Photo Credit: Ben Brown and The Plot

The Conference Room: Authentic Global Fusion in Playa Vista

To fully experience The Conference Room, it’s important to understand the story of the chef whose masterwork makes the restaurant tick. Because in a city like LA, where the so-called formula for a restaurant is typically something along the lines of ‘start with Italian, add some exotic-sounding stuff, and hope for the best,’ it’s rare to find a chef that has actually lived in the areas his menu represents. The Conference Room, while checking many of the “hip and trendy” boxes necessary for its roots in Playa Vista, in turn pays homage to the journey taken before the restaurant ever opened its doors.

Executive chef Michelangelo Aliaga grew up in a small town in northern Peru. With a Peruvian mother and an Italian father, he moved to Barcelona as a teenager, where he then began his culinary training. Aliaga proceeded to spend the next several decades across many of Europe’s finest culinary cities, from Florence to London, and many places in between. His next chapter took him to the US, where he met the illustrious Chef Ricardo Zarate, a fellow Peruvian, and a collaboration of South American fare with a heavy dousing of global influence blossomed. This takes us to The Conference Room. Chef Aliaga demonstrates tremendous pride in his work, from making pastas in-house to sourcing ingredients of the highest quality.

Case in point with the truffle semolina gnocchi. Simple in nature but rich as can be, this decadent creation soaks up a rich cheese fondue with layers of beautiful black truffle shaved on top. Each bite makes it becomes harder and harder to keep your eyes open and remain composed. Then there’s the lobster spaghetti, equally luxurious in its own right with behemoth chunks of lobster claw and tail folded into a tangle of house-made pasta and an oh-so-flavorful lobster bisque sauce.

Chef Aliaga has an eye for indulgence (as if his pastas didn’t already make that clear), and has prepared several comfort classics accordingly. The Americano smothered fries showcase a mountain of crispy potatoes enveloped in a house-made cheese sauce with hefty morsels of bacon on top. The chicken and waffles are presented with a surprising addition of avocado, fried egg cooked so perfectly that the yolk could burst with a slight gust of wind, and an addictive unification of maple syrup and buffalo wing sauce. But comfort food takes many forms, and for a Peruvian, that means lomo saltado. And lomo saltado Chef Aliaga delivers, in grand fashion.

The Conference Room’s menu and ambiance are like siblings: they get along in many ways, and yet in some cases it’s hard to believe they’re related. On one hand, loud ultra lounge-style music is a bit over-the-top for a restaurant surrounded by office buildings (even if those buildings play host to trendy tech giants such as Google and Facebook) but on the other hand, the restaurant’s capacity is limited to around 60 people, patio included, providing an intimate environment that’s as close to a classic Italian trattoria as you can get in the bustling context of Los Angeles. The trendy crowd and faux fireplace are always surefire reminders of being in a big city.

barcito: Argentine Influence in DTLA

Nestled on the corner of 12th and Grand, just a stone’s throw from the Staples Center, sits barcito.  Make no mistake about this Argentinian-focused, haute spot: While Latin flavors run through barcito’s veins, the menu holds elements of classic American comfort to make just about any patron feel right at home.  In similar fashion, a novel drink menu sports a broad selection of specialty cocktails, including beer and wine cocktails, that pack a hell of a punch. 

Oh yeah, the vibe here is ‘very LA,’ with groups sporting everything from chic formal wear all the way down to well-worn hoodies.  The place perfectly caters to all crowds, agendas, and lifestyles that intertwine amidst the hustle and bustle of DTLA.  The long bar is perfect for groups and party-goers, while pockets of candlelit tables accommodate  date nights and intimate groups.    

barcito’s food menu is just large enough to provide strong variety, but small enough for each dish to have been perfected over time.  The attention to detail shows in a starter as pure and simple as bread & butter, where barcito’s grandma’s bread holds simply the perfect hearty texture made all the more beautiful with a cultured butter topped with sea salt.  Throw in some ultra-premium serrano ham and fresh burrata and you could almost call it a night.  But of course, barcito goes much further than that.  

Empanadas are undoubtedly a staple here.  Whether shredded pork, ground beef, or artichoke heart, each comes with its own distinct presentation, but all go perfectly with a bright & creamy chimichurri.  Bridging the elements of Argentine and American cuisines are items like the breakfast salad, where chorizo, avocado, and perfectly fried egg come together atop fresh greens for a dish suitable for any health-crazed millennial who also has a refined palate.  Going even further into Americanized, yet globalized fare is the hot chicken sandwich, where an ever-so-light breading locks in an ever-so-juicy piece of chicken, accompanied by a colorful carrot and purple cabbage slaw and a creamy, spicy honey-infused sauce.  And if you come at the right time, the animal-style fries are an upscale take on their namesake, with tender shortrib and chimichurri putting an intriguing spin on things.  

barcito backs up its name with a strong drink lineup.  Each cocktail incorporates elements of timeless classics with a touch (or sometimes a heavy dose) of something new.  Take the flower street, where vodka, lavender-vanilla, lemon and egg white come together to create a slightly sweet taste and bold character.  Their house-made shandy, with citrus-blonde ale and ginger lemonade goes down smoothly, as does a beautifully mixed spritzer with Aperol, lemon and sparkling wine.  Other cocktails feature ingredients such as pez powder, maple and tajin, with new concoctions arriving on a regular basis.  

Whether you’re at barcito for food, drink, or both, the dulce de leche churros will undoubtedly make your night.  An airy batter with deep pockets houses more cinnamon sugar than thought possible, and – as if that wasn’t sweet enough – an addictive dulce de leche sauce turns a good dessert into a knock-out dish.

More Vegan Eateries Opening in San Diego

As plant-based diets continue to rise in the food trend world, more and more eateries are becoming empowered to not just incorporate these items into their menus, but dedicate themselves entirely to these categories. 

OleriCultura, an all-vegan food stall, recently opened up in La Mesa’s Grossmont Center. Its humble food court location keeps costs lower than they’d be in a standalone property, but the modern plant-based take on Mexican fare has resonated with consumers. OleriCultura serves a variety of grain bowls that incorporate south-of-the-border ingredients such as native beans and plantains, cashew crema and habanero beet salsa. 

Farther north, in Oceanside, husband and wife team Davin and Jessica Waite have opened The Plot. This plant-based eatery puts the environment above all else and touts a ‘zero-waste’ business model. The Plot is the duo’s newest concept, after The Whet Noodle and Wrench and Rodent Seabasstropub. Aiming to “keep things real and local,” the menu sports items such as beet reubens and strawberry stem pesto pasta.