There are times when you visit a new restaurant and upon taking a bite of the first dish, it turns out to be delicious. You’re off to a good start for dinner. Then the second dish arrives and it, too, is just comforting and delicious. Excitement begins to rise. Then the next dish, and the next all turn out to be simply wonderful, pleasing, and you feel blessed. You can’t wait to return, and the next visit turns out to be even better. You’ve found a new restaurant for your regular rotation. A place you can visit with family or friends, and know you’re going to get a great meal. Welcome to Horses.
The curiously named Horses actually pays homage to its heritage, taking over the space formerly known as Ye Coach & Horses built in 1934 near the vaunted Sunset Strip (you can see the OG placard engraved on the front door).
When you walk in, the space is quite unique and “long” (more deep than wide), and there are 3 main dining areas, a front bar & tables area (the most festive and loud), a more romantic, moody dining room proper (off to the left side when you enter) (and the darkest of the rooms), and a back bar area with wildly colorful paintings and other bar.
Helmed by Chefs Liz Johnson and Will Aghajanian, doing a bit of research it seems they both worked at Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark (considered by many to be the best restaurant in the world), as well as a variety of other restaurants, including The Catbird Seat (Nashville) prior to this. Reading an LA Times article on the workings of the kitchen, it seems Chef Johnson and Aghajanian have hired 2 more “co-chefs” Brittany Ha and Lee Pallerino to also help build out the menu, and they’ve done away with much of the traditional French brigade system in the kitchen. Indeed, on any given night, you can see all of them busy cooking away and preparing dish after dish carefully for the customers. The team is rounded out by Pastry Chef Hannah Grubba.
(Note: Apologies for the photo quality - it’s a dimly lit restaurant.)
The simply named Horses Caesar is stunning: This is nothing like a traditional Caesar Salad, but at the same time, every bite tastes like what you hope a great Caesar Salad might turn out to be. Instead of Romaine Lettuce, they use Endive. There’s Mimolette Cheese which hearkens to the expected Parmesan, but tastes more creamy, aromatic, rounder. I loved the use of crunchy toasted Breadcrumbs instead of big Croutons. You still get that crunch, but now it’s with every bite instead of once in a while with a traditional Caesar. There’s still that Anchovy brininess and creaminess in the dressing. It is brilliant and an excellent entry point to understanding the brilliance of Chef Liz Johnson & Will Aghajanian (and team).
Avocado Crostino with Cantabrian Anchovies:
I’ve probably been in COVID lockdown for too long, but the thought of Avocado and Anchovies has never crossed my mind as a possible tasty pairing. But taking a bite of the Avocado Crostino with Cantabrian Anchovies at Horses, and I realized how limited my culinary palate must’ve been: It works! And beautifully!
The creaminess of perfectly ripe Avocados completely balances out the briny funk you’d expect biting into an Anchovy. The toasted Crostino Bread adds a pleasing textural contrast. It’s creamy, crunchy, and there’s this delicate umami and complex flavor, but you never get overwhelmed by any pure Anchovy punch that you might be bracing for. It is a revelation.
Saffron Pappardelle with Slow Cooked Duck Sugo:
And then you take a bite of their Saffron Pappardelle with Slow Cooked Duck Sugo: There’s the delicate chew of fresh Pappardelle Pasta, perfectly sauced by this Duck Sugo Sauce that feels almost like a Bolognese, but not really at the same time. It’s balanced, stew-like, with a deep poultry essence and comforting. One of the best Pastas we’ve had in recent memory.
Cornish Game Hen with Warm Dandelion Panzanella:
The Roasted Cornish Game Hen is fantastic. The portion is perfect for 2, not as overwhelming as trying to finish an entire Roasted Chicken, perfectly roasted (although I wish the skin was crispy), and both the white and dark meat portions were moist and tender.
