tavern los angeles

Los Angeles: Tavern

Suzanne Goin and sommelier Carolyn Styne—the team behind L.A.’s Lucques and AOC restaurants—say they never thought of opening a third place in upscale Brentwood. But something caught their collective eye in a shuttered Hamburger Hamlet space. First, they broke the big corner property into sections, creating a sage-colored dining room in back, a bar in the middle (the original sky-high Hamlet atrium), and a “larder” in front with an in-house bakery and deli case selling take-out versions of Goin’s greatest hits, like bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with parmesan. Although “Hamburger Hamlet” is still emblazoned on the valet sign, Tavern’s kitchen is already going in full gear. Our starters—a spring vegetable salad with creamy Burrata, olives, and Meyer lemon; duck sausage with pancetta, frisée, and kumquat marmalade; and roasted asparagus with polenta, thinly shaved pecorino, and a Tavern riff on a Scotch egg, soft-cooked and crisply fried—were devoured in a breath. And if there is anything that can beat Goin’s breadcrumb-covered, mustardy Devil’s chicken thighs with braised leeks for sheer comfy deliciousness, please send it my way.

Tavern 11648 San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles (310-806-6464; tavernla.com).

New York City: Emporio

I hate the menu at the new sort-of-Roman downtown restaurant called Emporio—hate it because choosing just a few things from it is all but impossible. Whipped baccalà with crispy polenta; roasted beets with pickled onion and smoked ricotta; risotto with wild mushrooms and fava beans—how to decide? Here, I’ll narrow it down a little: Forget the bland mozzarella-stuffed squash blossoms and the gristly porchetta. Otherwise, you’re golden. Baby favas with mint, wisps of pecorino, and tangles of pea shoots; plump sardines with panzanella; tender grilled octopus with tiny, perfectly cooked risina beans flavored with preserved lemon (the best beans I’ve tasted in New York City in years); offhandedly excellent pizza with Tuscan kale, guanciale, and pecorino cream; exquisite Frascati-braised rabbit with olives… This is vivid, confident, often unusual Italian cooking. Added value: a warm, wonderful dining room beneath a peaked glass roof (the space used to house François Payard’s short-lived InTent), lots of local and/or organic products, and, for now at least, a BYOB policy with no corkage for the first two bottles.

Emporio 231 Mott St., New York City (212-966-1234)

Chicago: Taxim

There are certain food trends that seem to skip right over Chicago. Until Taxim opened, Nuevo-Greek appeared to be one of them. I’d like to think this was because Chicago’s Greektown claims to have given America the gyro—and with that piece of ingenuity in our back pocket, why try again? Now, however, there’s another gyro in town, and with all due respect to those that came before it, this one—made with gorgeously roasted, pomegranate-glazed duck and slathered with a walnut-yogurt mousse—is intoxicating and unlike any other I’ve encountered. Taxim’s owner and chef, David Schneider, has also introduced Chicagoans to “rampopita,” a spanikopita of sorts. Flaky housemade phyllo is stuffed with ramps, braided, and sprinkled with sesame seeds. The menu also features simple yet addictive meze—cool roasted peppers served alongside creamy confit garlic—as well as a very fine, whole roasted dorade. But I probably won’t order the dorade again. We’ve been roasting whole fish in Greektown for decades now, and I’d rather stick to the Taxim dishes that are Greek to me.

Taxim 1558 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago (773-252-1558)
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