Today In L.A.: Carson House Opens, David Nayfield Hosts Dinner At Ink., Bamboo Izakaya’s Sushi Stuns

Carson House in Beverly Hills is so casual, there’s no need to pop the collar. And you won’t find fine china, fussy menus, or celebrity chefs that franchise grocery stores. The new restaurant, opening today (Tuesday), is all about no-frills, peeled-back comfort in a massive shiny space with red leather sofas, hardwood floors, and banks of natural light from the floor-to-ceiling windows. It’s like the home of your dad’s cultured, swanky home – equipped with den, dining room, bar, and living room. At some point, you won’t even remember you’re in Beverly Hills.

The former principles of Vice nightclub (which turned into The Cosmo last week) are less theatrical with the opening of this upscale pub that focuses on an American menu like pretzel burgers, short-rib pizza, and Philly cheesesteak pot stickers. Oh, and of course, a 60+ beer menu, 20 on tap.

Over at ink., winner Michael Voltaggio’s restaurant in West Hollywood—former Eleven Madison Park’s David Nayfield is flying in today to host a one-time, six-course collaborative dinner. Who doesn’t like to fork into an east coast-meets-west coast epicurean affair? Nayfield will be no stranger to the LA dining scene. He’s already partnered up with Cardiff Giant (The Churchill, The Hudson) for an unnamed project downtown slated for late summer/early fall. Tickets for the dinner are $125.

If you haven’t already, trek over to Santa Monica for the recent opening of Bamboo Izakaya. Larry David did. There’s plenty of sushi restaurants on the beach, but Bamboo Izakaya can dish out some fresh and tasty rolls, and the crispy rice is epic. Expect a flow from the private member’s club 41 Ocean (behind the restaurant), which shares one of the same owners—Jeremy Umland—for the restaurant.

Know every inch of this city by visiting BlackBook’s L.A. City Guide.

Get the inside-scoop on Carson House, Ink., The Cosmo, Bamboo Izakaya.

London Opening: Oblix at The Shard

Ever since the minders at the Eiffel Tower sorted that there was serious dosh to be made feeding its swarms of oohing and aahing visitors, architecture and food have been making goo goo eyes at each other. And from its inauguration in summer 2012, Renzo Piano’s The Shard, in fact, has been as loved and hated by Londoners as was Gustave Eiffel’s shocking metal construction by 19th Century Parisians. But as the tallest building in Western Europe, the views are obviously rather gasp-inducing. And so while its first culinary venture, the sleek, dramatic new Oblix restaurant and lounge, could probably get away with serving sauteed cardboard, it genuinely does rise to the level of its surroundings.

The latest undertaking by Rainer Becker and Arjun Waney (whose Zuma is beloved of Kate, Gwyneth, Beyonce…), it boasts a chef, Fabien Beaufour, who has done time at French Laundry and Eleven Madison Park. But haute it is not. Serving classic American grill, you can dig into market salads, clam chowder, lambchops, wood-fired pizza, pork belly, assorted rotisserie fare…even New York-style cheesecake–which in London might just seem exotic. But who’s looking at the food?? Slotted into the 32nd floor of the striking 72-story concrete, glass and steel tower, and looking directly down on London Bridge, patrons can also gawk at the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament, and possibly even spot Pete Doherty stumbling out of a Soho boozer. 

[Related: The Shard: How to Plan a High-Class Date around London’s Highest Building; BlackBook London Guide; Listing for Oblix at the Shard; More by Ken Scrudato; Follow Ken on Twitter]

Betony & The Fourth Open, Cardamom Ganache & Herbal Beers Hit NYC

Betony, the new haute-earthy tenant in Brasserie Pushkin’s former space, didn’t entirely do away with the ornate. The chandelier is still there, as are the plush velvet banquettes. The back dining room’s concrete ceiling is etched with abstract Latin geometry, as if one of the construction workers had a Good Will Hunting moment. (Eamon Rockey, the general manager, said it came at the owner’s discretion—“he likes very opulent things.”)