Sheep’s Milk Cheesecake with Poached Rhubarb:
We were stuffed at this point, but with every single dish being a winner, we couldn’t leave without trying something from the Dessert menu. I had no idea a Sheep’s Milk Cheesecake could be so good! You don’t even notice any “gaminess” that you might expect with Sheep’s Milk Cheeses. It’s a flawless Cheesecake, creamy, pure, clean and that Poached Rhubarb is a perfect counterpoint.
Marzipan Stracciatella Ice Cream with Amarena Cherry:
Some folks may know that I’ve given up on Ice Cream ever since some of our OG Hounds (like @ipsedixit @A5KOBE and others) told me about Bulgarini Gelato years ago. Yes, Gelato and Ice Cream are different, but from my first bite of Bulgarini Gelato, with the flavor concentration that is so potent, glorious and delicious, Ice Cream just tasted mundane in comparison.
But in one bite of Chef Hannah Grubba’s Marzipan Stracciatella Ice Cream with Amarena Cherry, my faith in great Ice Cream was restored: There’s a wonderful creamy texture, a smooth, silky base, and then you hit incredible Dark Chocolate Chunks(!). But then you run into bites of juicy Amarena Cherry chunks that are an explosion of sweet dark stone fruit flavor and you have one of the best Handmade Ice Creams in town! So good!
First Chefs Johnson and Aghajanian and team are crushing the savory dishes, and now Pastry Chef Hannah Grubba is doing the same with Desserts?! I kept thinking, who are these brilliant people and why haven’t I heard of them before?
Suffice to say the 1st visit was stunning. A 2nd visit was in order:
Horses Vesper (Gin Infused with Fig Leaf, Vodka and Lillet Blanc):
Our bartender, Courtney, had helped build the drinks program at Gigi’s (Mid-City). The Horses Vesper was light, refreshing and a great start to the evening.
Boudin Basque with Fried Hen’s Egg:
When Chef Johnson recommends the Boudin Basque, it’s probably a good idea to order the Boudin Basque. I was mentally prepared to engage with a variation on Blood Sausage, recalling the various iterations of Boudin Noir I’ve had over the years, but Horses’ version is something else entirely. Instead of the primarily mineral-y Blood Sausages you might be expecting, here the Boudin Basque is sumptuous, balanced, meaty with porcine notes, and tasting more like an absolutely delicious Handmade Sausage (Non-Blood) than traditional Boudin. The Fried Hen’s Egg with the runny yolk, the crunchy, fried Potato on which it rests (which they grate, confit, press, cool, cut, and then refry) just rounds things off perfectly. It almost looks like a wild take on an American Breakfast Sandwich, but it’s so much more.
Smoked Salmon Lavash with Cress:
This is another unexpected and wonderful creation: The kitchen team takes some delicate Smoked Salmon served on Lavash Bread, which is super thin and crispy, the Watercress on top is a beautiful herbal-y counterpoint to each bite, and it recalls the idea of something like a Breakfast item “Smoked Salmon Bagel with Schmear” perhaps, but so much lighter, aromatic, herbal and interesting. Very good.
Bee’s Knees (Gin, Lemon, Honey):
An excellent version from Bar Manager Courtney. Refreshing, bright and lightly sweet.
Veal Sweetbreads with Frisee and Capers:
Perfectly fried (not oily at all), there’s a delicate crispiness to the batter, and the Veal Sweetbreads within are creamy, tender, balanced by the Frisee and Capers (giving it enough piquancy to cut through that lovely creaminess and fried exterior).
Cheeseburger and Fries:
First, let’s get this out of the way: Yes, it’s $28 (+tax & tip) for their Cheeseburger & Fries, but taking a bite, and all your criticisms go away.
It begins with biting into the fluffy, but sturdy enough Poppy Seed Bun, and then you bite into a bit of Raw White Onion, and then you hit the star: Unctuous, luscious, fatty (but not overwhelming), juicy, American Wagyu Beef + Short Rib + Sirloin, cooked to a perfect medium rare.
