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San Francisco Lights Virbila's Fire; Gold Finds Figs on Plates

Penne Velveeta at The Olive Garden

Penne Velveeta at The Olive GardenPhoto:

S. Irene Virbila heads north to San Francisco and declares that "the food scene there is on fire." Why the high praise? She hits six restaurants and no one takes a photo of her every single meal is a stunner, from the small plates at Plum to the twelve course tasting menu at Benu, with stops at Cotogna, Commonwealth, Mission Chinese Food, and Bar Agricole in between. With more panisse than figs on her plate, Virbila notes that San Francisco's restaurant scene is "blessed with an exuberant and bright spirit." [LAT]

Who does have figs on plates? Fig & Olive, naturally, where Jonathan Gold quickly points out that the namesake ingredients are everywhere, seasonality be damned. Will Gold be charmed by the glam destination? Hell no. He asserts, "Los Angeles has seen this sort of thing before: a clubby, light-washed restaurant, too big to be truly exclusive, decorated with gleaming jugs and divided by stands of herbs in the sorts of locations where your great-aunt, the one who still lives in the Paul Williams pad she commissioned as a young married, maintains her dwarf bamboo." Oof! [LAW]

With too little from our esteemed Patrick Kuh hitting us each year, we can't explain why he's tackling the new Downtown locale of Border Grill, but so it goes. While Angelenos have become more savvy about Mexican food, Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken are still breaking the rules on their own terms, "Cherry-picking a recipe, lifting it out of whatever mass of associations it might have for a culture and making it theirs." "If their cooking has a weakness," Kuh posits, "it’s when curiosity gives way to practicality, research to routine. Sometimes you get the unmistakable impression that you are sitting in one wing of a large machine." Still, he finds, "Behind the Too Hot Tamales’ shtick is a culinary intelligence and a sense of craft." [Los Angeles]

Hard-pressed to understand the popularity of quinoa? Mr. Gold breaks down the health claims and provenance of this Andean "grainlike object," suggesting dishes at Akasha, Fig, Border Grill, and Cube, but saving Mo-Chica for last with its "puffed-quinoa risotto fortified with crème fraîche and shiitake mushrooms," a preparation he calls, "an Italian dish with Bolivian ingredients made by a Peruvian chef best known for his Japanese cooking." [LAW]

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