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Auburn Earns High Marks From LA Food Critic For ‘Innovative’ Fine Dining

Plus the LA Times loves Dear John’s in Culver City, and pastas in Altadena

Wonho Frank Lee
Farley Elliott is the Senior Editor at Eater LA and the author of Los Angeles Street Food: A History From Tamaleros to Taco Trucks. He covers restaurants in every form, from breaking news to the culture, people, and history that surrounds LA's dining landscape.

It’s a big week for restaurant reviews, with the Hollywood Reporter stepping up first to offer some words of wisdom on Auburn, chef Eric Bost’s fine dining tasting menu spot along Melrose. The restaurant address has a storied past, having previously been both Hatfield’s and Citrus over the years. Now the place is primed to become the next great thing in upscale Los Angeles eating, thanks to an innovative “choose-your-own-adventure tasting menu” developed by Bost.

But how will the place do in a city accustomed to big flavors?

Auburn’s long-term success will rest on whether Bost’s restrained cooking can excite diners used to bolder tastes. His yellowtail sashimi belly is a precise, lovely composition with green strawberries, celery and citrus fern that, viewed one way, is delicate and ethereal, and another, so ghostly it may slip your mind by the time you get the check.

Meanwhile, LA Times co-critic Patricia Escárcega headed north to Altadena, eager to eat pasta in a... gelato shop? That’s the idea at Bulgarini, where owner Leo Bulgarini has been turning out a few carefully-crafted pastas and sides from inside his small shop some evenings. Just don’t expect frills from the “space tucked behind a Rite Aid drugstore in an obscure strip mall alleyway:”

The shop is a dim, shoe box-shaped space, a kitchen workshop more than a traditional dining room. You will sit on a stool at a tall communal table, an arm’s length away from an industrial refrigerator filled with imported chocolates, jars of homemade pesto and chilled wine. You will dine in view of assorted kitchen equipment — a meat slicer, a coffee grinder, an espresso machine — scattered across cluttered counters. Laminated wine maps are tacked onto the walls, and there are trays of fresh pasta drying by the front door.

The place sounds nearly as homey and charming as the original iteration of Baroo, though the food here doesn’t push things forward as much as it pulls back to the past.

Cooking is centered around clean, classic Tuscan-style pasta dishes, made with ingredients that are neither magnified nor perfected but simply allowed to exist. There is a lovely pici all’aglione, a swirl of long, plump, hand-rolled noodles served in a tangy tomato-garlic sauce. There is what Bulgarini calls his signature dish: pappardelle al cinghiale, a mild egg noodle pasta bolstered by an earthy ragu of wild boar.

Crispy chicken cutlet served with tomato sauce.
Chicken parm at Dear John’s
Wonho Frank Lee

And finally, Bill Addison of the Times wanders in to Dear John’s, the here-until-its-gone dinner spot from Hans and Patti Rockenwagner and Josiah Citrin’s Melisse team. The place is back for one more go-round before development destroys the building, and the new owners are playing up the place’s old ties to the Frank Sinatra era.

Addison calls the “throwback dining” menu a “greatest hits” of options like lobster Thermidor and steaks. And, of course, there is chicken parm.

The chicken parmesan achieves some impressive time traveling: Rather than a smothered hubcap of pounded meat, Dear John’s employs the “airline cut” — a boneless breast with first wing joint still attached, very Pan Am business class. Cut into the breaded mass and its filling of mozzarella and red sauce gushes like chicken Kiev from a bygone dinner party.

All told, Addison feels the positive pull of Dear John’s, even if it is already crowded inside the small place. This is the place to sit practically elbow to elbow, enjoying too much wine amidst the room’s many “dimly lighted charms.”

Auburn. 6703 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA.

Bulgarini. 749 E. Altadena Dr., Los Angeles, CA.

Dear John’s. 11208 Culver Blvd., Culver City, CA.