Their Fries aren’t bad either, freshly fried to order, served with a Housemade Garlic Aioli. They have a light crispiness on the exterior with a fluffy interior. Not as crunchy-crisp as Connie & Ted’s, but delicious and comforting!
Pan Roasted Monkfish with Bearnaise and Melted Fennel:
Chef Liz Johnson and team rotate out the Fish seemingly every week, depending on what’s fresh. On this visit it was a Pan Fried Monkfish, which was nicely executed, meaty, but with enough of a delicate quality, and that Bearnaise Sauce was on point.
For many food lovers, seeing the simply named “Tiramisu” on a menu (with no description) might be reason enough to just skip over that entry and look for more interesting-sounding Desserts. But that would be a mistake:
When the Tiramisu arrives, it looks a bit flatter than most versions around town. And a lot darker. Then taking a bite (make sure to get all the layers together), there’s a delicate cake, wonderful Dark Chocolate Cocoa Powder, but then you hit the center with a Cocoa Nibs Brittle, and you get this crunch to go with the supremely delicate, soft cake and light Marzipan.
It is ridiculous! And the best Tiramisu I’ve ever had.
I begin to regret not having known about Pastry Chef Hannah Grubba before, this is yet another fantastic Dessert that’s simply outstanding.
Espresso Martini (St. George Coffee Liqueur, Chicory, Grand Marnier, Vodka):
And what better way to match the excellent Tiramisu than with an Espresso Martini? This matched so well it should be served together perhaps.
Cara Cara Sorbet with L’Arge d’Oor:
Outstanding! This screams in-season, straight from the Farmer’s Market Cara Cara Oranges distilled down into a frozen treat. The L’Arge d’Oor seems to be a Natural Wine and it paired perfectly here (not boozy at all, but giving it just this beautiful backnote).
With the first 2 visits offering excellent winner after winner, how could there not be a 3rd visit just to see how much better it could get?
There’s a whole Spritz section on the drinks menu, so to start:
Umeshu Tonic with Peychaud’s:
This was refreshing, but definitely on the complex side: Umeshu (Japanese Plum) Tonic gives you this tartness with a hint of plum fruit (barely), there’s effervescence and then the Peychaud’s Bitters adds this herbal backnote.
Marinated Gigante Beans, Nettle and Bottarga:
Massive flavor bomb. While “Beans” might sound like a boring dish to order, Chef Johnson and team’s Gigante Beans arrive plump, meaty, earthy but with a nice exterior bite. The Nettle adds a nice vegetal element, and then the delicate brininess of the Bottarga zaps things into focus. But then you get some of all of those elements with a bite of their fresh Burrata - so creamy and refreshing! - and you have nourishing, delicious “comfort food” in an elevated, but unfussy way.
(Special - Off-Menu) Kale Pesto Pasta:
On this visit they had a couple of Off-Menu Specials, the first being their Kale Pesto Pasta. While it is vegan, it more than satisfies anyone who enjoys a great Pasta dish. Here, they eschew the expected, traditional Pesto and substitute in Kale. Visually, it’s a gorgeous, deep forest green hue, but more importantly, flavor-wise, it’s a wonderful, vegetal, earthy-green, lightly bitter-savory Pasta that has the aroma of a great Pesto but also something that tastes healthier, heartier and simply delicious.
(Special - Off-Menu) Herman Pasta:
Another new Off-Menu Special, the Herman Pasta, is described as sort of like a Baked Ziti, but here with Vodka Sauce, Parmesan and Bread Crumbs, and baked until there’s a light toastiness on the surface. It’s a wonderful savory, creamy, lightly sweet, umami bite of joy. Yet another comfort food offering that shines at Horses.
