Friday, January 25, 2013

A Top Chef Favorite

Finally back from another lengthy and memorable stay in Los Angeles.  We spent a lot of time with family and friends at holiday parties and gatherings, but made sure to hit the town from time to time in search of some good eats and a nice glass of vino. Mission accomplished when we found Stefan’s at L.A. Farm (aka Stefan’s at Lantana). We had received a $25 gift certificate from a friend to try the place in Santa Monica. Figuring it was a nice change of pace from the Sunset strip and a central location to meet up with some friends from the O.C., we booked our reservations. No expectations. Well, we were a little skeptical when we arrived and found the place is located on the bottom floor of an office building. Once inside though, something told us we had struck gold. Three visits in 3 weeks later, we think it’s safe to say this is now at the top of our L.A. favorites.

The outside of the restaurant was recently remodeled and we dig it. The inside though, is terrific.  In front of the bar is this beautiful table made from the restaurant’s previous signage.



The d├ęcor throughout the place is simple, but stylish and elegant with just the right lighting. 
Our party of six was seated in the main dining area in the back next to the private “wine room”. (We hope to celebrate the next birthday bash there.)  It can get a little loud in the restaurant once it fills up, but on a Friday night that’s expected pretty much anywhere. (We happened to be the loudest bunch on this particular Friday evening.) There is a magnificent patio and fire pits that give the place a warm, inviting yet sophisticated feel.


Ok, so, funny story….as we waited at the bar for our friends to arrive, we noticed the Chef/Owner making his way around the tables, asking patrons how everything is, having a laugh, even taking a seat and having a drink with some. Enter our friend and her husband, husband clearly excited and giddy over something. He’s a foodie himself and was even a chef at a swanky Sunset Strip restaurant back in the day, so something was up. A big fan of cooking shows, particularly Bravo’s Top Chef, he proceeds to tell us that we are at the restaurant of Season 5’s Top Chef runner up and fan favorite, Stefan Richter. Who??? Yeah, we know, we’re bad foodies. We spend a little too much time out wining and dining to watch T.V. (Hey, that’s a good reason!) Well, we soon learned that Stefan is from Finland, lived in Germany and has a very impressive resume, which includes the Bellagio in Las VegasEnoteca Drago in Beverly Hills and Villagio Inn and Spa in Napa. We also learned that Stefan is currently back for Season 10 of Top Chef. Well, let’s just say that after dining at his restaurant and experiencing his charm and the passion he has for what he does, we just might have to catch up on some episodes. But we’ll get to that in a second.

On to the food, ahhhhhh, the food….

Up first…Small plates:
Bowl of Corn Dogs
with Spicy Mustard and Ketchup...
 Could not get enough of these little things...we had to order more!

Like a Big Mac - McTurkey
Nothing like a Big Mac as they are two of the tiniest little sliders we've ever seen...
and much tastier!

Truffle Arancini
The joke at the table was that these were 2 of the tastiest little balls ever!

Beef Tartare
with Bernaise sauce and Rosemary Toast
There were a lot of flavors going on in this which lost some of the beef, 
but everyone still agreed it was very good

Appetizers:
Spicy Tuna Tartare
Loved it...tuna was fresh and the combination of flavors made us want more. 
The spicy Thai dressing was so good!

Oven Roasted Bone Marrow
There's a first time for everything, right? 
Pleasantly surprised...the taste was reminiscent of Lamb...
just don't think we could do it again.

Mushroom Ravioli
This was a big hit at our table. 
The flavors and consistency of the raviolis were just perfect. 
Note: We are not fans of duck (dish contains duck liver) but we'd eat this again.

Entrees:
Open Faced Burger
This burger left a lasting impression. We shared it (the chef himself cut it for us) and were just blown away. One half of Vino & Vintage is of Ecuadorian descent, where throwing an egg on top of any dish is the norm…but brie cheese, as well? Heaven!
We ordered the Cauliflower Mash side dish to go with it...most amazing ever.
 We ate it before we got a chance to take a picture!! lol


Steak Frites 
Two of the boys at the table ordered this dish and absolutely killed it. 
Flat iron steak...made to order and seasoned perfectly. 
The skinny fries were yummy...herb butter a plus.


