Richard Blais of “Top Chef” fame may no longer be affiliated with Juniper & Ivy, where he was the founding chef, but this San Diego establishment remains as popular as ever.
Opened in 2014 by owner Michael Rosen in an abandoned warehouse, it kick-started a new renaissance in the city’s Little Italy. The kitchen is now helmed by Chef Anthony Wells, a James Beard semi-finalist.
When my husband and I dined on a recent Saturday night while on a Southern California road trip, the place was hopping with the dining room and bar full, and a group of fashionably dressed women celebrating some sort of occasion in the private dining room.
We dined outside on the outdoor patio that has a living wall, as well as plenty of potted plants and a canopy awning overhead. One thing it doesn’t have, though, is heaters. So, be sure to dress in layers, especially if you tend to linger at dinner.
Of all the many victors through all the many seasons of “Top Chef,” arguably the most successful has been Stephanie Izard.
On Season 4, she not only triumphed but became the first woman to do so. Since then, she’s been off to the races, opening a slew of acclaimed restaurants including the Girl & the Goat in Chicago and then in Los Angeles; as well as the Little Goat Diner, the Chinese-American-influenced Duck Duck Goat, the rooftop Peruvian concept, Cabra, and the dessert shop, SugarGoat, all in Chicago.
Along the way, she nabbed the James Beard Award for “Best Chef: Great Lakes” in 2013 and was named a 2011 Food & Wine “Best New Chef.”
So, when my plans to travel to Chicago to dine at Girl & the Goat got foiled in 2020 — you can guess why — I did the next best thing: My husband and I dined at the Los Angeles locale instead on a recent road trip to Southern California.
The brick building is easily recognizable by the playful goat mascot sign on it. There’s a spacious outdoor seating area right outside, which is where my husband and I dined.
You can tell the impact a chef has made when even after departing Northern California years ago to decamp to Los Angeles, Bay Area diners still rhapsodize about the unforgettable meals they enjoyed at his hands.
Such is the case with Jeremy Fox, former chef de cuisine at Manresa in Los Gatos, who went on to head the groundbreaking Ubuntu, the Napa restaurant that became the world’s only Michelin-starred vegetarian restaurant.
Because the moment I posted a photo of a dish I relished recently at his Birdie G’s restaurant in Santa Monica, the comments started flooding in from folks about how much they miss and respected his cooking in the Bay Area.
Despite the torrent of praise for Ubuntu, diners didn’t consistently flock to this unique combination yoga studio/fine-dining restaurant at at time when the term “plant-based” had hardly become fashionable yet. That never-ending stress took its toll on Fox, who suffered through ADHD and depression. Finally, it became too much, and he left.
He eventually made his way to Southern California, to become chef of Rustic Canyon in 2012, leading to acclaim again, plus a fresh start in life. In 2019, he added to that, opening Birdie G’s, also for the Rustic Canyon Family group of restaurants.
Named for his young daughter, Birdie, and for his grandmother Gladys, it couldn’t be a more of a personal project. As Fox describes, the casual, fun restaurant embodies exactly who he is: An Eastern-European Jew who grew up in the Midwest and the Deep South, and then settled in Southern California.”
It says it all that during our two days in Los Angeles recently, we high-tailed it to the new Pizzeria Bianco not once, but twice.
Arguably, Chris Bianco has been deemed the country’s best pizza maker, with devotees waiting as long as three hours at his original Phoenix restaurant just to get their fix.
Since opening in Los Angeles in June, this place has been mobbed. And since Los Angeles is a more convenient destination for yours truly, you know that my husband and I put Pizzeria Bianco on our must-stop list no matter what when we traveled to Southern California earlier this month.
Thankfully, we didn’t have to twiddle our thumbs for hours on end when we got to the Row DTLA, the massive 30-acre urban commercial district that was the former site of the American Apparel manufacturing facility, and that’s now home to not only Pizzeria Bianco, but a host of restaurants, boutiques, and offices.
Instead at 12:30 p.m. on a Saturday, we did have to wait in line for about 30 minutes before we made our way to the walk-up pizza window to place our orders.
On a road trip to Oregon last week, I ate very casually and exceedingly well.
But by far, my most memorable and breathtaking meals came surprisingly at breakfast — sitting on a screened-in porch on a farm where I slept overnight in a converted grain silo.
You don’t typically expect a five-course, gourmet spread like this in such rustic surroundings. Sure, the herbs for the meal are hand-picked from the property’s culinary garden, the honey harvested from its own hives, and the eggs courtesy of its own chickens. But you’ll also find on the premises a chef who goes the extra mile to make his own cherry blossom syrup, garum (Italian fish sauce) and shio koji (Japanese fermented grain marinade) — all used to great effect in breakfast.
When I was invited to stay as a guest at the 82-acre Abbey Road Farm in the town of Carlton in Oregon’s Wine Country, its web site promised “one of the best breakfasts in Oregon.”
That was no hyperbole. Because Chef Will Preisch more than delivered on that.
Preisch, who grew up in Cleveland where his dad ran a 24-hour diner, is a bona fide fine-dining chef with serious chops.