susan feniger street restaurant

Los Angeles: STREET

In the ’80s, I lived within walking distance of the pocket-sized City Café. Owned by Two Hot Tamales’ Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken, it was a delicious, welcoming place where you might find the two chef/owners in the back alley grilling meat on a cast-iron hibachi because there wasn’t room in their itty-bitty kitchen. STREET, Feniger’s first Milliken-less project, captures the same warmth and culinary excitement in its menu, which reads like a world tour of street food. There are Egyptian koshary (spiced rice, lentils, and pasta alongside stewed collard greens), delectable puffs of potato, sweet chutney, and sprouted beans known as panni poori, and a Vietnamese dish of fresh corn wok-cooked with spring onions and bits of pork belly. Thai Bites turn out to be rounds of raw collard green leaves that you smear with tamarind paste and sprinkle with bird chiles, peanuts, and toasted coconut, then eat like a quickie roll-up. Outdoors, there’s a two-tiered dining patio with a fire pit and a window offering a peek into a bustling kitchen that, thirty-plus years later, isn’t much bigger than City’s was.

Street 742 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles (323-203-0500;

Los Angeles: Umami Burger

The first time I went to Umami Burger it was six weeks old, which is irritating because that meant I had lost five weeks and six days of eating at L.A.’s newest best hamburger joint. The complicated flavors in the titular Umami burger, a weighty round of freshly ground flap meat, juicy grilled mushrooms, roasted tomato, caramelized onions, and a crispy parmesan tuile, are impressive. But it doesn’t floor me with that why-didn’t-I-meet-you-sooner? longing the way the delectably smoky Triple Pork burger, made of ground pork, chorizo, bacon, and aged Manchego, does. I am now equally attached to the Mideast burger, a Sonoma lamb patty with harissa-honey sauce and shallots cooked in red wine, and the just-spicy-enough Hatch burger topped with four types of chopped green chiles. The owner, Adam Fleischman, has instructed his employees to be coy about the harder-to-identify ingredients he uses to achieve the flavor-enriching fifth taste in his food known as umami. “It’s secret,” our server kept repeating. But the appeal of hand-cut, triple-cooked fries and malt liquor–tempura onion rings served with homemade ketchup and roasted garlic aïoli is deliciously obvious.

Umami Burger 850 S. La Brea, Los Angeles (323-931-3000;

Los Angeles: The Varnish

You do not go to The Varnish bar to watch sports on a plasma TV or for neon Margaritas served in 42-ounce glasses. You go to The Varnish, the downtown collaboration of bartender Eric Alperin and New York cocktail swami Sasha Petraske, for a dimly lit, mahogany-paneled drinking experience that feels part Los Angeles Prohibition-era dream, part cocktail-purist-gets-his-own-exclusive-clubhouse. There’s white penny tile on the floor, a broken antique piano, and Douglas fir booths. Choose a classic cocktail from the spare, eight-item menu, and a bartender in shirtsleeves will become a potion-and-spirits pouring blur. The Vodka Daisy goes down like a melting lemon sorbet, and the tart Pisco Sour comes frothily pale and anointed with a few drops of orange bitters. My friend Joe ordered something called an El Diablo. It was fizzily delicious, held a branch of hand-chopped ice, and tasted of tequila, freshly juiced lime and ginger, and a splash of crème de cassis. “This is a drink that Mickey Rourke would order,” he said, admiringly, “then pour a little bit to one of his tiny dogs.”

The Varnish 118 E. 6th St., Los Angeles (213-622-9999;

New York City: Monkey Bar

In times like these nothing feels quite so comforting as a little piece of the past. That’s the charm of restaurants like The Waverly Inn and Minetta Tavern, with their restored murals, refurbished interiors, and familiar, unthreatening menus. And that’s the charm of Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Graydon Carter’s just-opened Monkey Bar. Despite the fact that Ed Sorel’s wonderful murals are barely dry, they look as if they’ve been there forever. And the tiered restaurant, with its prominent bar, seems so much like the sophisticated New York of the wicked ’30s that you’ll look around to see if Nick and Nora Charles are at the next table, feeding one another witty lines. The smooth service fosters this illusion, as does the extremely likeable menu with its classic lineup of oysters Rockefeller, clams casino, and lobster Newburg. There are steaks, chops, roast chicken, roasted sea bream (“Would you like that with or without the head?”). The nods to modern tastes show up in the guise of a good burger, penne with tomato or pesto sauce, and a soft-boiled duck egg with foie gras toasts. The dessert of the moment, sticky toffee pudding, also makes an appearance. Served as it is here, with crème fraîche, it is irresistible. I suspect that, for the many who are currently in need of reassurance, the Monkey Bar will be, too.

Monkey Bar 60 E. 54th St., New York City (212-308-2950)

Cambridge: Ten Tables

This newbie, the second outpost of a Jamaica Plain restaurant by the same name, has a few more tables (17, to be exact) but the same winning concept: intimate, affordable fine dining done right. The menu’s basic conceit is market-driven French, and plates are remarkably crafted, especially considering the prices. The bold, expressive flavors of the spicy squid with green garlic, cardoons, gigantic beans, and crispy olives appetizer are expertly balanced. Same goes for the housemade merguez sausage. And while skillet-roasted chicken with turnip purée and braised red cabbage may sound ho-hum, it’s actually exemplary of dexterous cooking technique and seasoning perfection (I mean dead-on…in every dish I tried). This is truly nice food. Plus the vibe at this new locale is super chill, and you’ll definitely feel that you’re being well cared for. If there’s one fault here, it’s that snagging a reservation is already becoming a challenge.

Ten Tables 5 Craigie Circle, Cambridge, MA (617-576-5444;
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