sarde in saor, sardines fresh from the water, lightly fried and tossed with onions softened in olive oil.
At Radici in Hermosa Beach, Lucia Gaspari brings decades of experience to the dishes of her native Pacentro, Italy, a small village in the Abruzzo district known for its simple approach to Italian cuisine. This old world cooking is exemplified in her involtini di melanzane, thin slices of baked eggplant rolled around house ricotta smothered in a savory red sauce. The delicate flavors come together in a comforting bite. My husband, who refuses to eat eggplant, inhaled his and ordered a second. (Radici is closed for the holidays, reopening Jan. 2.)
Finally a toast to Georgia's, the classy new Redondo Beach lounge serving inspired craft cocktails. The 'Grandma George,' a sort of smoky old-fashioned, lingers in my memory; Wild Turkey rye, peaty Laphroaig scotch whisky, coffee & bourbon-aged bitters (from El Segundo!), a sugar cube, and orange zest, garnished with a Luxardo cherry. It's a slow sipping delight, perfect for toasting to a tasty 2019.