The decorative posturing, which at least is tempered by some potted foliage, is more than backed up by Eleven Madison Park vet Bryce Shuman’s creations from start to finish. Pure pleasers, like the light and vinegary fried pickled ramps, or the cured pink snapper on a basil pesto, abet more challenging dishes. Flavors come in appropriated forms: cardamom is housed in a milky foam over dark chocolate ganache, tomato juice is turned to ice and “snowed” over gooseberry compote, and an asparagus pappardelle tastes of the plant with an intensity that goes far beyond the amount of spears actually in there.

Rockey, also of Eleven Madison Park, matches Shuman’s care behind the bar. An orange rind treated for two weeks with oleo-saccharum sugar tops the ice on an orange julep (“a sipper.”) An extensive beer list pulls in some beyond-rare gypsy beers, like Stillwater’s white sage Saison “Cellar Door”: an ornate herbal brew with a name like velvet.

Downtown also gains an elaborate new hang with the arrival of The Fourth, an American brasserie at the new Hyatt Union Square fit for townies and tourists alike. In keeping with the hotel theme, a helix of dangling bunk bed frames by the artist Brinton Jaecks fills a 25-foot tall dining room. Downstairs, a South American restaurant called Botequim with an open kitchen is set to open later this year. The co-ed restroom, which made for some fun exchanges, shares a door with the Hyatt’s gym. Don’t steal the towels. 

Del Posto vet Michael William Davis serves both classics—bi-coastal oysters, shellfish cioppino, a wonderfully juicy pink salt, roasted-brick chicken breast—and more creative fare. A thick piece of hake comes surrounded by tender chunks of pork cheek. The Fourth’s burger arrives on a tomato bun with a sunnyside up egg. For dessert, the Fuller’s London Porter ice cream is as crisp and frosty as a mug of the good stuff. Fennel-sage chicken meatballs and a poached egg are available for breakfast, if the night took you upstairs. Don’t steal the shampoo.

Get Down With 2013’s Michelin-Rated Restaurants

This week restaurants around the city celebrated the release of the 2013 Michelin Guide. One of the best features about this prestigious tome is their “good cuisine at reasonable price,” Bib Gourmand section. For the Bib Gourmand, they consider restaurant that offer two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for $40 or less. Here, they don’t offer stars, but getting mentioned in the guide is enough for many eateries. 

“I couldn’t be more excited about our mention in the Michelin guide,” said Speedy Romeo chef and co-owner Justin Bazdarich. “I really see the guide as an honest measure for a restaurant rating, so, it means a lot to me to gain their respect.”

Aside from Speedy Romeo, highlighted this year include Gran Electrica, Pok Pok, and Battersby, which was also voted one of the best new restaurants in America by Bon Appetite magazine. It also appears to be the golden time for Bed-Stuy’s Do or Dine. Not only did chef and co-owner Justin Warner winFood Network Star a couple months ago, but the restaurant has their second notable mention in the Michelin Guide.

In Manhattan, notice went to August, Il Buco Aimentari & Vineria, and Danny Meyer’s Untitled. There were also quite a few Asian places in the guide including Family Recipe, Jin Ramen, Yunnan Kitchen, and Uncle Zhou in Queens. With the one-star awards, the Asian trend continued with Café China, Hakkasan, and Jungsik at the top of the list.

On the higher end of things, three Michelin stars went, unsurprisingly, to eateries including Per Se, Eleven Madison Park, and La Bernardin. There was one astounding twist; out of seven venues, one award went to a non-Manhattan restaurant: Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare. See folks, Brooklyn is rising. Just wait until it’s all outer boroughs and ramen joints.

Secret Plots by Chicago’s Alinea and New York’s Eleven Madison Park Now Unveiled

What are those sneaky award-winning restaurants Alinea and Eleven Madison Park (EMP) up to? According to some sleuthing done by Chicago Tribune reporter Kevin Pang, it appears the two eateries have hatched a collaborative plan.

The video shows (below) EMP employees packing up the restaurant and heading to Grand Central, which is followed by the Alinea staff boxing each other up and shipping off the crew to New York. It ends with the tag line, “21st Century Limited,” which, given them going to and arriving in Grand Central, we can only assume refers to the old Twentieth Century Limited passenger train that ran between New York to Chicago. After vague statements by both parties, we finally know what’s going on.

