Hola amigos. It’s been a little while since I rapped at ya. Seems I’ve been on the West Coast of the United States, first for a birthday weekend celebrating the man, the myth, the 40th birthday party that is MOP, then in Los Angeles for a few days of Vox Media work supplemented with speaking at Brad Inman’s Luxury Connect event in Beverly Hills 90210. They don’t yet have blog software on the west coast, so sorry for the radio silence. Here’s what went down.
NAPA VALLEY HILLS
Mike had quite the entourage for his birthday weekend — about 50 folks, all told — but a group of us from college got the nod to stay at an Airbnb he arranged in the hills above Yountville. As Mike observed, it was as if the owners decided on the exact spot for the hot tub, then built the rest of the place around it. No complaints.
GOTT’S ROADSIDE (top)
I’ve been to Napa a bunch of times in recent years, mostly for fancy meals as part of Team Eater. No complaints about that either, but it was a blast to start the Napa weekend with a big group dinner at Gott’s Roadside in St. Helena, a place I’ve driven past a bunch of times but never stopped over at. You know the menu, and you know exactly how good it is (especially when supplemented with special wines brought in by Mike’s mom and stepdad). Should you go, do not miss the onion rings.
The group activity for Saturday, presented by Mike’s Dad: a tour of the Chateau Montelena winery in Calistoga, as far north in Napa Valley as I’ve ever been. The winery is famous for 1976′s Judgement of Paris, the first time California and Oregon wines faced off against French wine critics on the home terroir of France and beat the French at their own game. Although Chateau Montelena won back then for its chardonnay, the winery is better known for its reds. We tasted rieseling, then a flight of cabernets from 2010, 2005, and 2004. I thought the 2004 walked away with it, but I might just have been picking the oldest year to sound like I know what I’m talking about. (Above, me with the one and only Gaby Darbyshire.)
Late Saturday lunch after wine tasting at the unassuming Calistoga Inn nearby. Waiting for our table of ~12 to be readied, ran into Courtney and Zach and their li’l tyke, which, small freaking valley, my friends. Had a fresh fish special and made friends with a few folks in the birthday party I didn’t already know. Good vibes, good vibes.
Saturday night dinner: a seated affair at Ristorante Tra Vigne back in St. Helena. Another place I’ve driven past a bunch of times but never sat down and eaten at, but will again; the meal was first-rate. I had to split the next morning but dropped by brunch at Boon Fly Cafe and grabbed a few of their famous donuts, which are exactly the size of a ripe peach and equally delicious, albeit less organic-slash-healthy.
Onward to Los Angeles.
Upon arrival at LAX, met by Meredith, who took me to a hole-in-the-wall sushi place called Kanpai on the drive between LAX and Venice. We picked up sushi to go which inevitably tasted better than 95% of all pricey sushi in New York City. The next day we lunched at Gjelina on Abbot-Kinney in Venice, a place I’ve eaten about a thousand times and, God willing, will eat at least a thousand times more. Gjelina, now and forever.
After a night at Meredith’s new apartment in Venice, checked into hotelier Jeff Klein’s Sunset Tower Hotel in West Hollywood on Sunset, one of my favorite hotels in the world. Among the perks: walking distance to Sushi Park, a restaurant that then-Eater LA editor (now, having moved back to NYC, Eater’s editorial producer) Kat Odell first took me to in 2010. Sushi Park is one of those only-in-LA (or Tokyo) sushi restaurants situated on the second level of a strip mall, with decor to match, that has strict rules about what you can and can’t expect. Attention must be paid.
Walking into the one-third filled restaurant at lunchtime, the hostess stopped me. “Reservation?” No. “First time here?” No. Which relieved her a great deal, because Sushi Park clearly deals with a lot of folks who wander in having no idea what they’re in for. If you’re sitting at the sushi bar, as I did, it’s omakase only, and worth the hefty price tag for one of the best omakase (omakases?) you’ll ever eat. I’m convinced that a few omakase meals of this variety in Los Angeles last winter ruined me for Sushi Nakazawa in the West Village, Zagat’s top-ranked new restaurant in NYC this year that I thought couldn’t hold a candle to LA sushi. Really not Nakazawa’s fault.
FREDS AT BARNEYS
Also lunched one day with new Eater LA editor Matthew Kang at the brand new (opened two weeks ago) outpost of Freds at Barneys in Beverly Hills. If you know Fred’s at the Barneys in midtown NYC, expect the same vibe: an epic ladies-who-lunch scene abetted by a menu tailored for them. Our pasta and pizza both looked gorgeous but lacked, well, taste. Probably could have called that.
ORSA & WINSTON
Final night in LA, dinner with Mimi at Orsa & Winston in Downtown LA. The chef, Josef Centeno, oversees a crazy group of great restaurants — Bäco Mercat; Bar Ama; etc. — that are insanely all located in the same one-block radius. Critics like the LATimes’ Jonathan Gold are gaga for this place, which serves tasting menus of five or eight courses in eclectic fashion. We loved the whole night, but the plates were hit-or-miss. Given that the menu changes nightly, we may just have hit an off night. I’ll be back.