J. Gold Stands Beside Spago; Besha Rodell Thinks Cortez Is Killing It

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Cortez Photo: Javier Cabral

"The first responsibility of any great restaurant is to keep you in the bubble, the soft-serve cocoon of illusion where you forget the world exists for anything but your pleasure. And the newly redesigned Spago...gives good bubble." So speaks Jonathan Gold, masterfully batting clean-up on the re-do of Puck's flagship. The critic feels "the Hollywood fun that Barbara Lazaroff once brought to the restaurant has been bleached right out of the place," much as he once worried about Spago spelling a death sentence for haute cuisine in L.A., fretting that Puck's "considerable talents [were] being wasted on glamorized snack food." Still, he approves of the restaurant's revival, finding the kitchen's grasp of modernism an asset to "reestablishing it as an international culinary destination." Despite Tetsu Yahagi's "fresh take on Japanese cooking," Gold concludes that "while the wild king salmon may be grilled over Japanese bincho charcoal, flavored with yuzu kosho, and served with those maitake mushrooms, it is still essentially a French presentation, ideally enjoyed with a glass of Austrian wine. You are still at Spago. All is right with the world." [LAT]

Besha Rodell plants a flag into Cortez, a palace in the sun for Echo Park H-words with a "devotion to the ingredients-first school of thought." Noting such tired trends as animal pelts and communal tables, Rodell calls the restaurant "a parody of 2012 and of everything Chang was deriding in his figs-on-a-plate comment" clarifying that it's all forgivable since "what Cortez is putting on the plate is damn delicious." A grilled flatbread may be the highlight in a routine where "a base ingredient, selected for its freshness and high quality, is paired with one or two other components for an outcome that's simple and often startlingly good." There are some misses, like a chewy flank steak and a "medicinal" plate of turnips, but the critic ultimately thinks "there's a real place for cooking like this." [LAW]

Brad A Johnson is paralyzed after downing a monster burger at Costa Mesa's Golden Truffle, a 30-year-old "three-martini lunch spot" that many of his sources cite among their favorite places in Orange County. After swiping that it "is not an attractive restaurant" and noting that its menu that has "no discernible plot," Johnson notes that his eclectic meals here are generally "good but rarely what I'd call revelatory." Soon the chef makes the critic and sends out giant red clams that will mesmerize him for days, "the only thing so far that trumps the burger." He later returns to see if chef Alan Greeley can prepare a tasting menu, only to be told the chef is AWOL that night, along with most of the clientele. The critic concludes, "I'm completely baffled as to why...such a renowned chef hasn't yet groomed an apprentice who can step into his shoes when he's not in the kitchen." [OC Register]