“Two of the country’s most-acclaimed fine-dining restaurants will trade cities and spaces for one week this fall,” said Pang in an article today.“New York’s Eleven Madison Park and Chicago’s Alinea—three Michelin-starred restaurants both—will swap chefs, kitchens and dining rooms, opening in essence pop-up restaurants in each other’s space.”

That means chef Grant Achatz’ Alinea (with him in it!) will occupy EMP in New York starting September 26 until the 30, and Daniel Humm’s team at EMP will do the same in Chicago starting October 10 until the 14. Tickets will be available soon in coming weeks via its Facebook page. Is anyone else as excited and intrigued as I am? Now comes the fight for a seat, but at $495 at EMP, it might not fill up as fast as you think.

Industry Insiders: Jo Rausch, Maitre D’ at Lexington Brass

At Lexington Brass, Iowa-native Jo Rausch knows most of her guests by name—and with good reason. As the maitre d’ of one of New York’s classiest American bistros, she encounters a gaggle of regulars daily, all looking for an enjoyable time alongside their lobster mac ‘n’ cheese and buttermilk fried chicken. But her career didn’t start as maitre ‘d; she worked her way up across the EMM Group’s lauded venues, from bottle waitress to host. Here, our September 2012 Industry Insider shares her average day, where she gets her favorite cocktail in NYC, and her encounter with one of the hottest actors in Hollywood.

What inspires your work in the hospitality business?
When I went to the University of Northern Iowa, I took advantage of every travel program offered. I climbed the ancient steps of the Acropolis, ran straight off of the Swiss Alps with a parachute on, stood in awe of the Sistine Chapel, and danced and sang on tables at Oktoberfest. Travel opens your eyes and puts you on a different level of understanding people and culture. You can manage life so much better with an open-minded view of things. That is directly transferable to my everyday life working in hospitality.

What does your job as maitre d’ entail? What’s an average day like for you? 
My day starts with a giant cup of Stumptown coffee when I get to work—it’s life changing. We serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner at Lexington Brass so there is never a dull moment for us. I go through reservations and plot the floor for lunch. A casual diner won’t pick up on the amount of planning that goes behind your seating arrangement. I spend the afternoon reaching out to guests and keeping up with our regulars. Hospitality doesn’t have a down time and that’s one of the many reasons it keeps me interested and challenged.

Describe the food and atmosphere at Lexington Brass. What do you think is unique about it that keeps people coming back?
We have an awesome team here and when you start with that solid base the rest comes very easily. Our menu is classic American bistro with a lot of unique flavor pairings. Executive chef Chris Leahy is so creative and always trying out new things here for us. The dessert menu is where I get into trouble though: the Fried Apple Pie is incredible! 

You’ve been working with the EMM Group for years. Describe the brand and what has kept you working with it.
When I started with the company, The Chandelier Room was their second venue. I’ve watched the company quadruple in size over my three years with them. That in itself is a phenomenal testament to the drive and work ethic that keeps them going. I’ve also loved being part of a company that you can grow with; if you have the drive, they recognize it and help you actualize your potential.

Where are your favorite places to drink and dine?
My friends and I have been working our way through Adam Platt’s top 101 restaurants list and, as you might guess, Eleven Madison Park has been my favorite, but I also love classic tiny spots like the original Westville. For drinks you can find me all over the place, from The Red Lion listening to an amazing David Bowie cover band, to Catch with my favorite tequila cocktail—the Cane—in hand. (For an extended list of Jo Rausch’s all-time favorite NYC spots, click here. )

What’s the greatest lesson and advice you’ve learned across your career in nightlife?
You have to remember that everyone that walks through the door is there to have a good time and your job is to make sure that happens. If you aren’t having fun, that will manifest its way to your guests. When I go to work I don’t feel like it’s a job and I think that’s the key to happiness in your career.

Amid your work as a bottle waitress, host, and now Maitre D’, what is the craziest thing you’ve encountered someone do?
That’s a story to tell over drinks but it involves John Stamos, or maybe that was just a dream I had.  

One NYC-Focused Menu for Eleven Madison Park

Of all the tasting menus in the city, Eleven Madison Park appears to be the best deal. For $195 you get an epic meal created by award winning chef Daniel Humm, at a restaurant that took home their sixth James Beard Award, made the top 10 of the accredited San Pellegrino’s The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, garnered four stars from the New York Times, and received three stars in the Michelin Guide. This isn’t just hype: EMP deserves these accolades.

