A quick overnight for a U2 show (a girlhood favorite) provided one shot to eat and drink in LA for the night. While that’s always a tough call when my go-to list is continuously long, I decided to forgo the barbecue and hole-in-the-wall favorites I’ve already been to in sketchy Inglewood surrounding the Forum to check out one of the hot restaurants that is now making LA’s South Bay a dining destination.
Even a couple years ago, Manhattan Beach was still a chill beach town with mediocre food, just like the charming towns of Hermosa and Redondo Beach directly south. Now MB in particular is home to a handful of restaurants drawing city-wide raves, while neighboring towns are growing in their dining scenes, drawing LA residents from further afield.
FISHING WITH DYNAMITE, Manhattan Beach
Charming, intimate Fishing with Dynamite is perpetually packed partly because there’s hardly any tables and merely a few stools at the tiny bar, but also because the spanking fresh seafood is delicious, the service and vibe welcoming.
Cocktails ($12.50) are light and easy in keeping with the beach vibe, but thankfully not without some complexity, as in the case of Norwegian Contraband, the strongest of the four cocktails I tasted. It’s listed as inspired by (though nothing like) a classic gin-honey Bees Knees cocktail, instead using North Shore Aquavit for subtle caraway notes, brightened by yuzu (Japanese citrus) cardamom, lemon and thyme.
Wine offerings also please, with some affordable treasures lurking on the menu like a lovely, mineral 2013 Vina Mein Estate Galician Albarino blend from Oursense ($8/14.50), in Spain’s Galicia region (my visit to that fascinating region here), or a crisp 2013 Giocato Pinot Grigio by Edi Simcic from Primorska, Slovenia ($5.50/9.50).
Then there is the seafood and chef David Le Fevre’s dishes. Oysters come from New Zealand to Prince Edward Island, served with shellfish-driven sauces like yuzu koshu mayo, saffron aioli and a classic French remoulade. Seafood is grouped on the menu by “Old School” (think New England clam chowder) and “New School” (whole tai snapper cooked in ginger, garlic and kaffir lime). Live Santa Barbara sea urchin ($15) was served on ice with the spiny shell (always a nice, dramatic touch but a rarity), lemon and toasts. The uni was so impeccable, I ordered two just before they ran out.
Sitting at the intimate bar and chatting with our bartender over quality drink and seafood, I appreciated Manhattan Beach in a way I’d always wanted to: this idyllic SoCal beach town now has big city-worthy tastes to make that oceanside setting even more perfect.
COCKTAILS at HARLOWE, West Hollywood
Though not exactly down the street from Inglewood, we ended the night in WeHo (West Hollywood). Unfortunately, for one who has always hated deafening bars and standing room-only crowds, it was Saturday night so the gorgeous new Now Boarding, a Pan Am-esque, 1960’s airport lounge-style cocktail bar that opened in January 2015, was too crowded to linger.
Similarly, nearby Harlowe — in a roomy, wallpapered space lined with vintage portraits — was obnoxiously loud and frenzied with a DJ right by the bar and too many people crowding around and talking at a deafening level. But being an expansive space centered by one large bar, there was room to tuck in for a drink and clearly this would be a place I’d like on a mellow weeknight.
Thankfully, we grabbed a spot at the large bar in front of the bar manager, Chris Amirault, which we didn’t learn until we’d ordered a couple drinks. In addition to gracious service, he had us try a couple more cocktails, impeccably executed with classic structure but modern inventiveness — and cheeky names like “There’s Always Money in the Banana Stand” (a reference to one of my all-time favorite comedies, Arrested Development). The house program was initially created by famed NY cocktail guru Dushan Zaric.
A favorite, which Amirault recommended, was The Bee’s T’s ($14), a twist on a classic Bee’s Knees cocktail. But this drink was Ford’s Gin, Del Maguey Chichicapa Mezcal (one of the greats in the mezcal line), green tea washed like a milk tea with Straus milk, lemon and honey. The Ides of March ($14) was the other standout, served tall over crushed ice with three rums — Rhum JM Gold, Hamilton 151 and Mount Gay Black Barrel — as the base, mixed subtly with ginger, lime, pineapple, Harlowe’s Zombie mix and Trader Tiki’s Don’s Spice No. 2. It’s the kind of Tiki cocktail those of us who can’t stand sweet drinks love, ideally balanced while still authentically Tiki.
On a more chill weeknight (always my preference but not always possible as I travel), this would be a WeHo recommend. If you like not being able to hear the person next to you, by all means, go on the weekend.