As a successful financial consultant, Sharlena Fong spent her days wearing buttoned-up business attire and roaming New York City's World Financial Center. Then came September 11, 2001. Her professional life shaken and her priorities reorganized, she said goodbye to the world of finance, trading her power suits for a chef’s toque. After finishing culinary school and working under experienced chefs at Eleven Madison Park and Bouchon Bakery in New York City, Fong teamed up with James Gonzalez and Dennis Hunter in 2007 to open Semi Sweet Bakery in Los Angeles. Today, they all continue to work together with the same goal in mind: morphing frowns into grins with the help of fresh-baked pastries, cookies, and cakes. Hunter explains it best on the shop’s website: "No matter how bad someone's day is, no matter how much heartache someone may be going through, I get to give them a slice of cake or a piece of pastry made with love, and they smile!"
Love is not the only ingredient in their baked goods, however. Inspired by his training under Chef Monica May at Nickel Diner, Chef Gonzalez believes in using local, sustainable ingredients, making everything in-house and from scratch all while balancing each morsel’s delicate flavor profile. In the kitchen each day, chefs bake their signature ding a lings in sweet flavors such as hazelnut crunch and red velvet alongside savory empanadas stuffed with mushroom and short rib. Samoa macaroons packed with coconut, chocolate, and caramel sidle up to mugs of drip coffee and loose-leaf tea from SerendipiTe. The shop also trades in larger treats: nine-inch cakes in flavors such as strawberry three ways with jam and lemon curd fly out the door for surprise birthday parties or surprise I-ate-your-birthday-cake-in-the-car parties.
Every morning, the pastry chef of Nickel Diner officiates a sacred marriage between sweet and savory. The result is the restaurant's famed maple bacon donut: a glazed pastry topped with crumbled bacon bits. This mix of textures is a common one at the quirky venue, typifying their salt peanut cake—covered with peanut butter and potato chips—and dinner entrée of catfish with corn cakes, which derive a sweet tang from a candied pecan sauce. The creations of head chef Monica May and her team are enough to distinguish Nickel from a traditional diner (though, of course, they still flip a good burger). Nevertheless, designer Kristen Trattner dreamed up decor that matches the menu's eccentricity. On Food Network's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, Guy Fieri marvels at the upside-down floor lamps on the ceiling and the mannequin busts in the window, whose hairstyles consist of sculpted meringue. Guests can greet them at breakfast, lunch, or dinnertime every day of the week except for Monday, presumably the day when they rid their beehives of actual bees.
Growing up in Naples, Diego Ortoli developed a passion for traditionally prepared Italian cuisine. When he moved to LA, he found the classic recipes he craved were actually somewhat hard to come by. So, in 2010, after years in the restaurant industry, he decided to open Portofino Cucina Italiana, his own little slice of Naples.
He assembles an extensive menu of Italian dishes, such as homemade gnocchi in gorgonzola sauce or roasted whitefish topped with black olives and capers. He pairs the food with an equally lengthy wine list that focuses on Italian vintages. This combination of tradition and quality earned Ortoli praise for his authentic cuisine in Singular Magazine.
At both its downtown and Silver Lake locations, Garage Pizza serves up freshly baked pizzas whole or by the slice, as well as zesty wings and hearty sub sandwiches. Guests sink their teeth into sauceless white pizzas topped with ricotta and garlic, traditional margherita pies, or the ominously-dubbed Annihilator??covered in meatballs, sausage, pepperoni, and mushrooms. At the downtown restaurant, diners pair their pies with wine and craft beers, while both locations cap off main courses with chocolate chip cookies crowned with vanilla ice cream.
The first floor at Blossom’s Silver Lake location is pretty nondescript, but the basement is a different story. Request a table down there, where a stripped cement floor and a handsome communal table create a uniquely intimate vibe. There’s also a bar where you can order shrimp pho and bottles from the glassed-in wine cellar.
The coffee experts at Spring for Coffee have one goal: brew a perfect cup of coffee. To that end, they carefully source organic beans from high-quality roasters, including local companies such as Intelligentsia and Handsome Coffee Roasters. Then, the impeccably detailed baristas grind the coffee, and use various brewing methods–-drip, pour-over, cold brew––to create everything from espressos, to lattes, to macchiatos. For a break from the standard cup, the baristas also brew loose-leaf teas and mix iced coffees, which make drinkers invisible to thermal sensors.