Beef Tenderloin
This is actually half of the dish, as 2 in our party chose to share.
The 8 oz filet was tender and flavorful. The truffle mashed potatoes were amazing.
The drizzle of Hollandaise sauce was a little bonus flavor and the asparagus was cooked just right.

So, yes, apparently we are carnivores...
 and what better to go with it than some fabulous red wine, but of course. ;)
L de Lyeth
Malbec
California
Alcohol: 13.3%
Perfect with our steaks. 
The third time at the restaurant we went back just for a glass of this wine...
enough said. ;)
We also tried a glass of the Troublemaker Rhone Blend, which came in a close second. ;)

Desserts:
We're still kicking ourselves for not trying the Dessert Lollipops (which apparently are famous), but we had some other amazing stuff to sample. Unfortunately we can't really tell you what they're called as the menu was different that night and we had one too many glasses of wine at this point.




Smores at the Fire Pit
The first night there they were out, so we had to go back just for this experience.
When we were done with our dinner they moved us over to the fire pit couches and we experienced pure bliss. Perfect ending to an incredible meal.

As we said before, Chef Stefan, aka “Chefan”, made it a point to visit as many, if not all, the tables of diners. He stopped over and chatted with us on several occasions and took pictures with us, as well. He was so friendly, funny and attentive...a bit of a flirt too. ;) Once we were finished with our meal, Stefan even joined us and our group of friends up at the bar and the Irish Car Bomb race was on!
He then invited us out to the closed patio and we chatted and shared drinks with him. He even shared some of his special stash of this very interesting bottle. 
Yeah, we were feeling it the next morning, but it was well worth it. ;)

Final thoughts:
Honestly, everything we tried (let’s not count the bone marrow) was magnificent...even the table bread and butter were great. Not for nothing, but for a party of 6 of both men and women to agree, tells you a little something about Stefan’s. Must try! If we have one complaint, there’s just too much deliciousness going on and the portion sizes can be a tease! Be prepared to spend some $$...well worth it though. Service was outstanding, as well. On our first night we were treated to a "Kelly threesome"...Kelly the bartender, Kelly our waitress, and Kelly the General Manager. All three ladies were professional, but so sweet...thank you!

Our second night there, we were lucky enough to have Glen from Ireland as our server. Genuinely nice guy. He was slammed with customers, but yet so patient and helpful. He said he had worked at many restaurants, but Stefan's was definitely the best. We plan on returning on our next trip to sample some of the chicken and seafood dishes, as well as the Lunch Menu, which looks fantastic. We especially can't wait to try out the Foodie Kitchen Counter Special. For $175 you get a 10-course meal with wine pairings directly from the Chef while you sit right at the kitchen! There are 5 and 7 course tastings and other specials going on all the time. We highly recommend you visit the restaurant's website and book your reservations. 

While the food was phenomenal, what made our time so memorable at Stefan’s was definitely the man behind the name. It seems to be the experience of anyone who walks out of the restaurant.  Just about every diner thanked him on the way out. After doing a little Google search on Mr. Richter, we were quite surprised to find that his T.V. persona gets either some serious praise or some serious backlash. Perhaps just misunderstood? After chatting with him on several occasions and seeing him in action, we find him both endearing and fun. It's impressive to find a "Celebrity Chef" who is so hands on. We didn't want to bombard him with interview-like questions, though he was very willing to share his history, experiences, and thoughts on the future.  He even let us take a tour of the kitchen...which was immaculate! Everyone behind the scenes was just as friendly.

When asked why he spends up to 16 hours a day at a restaurant that is clearly doing very well, his answer was simple…he loves what he does...and it shows.  
In our opinion, he’s a bad boy with a heart of gold. ;)

A divine meal, great service, nice wine and some serious fun with a truly stand-up guy…
can’t wait to return!

If you’re a fan of Top Chef you have a few weeks left to head over to Stefan’s and watch the show along with him on Wednesday nights on the restaurant’s new 80 inch flat screen T.V.

The End.
~Vino & Vintage

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P.S. A scale set to 10 lbs by the front door? Nice touch. lol

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