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New LA Times Food Critics Drop First Reviews Since Death of Jonathan Gold

Fiona on Fairfax and X’tiosu Kitchen in Boyle Heights get love

Fiona’s Nicole Rucker holding baguettes up close.
Bread from Fiona
Fiona [Official Photo]

It’s the start of a new year, which means two new full-time restaurant critics at the Los Angeles Times. Eater’s own former roving national critic Bill Addison is at the helm now, alongside incoming critic Patricia Escárcega out of Arizona. Both will be doing weekly reviews of restaurants across the cultural spectrum, and today marks their first contributions since the untimely 2018 death of Jonathan Gold.

First up is a look at Fiona by Addison. The Nicole Rucker and Shawn Pham project on Fairfax is more than just a place for pastry and bread, with savory daytime and dinner fare rounding out the cozy room. Addison says:

And though no one would be chastised for treating the place like a pie shop, Fiona, as with so many of Los Angeles’ most compelling modern restaurants, intentionally skirts easy categorization.

And how about the food itself?

If Fiona immediately established an assured virtuosity with its bakery, the savory menus feel slightly more like works in progress. This early in the restaurant’s run, the dishes that appear both day and night reveal the most consistent finesse. The gingery, garlicky, sweet-spiced broth for Pham’s bò kho (Vietnamese beef stew) rekindles the senses whether it’s breakfast or dinner. His oversize pancakes pull from flavors in many directions: masa harina with mashed avocado and a mixed seed salsa seca for crunch; celery root pan-fried like a colossal latke and topped with a thatch of celery root remoulade and (optional but important) hunks of smoked trout; and, finest of all, a sweet potato pancake with umeboshi crème fraîche, chiles and hefty lardons that nearly (but don’t) tip the saltiness scale.

That said, Addison notes that dinner is not yet the same experience as a sunny daytime meal, but adds optimistically that he’s “not giving up on a meal at any time of day at Fiona.”

Fiona
Fiona
Wonho Frank Lee

And now for X’tiosu Kitchen, the Lebanese-Oaxacan standout in Boyle Heights. Escárcega seems entranced by the shawarma tacos, saying:

X’tiosu gives us the chicken shawarma taco: spice-rubbed, spit-roasted chicken shaved over a double-stack of corn tortillas, the tender meat buoyed by a rivulet of the house “arabesque salsa,” a blend of extra-garlicky tahini sauce and homemade salsa verde. The sauce is good enough to eat by the spoonful, and the taco succeeds by the steady accretion of flavors, in turn creamy and savory. Its meaty and garlicky richness is quickly snapped into balance by the bright, vinegary smack of pickled turnip.

And overall?

Things get more interesting when the DNA of traditional mezze are spliced with Oaxacan and Mexican ingredients. There’s a lovely Oaxacan-style hummus, for instance, a dark, inky thing of whipped black beans touched with a little cayenne pepper. Crisp falafel, meanwhile, eschews chickpeas and fava beans in favor of black beans bolstered with lavish amounts of garlic and cilantro.

In all, Escárcega says that “X’tiosu won’t replace your favorite kebab house,” but in a city as rife with wandering culinary choices and delicious weaves, that’s hardly the point.

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