- Published: Wednesday, 24 July 2013 05:00
- Written by Chef Dawn Walker
One of my favorite events in any city is its restaurant week. Fortunately, I live in Los Angeles and get a chance to explore all sorts of dining establishments during dineLA Restaurant Week, the city’s 12-day culinary extravaganza featuring more than 330 venues. This year, I tried Culina, Modern Italian and Badmaash Indian Gastropub; both were fantastic in their own special way.
Culina, Modern Italian has been recognized as one of the best new restaurants by Esquire magazine, one of the 100 best wine restaurants of 2011 by Wine Enthusiast magazine, one of the top restaurants in Los Angeles by Zagat, and one of Hollywood’s 25 top power lunch restaurants by The Hollywood Reporter. And I certainly understand all the hype.
Our meal began with Culina’s il crudo, or “of raw,” presenting Kampachi (Hawaiian amberjack, blueberry, mint, lime, pepperoncino), Cappesante (diver scallops, Fresno chili, tangerine, mint, smoked salt), trota rosa (Arctic char, grapefruit, pink peppercorns, chives, extra virgin olive oil), ricciola (Hawaiian yellowtail, artichoke, lemon, Calabria chili, mint, garlic chip) and tonno (ahi tuna, olive, lemon, basil oil). The hearty planks of fresh fish basked on a bright white plate and were adorned with various spreads and sauces, chunks of seasonal fruits and vegetables, and herbs, spices, and salts. I could taste the intricacies of each fish yet the seasonings elevated the natural essence of every one. They got my attention….
Next, the chef sent le pizzette to the table. The crispy and light whole-wheat crust of this house-made pizza hosted a delicious combination of prosciutto San Daniele, burrata, heirloom tomato, and arugula drizzled with rosemary oil. A generous yet tasty sprinkle of sea salt flakes intensified the combination of peppery arugula, sweet tomato, and rich burrata.
Not only does Culina offer free valet parking but also its il quartetto is the perfect lunch option for only $25. Chef Mette combines his daily soup, a specialty salad, fresh protein, and dessert all on one plate and served at the same time. The quad-compartment porcelain plate carried my four-course, lunch-size meal revealing a wonderfully adequate yet complex complete meal. As a chef, foodie, and food writer I enjoy sampling as many dishes at a restaurant as possible. Il quartetto affords the diner the ability to sample a chef’s choice of four courses at a reasonable price and in an efficient manner.
The highlight of the meal was the sweet corn, brown butter, and sage ravioli. Recommended by Jennifer, our attentive and knowledgeable server, this dish satisfied my most basic desire for ultimate comfort food. All I wanted to do was rest my head on these little pasta pillows of deliciousness. The delicate ravioli was sautéed in brown butter and covered with fresh, yellow corn, then topped with fried sage leaves. Please put this dish on your bucket list!
Other staff kept our table stocked with fresh crostini and focaccia and grassy extra virgin olive oil.
Before dessert the manager, Brian, brought over a glass of house-made limoncello. Oh my gosh! This sweet liquor had floral tones with an intense lemon essence. Next, Jennifer placed the affogado, a frozen glass of vanilla bean gelato topped with cotton candy and cocoa powder, with a side of pignoli cookies on the table and proceeded to pour espresso over the top, melting the sweet candy and mixing with the frozen ice cream to create a frozen gelato latte, of sorts. She also brought the nuvola di riso or “rice cloud” with fresh berries. Both desserts and the limoncello sweetly ended such an amazing meal.
Brian took me on a tour after our lunch. The restaurant has a private dining room equipped with a huge dining table and lounge area. Also, in the evening, the patio features black and white movies projected on a water curtain. So cool! Smoking is allowed in a small area of the patio. Several areas of the restaurant can be closed off and reserved for private events.