Cote de Porc with Slow Roasted Cabbage and Braised Lentils:
It’s always nice to find a restaurant making a great Pork Chop dish, and thankfully Horses makes a fantastic version. Nearly perfectly cooked through (with just one bite of it being a touch overcooked), but the majority of the Cote de Porc being flawless. Juicy, meaty, there’s a fat cap if you want to have some decadence in your bite of Pork, otherwise, the lean portion (most of it) is simply wonderful! The pairing with Braised Lentils adds a wonderful soft, pleasing earthy quality, and I wanted seconds of Slow Roasted Cabbage.
To ensure I wasn’t dreaming the first time, it was time for another order of the new Tiramisu Dessert. Taking a bite:
Yup. Wasn’t dreaming. The lovely Dark Chocolate Cocoa Powder, the delicate creaminess, and that crunch from the Cocoa Nibs Brittle! SO GOOD! A must order!
During our 4th visit, there was a new Cocktail added to the menu, which is one of my all-time favorites, so it was a must-order to see how this version might turn out…
Hotel Nacional (Champagne Rested Rum, Pineapple, Lime, Apricot, Velvet Falurnum, Bitters):
Wonderful! One of the better Hotel Nacionals I’ve had in recent memory. It’s fun, tropical, bright, refreshing, easy-to-drink, and not overly sweet.
The Pork Rilletes are outstanding! Ultra-creamy, luscious, smooth and decadent, there’s a beautiful porcine flavor and it’s perfectly salted. So many versions these days feel like they’re oversalted, but not this one. It is my new favorite Pork Rillettes in the city.
From the moment the Insalata Verde arrives, you know you’re in for a great Salad. Pristine, crisp, beautiful Farmers Market Lettuces (and other Greens) are playfully stacked on top of one another, dressed in a balanced, tangy, bright White Wine Vinaigrette. It’s rustic, fun, humble, but also truly refreshing. This is a righteous Salad that celebrates California.
Hand Cut Steak Tartare:
At this point, is it even a surprise to find out that Chefs Liz Johnson and Will Aghajanian and team have made one of the best versions of Steak Tartare in the city? Like pretty much every single dish we’ve had so far, the newly added Steak Tartare is just wonderful. Oftentimes, one finds a Steak Tartare that’s just slightly out-of-balance (perhaps too sharp of a Mustard, too piquant, etc.). Here, the finely minced raw Hanger Steak is seasoned just right: It’s lightly beefy, creamy, perfectly salted, having a perfect balance to enjoy on the toasted Crostini.
Cherry Sake Spritz:
This doesn’t actually have any actual Cherry Fruit flavors within, instead the name ties into the particular Japanese Sake that references Cherry Blossoms. This sounds like a pleasant refreshing drink, but there’s something added to the Spritz that makes it a touch odd in the aftertaste. I can’t quite place what it is, but it’s probably the only drink we were disappointed with on the Cocktail menu. It’s not bad at all, but not really aligning with my palate.
Butcher’s Steak Grilled Over Vine Cuttings with Celeriac Dauphinois and Watercress:
Seeing Steak on a menu seems almost like a default offering, just to appease a certain segment of customers. I usually avoid ordering Steaks unless I’m at a Steakhouse or a Beef specialist, but with so many excellent dishes we’ve had at Horses, we decided to give this a try.
What you get is a perfectly grilled, medium rare Hanger Steak. The sourcing and execution is noteworthy because for it being a non-premium cut, this was tender, juicy, beefy, and an outstanding Steak! It needed no extra Sauces nor condiments. The beefiness and just the right amount of Salt was enough.
But what was probably just as good as the Grilled Steak was the Celeriac Dauphinois that came with it. Taking a bite, I thought this was flawless “Potato Gratin Dauphinois” or Scalloped Potatoes. But our server reminded us that this was with Celeriac, not Potato(!). Just legit, creamy, comforting, outstanding, high level cooking, but dressed down and humble in presentation.
I could seriously eat a whole side order of this alone and be happy.
Marinated Cerignola Olives:
Cheeseburger and Fries:
While every dish has been great, I caught myself dreaming about their Cheeseburger and Fries. To make sure it wasn’t a fluke (more like I was craving this so badly!) it was time for another order.
