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LA Times Calls Birdie G’s Santa Monica’s ‘Hottest Restaurant of the Year’

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Plus a Lakewood taco star, and the just-okay food at Five Leaves

A slice of malted chocolate cake at Birdie G’s.
Birdie G’s
Wonho Frank Lee

This week’s Bill Addison review over at the LA Times certainly packs a punch, with the co-critic calling Jeremy Fox’s new restaurant Birdie G’s the “hottest restaurant of the year.” From the “placemat-sized menu” to the modernist interior, Addison finds a lot to seemingly enjoy about the food — even offering a recommendation to keep checking in to see how high the restaurant can ultimately soar.

From Addison:

Caramelized onion-Manischewitz jam slicked over chicken liver mousse toast has the right tart-sweet edge. One more plate to split: the Hangtown Brei, an amalgam of San Francisco’s Hangtown fry and matzo brei. The matzo gently bulks up soft-scrambled eggs cooked in schmaltz and overlaid with grilled pork belly, fried oysters and, for glorious overkill, hot sauce hollandaise. It is the furthest thing from kosher but wholly ecumenical in its appeal.

Other highlights include a chicken scallopine passed down as a recipe from the mother of chef de cuisine Brittany Cassidy, and the rose petal pie dessert. There’s room for improvement, though, says Addison:

There’s no overarching pattern behind the dishes that veer off-kilter, but they stick out among the high-performers. The flavors of the “Sloppy Jeremy” toast, likable with strawberry-accented beef Bolognese and horseradish-goat-cheese cream, could use stronger definition and contrast. King salmon crudo borrows riffs on yesteryear’s Continental condiments for smoked salmon — capers, cornichons, Dijon — but strangely it all needs more punch.

And yet, for a place this big, this busy, and this hot, most of the small issues don’t add up to much. Addison even admits that he’s being “curmudgeonly” when asking that the chilled chocolate cake be served at room temperature for dessert. “It sedates the flavors,” he notes, while much of the rest of the menu packs a punch.

The warehouse-like restaurant space, with tables beyond the entryway, to Birdie G’s.
Inside Birdie G’s
Wonho Frank Lee

Meanwhile, Patricia Escárcega is back from maternity leave to assume her role as co-critic alongside Addison. And for her first returning trick: Chinito’s Tacos in Lakewood, home of the carne asada mac ‘n’ cheese and the burnt cheese tacos.

The counter-service restaurant near Long Beach traffics in “lavishly flavored comfort food” under chef Beeline “Chinito” Krouch:

He makes tater tots encrusted with cotija cheese and crisp, frizzled bits of garlic. He dredges cauliflower in rice flour and fries it to an immaculate crispness, then dunks it in a sweet chile sauce (a combination, he says, inspired by his mother’s Cambodian-style fried chicken). His carne asada mac ’n’ cheese is a thick, buttery welter of chopped, well-seasoned beef and noodles in a thick, homemade cheese sauce, drunk food of the highest order.

Escárcega is quick to note that Krouch, who spent years working at places like Playa Amor, is indeed making the humble taco his own (as have many in greater Los Angeles). But it’s also important to note that, often, restaurants exist simply to make diners feel good, and to maximize their potential purchasing audience.

That burnt cheese taco is on the menu to sate the Keto crowd, who reject carbohydrates but embrace fried cheese. His marvelous vegetable taco — a sinewy, meaty mix of King oyster mushrooms, yams, battered cauliflower and farmers market carrots — answers a growing demand from his vegetarian and vegan regulars.

Still, the place has a “soulfulness” about it, and “good vibes” permeate the dining area. Just another day living well and eating tacos in Southern California.

The sunny, gorgeous Art Deco dining interior of Five Leaves in East Hollywood.
A corner at Five Leaves
Wonho Frank Lee

And, finally, TimeOut took to Five Leaves in East Hollywood, offering a big dose of “meh.” Critic Simon Majumdar says the food is “dull as ditch water,” before noting that it may be precisely the point of the place. It looks good, fills a need, and seems to have found an audience, even if there’s nothing novel about the place in 2019 California. Still, some changes could be beneficial for the place:

I’ve certainly eaten far worse in L.A. than I did at Five Leaves, but I’d hoped that as a new arrival in the city, they would’ve brought a tiny bit more ambition than their current off-the-shelf West Coast-style menu and hit-or-miss execution, particularly at prices that border on the level where Angelenos might blink. I fear for their long-term survival if they don’t.

Birdie G’s. 2421 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, CA.

Chinito’s Tacos. 11130 Del Amo Blvd., Lakewood, CA.

Five Leaves. 4845 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles, CA.

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