But, where once you had the option of getting a four-course meal or the tasting menu, starting Labor Day only the $195, four-hour-long meal will be available. The New York Times had the scoop on the story and writer Jeff Gordinier reported that EMP also plans to make the menu New York-focused. “Their vision, too, is all about New York. They want EMP to evolve into a restaurant not just in the city, but about it. Scores of elements of the menu and presentation—like the ceramic bowls and the raw oysters; the sea salt and the leather used in the coasters; and the apple brandy that servers will pour toward the end of the meal—will come from New York-area artisans and artists, distillers and farmers.” The last time I was at EMP, I saw a glimpse of this theme as they served a dessert menu that riffed on New York food. For example, they served a deconstructed cheesecake, sweet and savory black and white cookies, and a miniature egg cream that tasted just like a chocolate orange candy.Gordinier continues in his piece, “It’s all part of a $195-a-head menu—and a risky move to convert the Eleven Madison Park experience into an extravagant, participatory, close-to-four-hour ode to the romance and history of New York.”

Though chancy, for Humm and Will Guidara, his business partner and EMP’s general manage, the  move isn’t completely surprising; Humm has a reputation for going above and beyond. As to whether it will be successful, well, EMP does about 200 covers a night and reservations aren’t easy to come by. So, given that and the fact that it’s still a deal when you compare it to other tasting menus like the $295 one at Per Se, I think the people will still flock to their gilded doors.

The Sweet Spot: Celebrating Desserts

For the past 19 years, Dessert Professional Magazine has hosted an awards and tasting party for the country’s top ten pastry chefs. Last night, at the Institute of Culinary Education, New York took the largest piece of the winning pie with chefs Sandro Micheli from Daniel, Marc Aumont from The Modern, Angela Pinkerton from Eleven Madison Park, Damien Harrgott from Bosie Tea Parlor, and the city’s darling, Christina Tosi from Momofuku Milk Bar.

As they lined up with the other winner—Sally Camacho from WP24 in Los Angeles, Craig Harzewski from Naha in Chicago, Nathaniel Reid from Norman Love Confections in Florida, Jean-Marie Auboine from his self-titled shop in Las Vegas, and Chris Hanmer from Las Vegas’s School of Pastry Design—I couldn’t help but notice all the champs were skinny. I’m not talking about just being smaller than Mario Batali, but I-never-even-eat-dessert thin. Oh well, so what if Tosi looks like she could be a vegan? It’s her pretzel and chocolate-chip cake-truffles we really care about.

You can just look at Tosi’s innovative creations to see that the art of dessert has come a long way. While a decade ago the real trick came in making superb chocolate mousse, a moist flourless chocolate cake, or perfect, airy pastries, today’s chefs have made dessert more than the end of the meal treat. They are creating art. Take Pinkerton’s lavender meringue with cocoa sorbet, for example; it didn’t look like anything you would order off a cafeteria sweets bar. The dish she offered had layers of crumble, cold, hard, light, sweet, and sour—all on one plate, which is a theme she carries over to Eleven Madison Park. Tosi too has been known for her original use of packaged crackers, pretzels, and various candies to spruce up cookies and cakes. Based on some of the other dishes at the awards ceremony, this trend isn’t going away, and people like it.

As guests fought to sample the gourmet sweets, past award winner Pichet Ong of Spot Dessert Bar flittered about the tables, garnering an excited “Hey chef” every where he went. Anita Lo of Annisa was also seen heading to the dessert room where Top Chef: Just Desserts Season Two winner Chris Hanmer whipped up a modern looking pineapple confit with a crazy tube of passion fruit studded with cilantro. Hanmer’s show mate and the United States representative of the Culinary Olympics in Germany, pastry chef Sally Camacho, also offered an interesting dessert involving a cup filled with a landscape of fluffy, crumbly, stiff, floral, salty, and chocolaty.           