For dineLA, Culina offers a $25 two-course, prix fixe lunch with choice of appetizer and main course (and an additional $7 for dessert). Dinner, at $45, includes an appetizer, main course, and dessert, with wine pairing available. By visiting Culina during dineLA, you can sample the best they have to offer at very reasonable prices. I loved my experience at Culina and would like to thank Brian, Jennifer, Kim, chef Mette, and the rest of the staff. I would recommend this restaurant to those looking for a great deal during dineLA—a great price for a high-quality meal. Once dineLA is over, head to Culina to try a few of the many outstanding Italian dishes, desserts, grappa, and, of course, the limoncello.
Badmaash is the new baby of the Los Angeles culinary family. Just two months old, Badmaash has wowed folks from Serious Eats, Urban Spoon, LA Weekly, ConsumingLA.com, and Zagat—to name a few. Badmaash, an Indian gastropub in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, touts sourcing local, organic, and sustainable ingredients when possible. In a modern yet humble space, this restaurant is run by brothers Arjun and Nakul and their dad, Padwan. And you can taste the love in every dish chef Padwan creates.
I should have guessed the gems I was going to taste when rich, hot chai tea served in small glasses and iced Thumbs Up soda kicked off my lunch. For appetizers, I was served chicken tikka poutine (a tribute to the family’s Canadian roots), smoked eggplant mash (which had a deep complex flavor), tomato and watermelon gazpacho (a refreshing blend of fruits with a chili pepper kick), and chicken wings a la Badmaash (wings breaded in chickpea flour, fried, and tossed with a tamarind glaze). The homemade pickles (crisp and tangy onions, carrots, cauliflower, and jicama) and preserves (both tomato and mango chutneys) refreshed my pallet before the onset of the main dishes and desserts.
As if I was not completely satisfied with my meal up until this point, several more fresh dishes arrived to sample. I loved the spiced lamb burger, made with freshly ground New Zealand meat, lightly spiced and served on a fresh brioche bun. It was both deep and divine. The butter chicken, a Badmaash specialty, marinated for 24 hours both dry and wet and was the best tasting Indian dish I have ever eaten.
And of course, the restaurant uses Mary’s Organic Chicken—possibly the best chicken commercially available. The Bombay chickpeas and chips, known as “street food from the motherland,” was prepared with masala chickpeas and potato on crisp flour chips with whipped yogurt, tamarind, and mint chutneys. To take the chickpeas and chips to the next level, they brought fresh naan with a thin coat of melted butter on top. Flavors and spices exploded in my mouth. Each dish was distinct in its own way yet built on one another, like writing a novel and building to the surprise ending.
From the moment I walked into Badmaash, Arjun and Nakul told stories about the origin of this recipe and the reason for serving that. I could tell the brothers enjoyed food and truly relished being of service and taking customers on a tour of their lives through the food they offer. Our dessert was no exception. The mango mousse, made with expensive Alphonso or Marathi mangos, was just the right combination of sweet and custard. The traditional dessert of cheese dumplings in sweet cream was prepared with cardamom, rose, and salted pistachio. Both desserts were refreshing in different ways from the spices in the meal.
The boys described to me the preparation of homemade samosas; each take four minutes to create. Every day, they make the samosas fresh (traditional with masala potatoes and peas, butter chicken, and short rib with pineapple and cilantro) and sell out before the night is through. Warning: Get there early if you want one, and they do not serve them at lunch. Arjun and Nakul, you might have to make those suckers 24/7 if you get any busier.
For just $15, diners can enjoy one appetizer, a main course, and a dessert during dineLA. This price is such a bargain for the quality of the food at this amazing restaurant. A $35 dinner menu includes an appetizer, a mid course, a main course, and a dessert.
I believe Badmaash, now the darling in downtown, should enjoy many years of success if it continues to provide Angelenos with Indian gastropub cuisine. With fresh ingredients, interesting combinations of pub food with Indian twists, a great use of seasonings and spices, friendly service, and a real passion for the food service, Badmaash will be wowing for years to come.