Just as before, this glorious blend of American Wagyu, Short Rib and Sirloin arrives a perfect medium rare. Bloody, juicy, a perfect beefy fattiness and worth every penny of that $28 price tag! It is absurd and so good!
(New) Ricotta Ravioli with Spinach and Fiore Sardo:
A new Pasta dish just added to the menu, Horses’ new Ricotta Ravioli with Spinach and Fiore Sardo is one of the best Pastas I’ve tried since before the pandemic. Supple Ravioli give way to creamy Ricotta and the Spinach Sauce adds a rich, green, verdant note to every bite. The Sheep’s Milk Fiore Sardo never dominates, but just accentuates. Horses is putting out some great Pastas and they’re not even an Italian specialist.
(New) Strawberry Sorbet and Champagne:
Reflecting the bounty we are so fortunate to have in California, in-season Strawberries are finally starting to show up at local Farmer’s Markets. Taking a bite:
If you wanted to understand how much of a difference in-season, locally grown Strawberries make, look no further than Chef Hannah’s new Strawberry Sorbet and Champagne (the server will actually pour over Champagne into the glass tableside). There’s a beautiful, natural fragrance that only ripe, in-season Strawberries have, and it’s exuding every bite throughout the Dessert. Beautiful sweetness, a true explosion of Strawberries, and it pairs nicely with the Champagne.
Service deserves a note as well: While Horses is still clearly a Southern California-style service restaurant (So Cal restaurants in general will never approach the level of service that a haute cuisine, Michelin 3 Star restaurant in San Francisco, Paris or Tokyo might have), but there’s a genuine fun, inviting, welcoming atmosphere created by General Manager Terence Leavey and team. Every sever we’ve encountered on our visits has been friendly, welcoming and the general vibe of Horses is lively, fun, and a place you want to enjoy a meal at, again and again.
With seemingly no hype, a new restaurant reflecting the culinary backgrounds of its chefs, and the local California produce, has arrived in the form of Horses. While just a few blocks from the start of the famed Sunset Strip, it lacks the pretentiousness and vapid glitz and glamor of restaurants and bars along that area. Instead, what Chefs Liz Johnson, Will Aghajanian, Brittany Ha and Lee Pallerino are doing is nothing short of simply wonderful.
Delicious starters like the Avocado Crostino with Cantabrian Anchovies, Smoked Salmon Lavash, Pork Rillettes, and Steak Tartare might be the very best versions in the city. The Boudin Basque with Fried Hen’s Egg is ridiculous, the Veal Sweetbreads - wow!, the Marinated Gigante Beans, Nettle and Bottarga is inspired.
Their Pastas have excelled and are far better than the more recent overhyped place around town. Add in a fantastic Cote de Porc, the perfectly cooked Butcher’s Steak and the dreamy Celeriac Dauphinois and Watercress, and the flat-out awesome Cheeseburger and Fries, and there’s not a bad item on the menu. Everything we’ve had has been excellent to outstanding.
And then you get to Dessert. Chef Hannah Grubba is making some of the best Desserts in the city right now. The Sheep’s Milk Cheesecake with Poached Rhubarb is the Cheesecake I want right now. The Tiramisu is the best I’ve ever had. Ever. The Marzipan Stracciatella Ice Cream with Amarena Cherry: This is what Ice Cream should be like. And that Strawberry Sorbet with Champagne (previously a Cara Cara Sorbet with Natural Orange Wine), stunning.
There’s a thoughtfulness, creativity, and high level culinary skills at work here, but done in a rustic, relaxed fashion. It’s elevated comfort food, but so much more than that. Add in the fantastic atmosphere and you have one of the best restaurants in the City of Angels.
7617 Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90046
Update 1: Amazing Bottarga Pasta, More Desserts, Saffron Speck Pasta and more!