A trip to California is always a good idea, especially when the excuse is to discover hidden gems a little bit away from the usual touristy itineraries. During California Restaurant Month in January, we visited some special dining spots in the Southern California area with a focus: finding market-driven menus with seasonal offerings. We discovered a lot of great places in areas other than Venice, where the king and princess of fresh local cooking, Gjelina and Gjusta, are located. Southern California has plenty of other locales offering new culinary adventures to explore.
Here is a list of places with eateries that’ll make your trip worth it.
Winter isn’t a real thing here, and the ocean breeze will just make you hungrier. Rent a bike by the Pier, ride through Hermosa Beach, watch the surfers in Manhattan Beach, then head back to Redondo for the best sunset. Redondo is well-known for the freshest lobsters you can find in the area. We tried the lobster roll at the Sea Level restaurant of the Shade Hotel, which offers the best view of the Redondo Marina. The lobster that the chef pairs with chives on a buttered roll (and a tarragon aïoli) will make you think that the best rolls don’t necessarily belong to the East Coast. They have a big selection of bubbles and, when in doubt, start with a glass of rosé (like Brut Charles Lafitte). The menu includes various seafood options: a daily selection of oysters and local mussels, poached jumbo shrimp cocktail, a confit tuna melt (which comes with aged white cheddar and pickled Persian cucumber)…. For dinner, head to Dominique’s Kitchen, where chef Dominique Theval, after years of experiences everywhere from Cambodia to London to Los Angeles, found his place in Redondo offering a menu that mixes his French background with local ingredients. Make sure that you indulge in his tasty chicken pâté and close the dinner with his lemon crème brûlée.
Another spot worth discovering, and one that is already very popular among locals, is Turquoise Restaurant. They are masters of seasoning, combining Mediterranean and Middle Eastern recipes. This restaurant, located in downtown Redondo, offers an amazing array of what the fresh market is offering. They make their yogurt in-house and everything on the menu is organic and seasonal. Two must-try dishes, above all, are the lamb kabob marinated with a saffron-onion blend and then grilled; and their specialty, broiled whitefish, which is seared, broiled and served with lemon, capers and pear tomato sauce.
Mark my words: this little wine region — a pearl located just an hour and a half from LA and a very short distance from Palm Springs — is going to be the next hot destination. The area is growing exponentially after winemakers, chef,s and producers have begun investing in the area, which gets much sun and a refreshing ocean breeze. We recommend a visit to the Doffo Winery, owned by an Argentinian family following a sustainable farming concept and a “small is better” philosophy. They have zero distribution, so to taste their wine you must either visit them directly or purchase the wine from their website. Marcelo Doffo has studied winemaking in Argentina and then in Northern Italy, and produces cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, and malbec.
From there, head to Leoness for lunch. This restaurant, which is also a winery, offers an al fresco culinary experience with a view of the valley. Chef Daragh Matheson has a straightforward philosophy for his menu and everything is made from scratch. Don’t miss the french fries, cooked with a combo of duck fat and canola oil. Remarkable.
We recommend a visit to old town in Temecula where a famous olive oil producer, the Olive Oil Company, has their tasting room and where the most innovative restaurant in the area, EAT, is located. EAT has a farm-to-table concept with an incredible creative menu. You must try their Parisian gnocchi with beurre blanc, herbs, and hazelnut as well as their wild mushroom risotto with sprouted brown rice, seasonal mushrooms, and a farm egg.
For brunch, head to Cork Fire Kitchen at the Temecula Creek Hotel, which offers a menu using only produce from local farms, such as coddled farmhouse eggs with asparagus and chopped bacon with a creamy GruyEere sauce. Order your cappuccino and enjoy the ambience of the cottage-style restaurant; a lovely spot that overlooks a lush green golf course.
Union Restaurant in Pasadena will be a spot you’ll soon hear more about. The Northern Italy-inspired menu is both elegant and innovative, and so is their carefully chosen wine list. They make their own stracciatella cheese in-house, which is served with simple crostini. The cheese is authentic: creamy, tasty, and maybe a little less fatty compared to what you’d find in Puglia. The mussels, cooked with guanciale and served with pan con tomate, and the famous squid-ink bombolotti with Maine lobster, fennel, Meyer lemon, and truffle butter are both equally outstanding dishes. Don’t forget to leave some space for dessert. Their house-made chocolate gelato will make you crave a return trip here.