Across New York you can find enjoyable desserts like the ones represented at the awards including the crazy flavors of rice pudding at Rice to Riches, everything chocolate at The Chocolate Room in Brooklyn, and next level desserts by chef Justin Hilbert of Gwynnett St., also in Brooklyn. If you happen to be in San Francisco, check out Humphry Slocombe ice cream parlor where Jake Godby creates the strangest flavors including salt and pepper, oolong tea, and peanut butter curry.

Despite all the innovative desserts being passed around the culinary school last night, I still go for the simplest, like Jean-Marie Aubione’s perfect chocolates and crispy bars and the bright raspberry and chocolate pastry by Nathaniel Reid. No matter how you like your sweets, though, there is something for everyone to indulge in. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, Your 25th Annual James Beard Award Winners

Over two decades have passed since the James Beard Awards began handing out trophies to the best in the restaurant world, and it continues to be the Academy Awards of the food world. Last night, at the packed Avery Fisher Hall in New York City, the awards commenced with their 25th annual ceremony that honored the country’s top chefs, restaurants, food writers, journalists, servers, bartenders, and television personalities. Not surprising, New York took a big chunk of the glory, with awards going to Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern, who won Best Chef in New York, and Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar who won Rising Star Chef of the Year, beating out Dave Beran of Grant Achatz’s Next, which won the Best New Restaurant award. New York also boasts a win for the outstanding chef award, which went to Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park. He trumped the other top-notch contestants including David Chang, Paul Kahan, Nancy Silverton, and Gary Danko. Paul Grieco took the prize with Terroir for Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional. PDT won for Outstanding Bar Program, and La Grenouille achieved victory for outstanding service.

Though only a handful of people walked away with a medal, Lincoln Center filled up with the country’s hottest foodie folk. April Bloomfield of the Breslin and Spotted Pig made an appearance decked out in a snappy suit and—shocker—with makeup on. Food Republic spotted Jamie Bissonnette of Coppa in Boston sneaking a flask of Fernet, and, rumor has it a PR gal got fired after failing to recognize renowned French chef Jacques Pépin and not letting him enter the pressroom. Naturally, the nominees were there, as well as haute chefs like Ed Lee, Rick Bayless, Wolfgang Puck, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Stephanie Izard, Cathy Whims, and dozens more. Keep making us tasty treats guys, and, may you all win next year.

The List of Winners:

Outstanding Chef: Daniel Humm, Eleven Madison Park (NYC)

Outstanding Restaurant: Boulevard (San Francisco)

Rising Star Chef: Christina Tosi, Momofuku Milk Bar (NYC)

Best New Restaurant: Next (Chicago)

Best Chef: Great Lakes (IL, IN, MI, OH):  Bruce Sherman, North Pond (Chicago)

Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic (D.C., DE, MD, NJ, PA, VA): Maricel Presilla, Cucharamama (Hoboken, NJ)

Best Chef: Midwest (IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, SD, WI): Tory Miller, L’Etoile (Madison, WI)

Best Chef: New York City: Michael Anthony, Gramercy Tavern

Best Chef: Northeast (CT, MA, ME, NH, NY STATE, RI, VT): Tim Cushman, O Ya (Boston)

Best Chef: Northwest (AK, ID, MT, OR, WA, WY), Matt Dillon, Sitka & Spruce (Seattle)

Best Chef: Pacific (CA, HI), Matt Molina, Osteria Mozza (Los Angeles)
Best Chef: South (AL, AR, FL, LA, MS): Chris Hastings, Hot and Hot Fish Club (Birmingham, AL)

Best Chef: Southeast (GA, KY, NC, SC, TN, WV): Tie between Hugh Acheson, Five and Ten (Athens, GA) and Linton Hopkins, Restaurant Eugene (Atlanta)

Best Chef: Southwest (AZ, CO, NM, NV, OK, TX, UT), Paul Qui, Uchiko (Austin, TX)

Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional, Paul Grieco, Terroir (NYC)

Outstanding Wine Program, No. 9 Park (Boston)

Outstanding Bar Program, PDT (NYC)

Outstanding Service, La Grenouille (NYC)

Outstanding Pastry Chef, Mindy Segal, Mindy’s Hot Chocolate (Chicago)

Outstanding Restaurateur, Tom Douglas, Tom Douglas Restaurants (Seattle)

For a complete list of winners, go here.

Photo of Momofuk’s Christina Tosi by Kent Miller