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Casual prix-fixe only restaurants may seem like an oxymoron, but they are slowly becoming essential LA dining in this ever-growing food landscape. It was inevitable that the importance of finding the right chef for the right restaurant would evolve into that chef creating a ‘tasting menu only’ experience. Rather than choose from seemingly limitless options on your own, these menus are designed to let you relax and let the chef guide you through culinary explorations.
The trend goes hand-in-hand with ‘farm to table’ seasonality that is also of major concern these days. With monthly (as at Maude) or daily (as at Trois Mec) changing menus, chefs are able to use the ingredients peaking at the proper time, making the menus feel that much more relevant to diners. However, there were a couple of reasons that these menus were relegated to more upscale climates – price and familiarity.
Prix-fixe isn’t a new idea, yet restaurants with this option traditionally also provide a la carte offerings, so making these tasting menus the only thing available might be seen as a risk. In recent history, only the finest restaurants have dared to offer 10-12 course tasting menus with wine pairings, because only the upper crust of society could afford such experiences.
Diners were previously less accustomed to eating foie gras or sweetbreads that are so often utilized with meals of this calibre, featured in order to round out the experience and offer flavor profiles far beyond what diners are used to. Picky eaters must beware when dining at the places featured here, but everything is worth trying once and these particular restaurants serve delicious meals with seemingly effortless finesse.
Josef Centeno’s takeover of the Downtown stretch on 4th Street and Spring is just about complete, with possibly his finest offering to date. Named after his dogs, Josef fuses two unlikely cuisines, Japanese and Italian, to create a menu filled with paradoxes and delights. Risotto is made with sushi rice, thick Tuscan soups are fortified with nori–your mind bends with each astonishing combination. The menu is offered as an 8-course omakase (which amounts to 12 with extras and amuses), 12-course super omakase, and for the less adventurous, a 5-course family-style meal. It’s a deeply personal journey Centeno takes us on, and it’s worth the ride.
Orsa and Winston, 122 West 4th Street, Los Angeles, CA, USA, +1 (213) 687-0300
Ludo Lefebvre, Jon Shook, Vinny Dotolo – Trois Mec – ‘The Three Guys’ or better yet ‘The Wise Men.’ This culinary Harlem Globetrotter-esque squad has created a whirling dervish of a restaurant that employs every trick they have learned from the 30+ years of combined experience in the restaurant industry. Ludo is the everyday chef at the restaurant, busting out seven course tastings seamlessly every night – sometimes changing the menu weekly to keep up with the market. Prior to opening, their off-putting ticket system stole much of the conversation, but, gimmicks aside, the food here is remarkable. Ludo might say the cuisine is French but it fails to fall easily into one genre other than ‘modern.’ With only 25 seats in the whole place, it can be difficult to snag a reservation, but do keep trying.