Dama – Los Angeles, CA
Last Visit: November 2018 (twice)
It took us almost 11 months to find one, but we have our winner for Mai Tai Tom’s 2018 Restaurant of the Year. From its impressive space in the Fashion District of Los Angeles to its incredible food and impeccable service, Dama is certainly worthy of this honor. Not bad for a restaurant that just opened in July.
When you drive down the street to get to Dama, you’d be hard-pressed to believe that there are two happening restaurants located in this neighborhood. After being flipped off by some dude in a BMW because we were driving too slowly in an attempt to find Dama amidst a number of clothing shops, we finally saw the valet, hopped out and entered the courtyard where Dama resides on the left, and the popular Italian restaurant Rossoblu sits on the right. (Rossoblu was closed due to a kitchen fire, but has recently reopened.)
Our reservations for this deservedly popular restaurant were made a few weeks in advance.
To start, it’s a gorgeous space. There’s a large, 3-sided bar in the center of what used to be a banana distribution warehouse (that’s probably why we found it so a-peel-ing) with dining on all three sides. (Photo below from Dama website.)
There are also seats on the patio outside the bar and a colorful dining area with a tropical flair upstairs.
Since Tracy and I were early for our 6:30 dinner reservations with friends Paul and Susan, we planted ourselves at the bar.
The music selection was great (I had to keep “Shazamming” all evening … a Latin-inspired party is now in our future). I had read that Dama looks like a mansion in Havana. Since I’ve never been to Havana, I’ll take their word for it. Thankfully, no one was smoking a cigar. There is plenty of outside seating, and even in November, it was comfortable to dine outside (thanks to a little help from a heater). I nursed a Manhattan, while Tracy sipped a delicious, crisp Cava ($15). We sat at the bar chatting up the bartender, who passed along some of his favorite menu recommendations.
The food that was going by us smelled delectable and looked great. Good thing we were starving! When Paul and Susan arrived, we were seated at one of the outdoor tables situated downstairs from the bar.
According to our waiter, the chef (and partner), Antonia Lofaso, currently has two other restaurants (Black Market Liquor Bar in Studio City and Scopa Italian Roots in Venice, CA). She previously appeared on Top Chef and other cooking shows and is currently working on opening another restaurant. She is one busy chef!
There are so many great restaurants in Los Angeles, but this meal dazzled us from start to finish this evening. As we perused the menu, since there were so many delicious-sounding choices, we decided to try as many dishes as possible before we exploded. By the end of our meal, we had put a pretty hefty dent in the menu (and our wallets), but it was well worth the calories. It turned out to be our most expensive dinner this year (those small bites add up), but we couldn’t wait to return and try the rest of the menu.
Paul and Susan were in the mood for a margarita, and the waiter recommended the Latin Lovers ($15, tequila, cachaca, pineapple, lime). I had a very good glass of Malbec ($14) with dinner.
Like so many places these days, many of Dama’s dishes are meant to be shared and share we did.
Susan is allergic to bivalves and shellfish, so we did not try the oysters or shrimp dishes. But that still left plenty to choose from.
Once we tasted our first order, the bread; heirloom tomatoes, confit garlic, parsley and Portuguese olive oil ($11), we had a feeling we were in for a special evening. WOW! I’m pretty sure I could live on this dish. The garlic confit was subtle and delicious. It is now on our “we’ll have this every time we come” list.
Our bartender had advised us not to miss the Whipped Beans; heirloom white beans, crispy pork, cotija cheese, onion, radish, pickled onions ($15). Another WOW! These creamy whipped beans and cheese, topped with crispy pork and served with crunchy tortillas melted in our mouths. The bartender told us the guacamole is good, but he thought this was even better.
Next up was an order of Empanadas; dry aged ground beef, green onion, smoked paprika, Brazilian hot vinegar ($14). These were good too. I think there were six of them, but they disappeared so fast there was no time to take a photo.
Crispy Squash Flowers arrived at our table; farmer’s cheese, goat cheese, thyme and chives ($15). Yet another WOW! You’d think that would be enough appetizers, but we were now engaged in a full-fledged eating frenzy. “More appetizers, please!”
Then, out came corn nirvana; queso fresco, cotija, cilantro aioli, chili lime salt ($13). WOW, WOW, WOW! In front of us were five pieces of grilled half cobs served Mexican street style on sticks. This was simply outstanding. I could dine just on this and be happy… well maybe if I had the bread, whipped beans and squash flowers too, and, dessert, but that’s it… oh, and the stuff we haven’t tried yet. Thank goodness for the Expando belt!
Last up from the appetizer list we tried the Crispy Potatoes; market wax beans, spicy mayo, herbs, chimichurri ($13). Delicious, but we’re not done yet.
For dinner, we ordered four tacos for the table; oxtail, cabbage, queso fresco, radish, avocado, hot pickled veg ($4 for each taco). Tracy and I both thought this was a WOW, but we forgot to ask Paul and Susan, probably because our mouths were full … and I was on another glass of wine. (Tracy is a wonderful designated driver.)
Because we are firmly against calorie counting (and saving money), we also shared the Whole Snapper; escabeche of red snapper, lime, pineapple ($38) and Crispy Pork Shank; lettuce cups, hot pickled veg, avocado crema ($36). Both these items were plenty big to be shared.
If you can believe it, we still had room for dessert. We like to dine with Paul and Susan, as they love to eat as much as we do (“as much” being the key words) and are not opposed to sharing, which is the only way to sample this menu.
So, back to dessert, we ordered two servings of the Churros; cinnamon, superfine sugar, which came with a phenomenal caramel dipping sauce ($10). These were much better than the famous churros we had in Madrid at the rather overrated (IMO) Chocolatería San Ginés.
We also shared the Strauss Soft Serve Ice Cream; Pacific Banana Co. sundae, buttered bananas, caramel, peanuts ($16). If you are thinking $16 for ice cream is a bit much this was huge and well worth the calories. In a nod to the building’s history as a former banana warehouse and distribution center, there were bananas on the bottom, candied peanuts, soft serve vanilla ice cream. Had I been able to stand up at this point they would have received a standing ovation.
We loved this restaurant so much that we returned the following weekend to celebrate our friend Susan’s birthday. We had 5:15 p.m. reservations on a Sunday evening, and it was already crowded. So much for sunset dinners!
Once again we ordered the Bread, Crispy Squash Flowers, and Corn, and they were just as delicious as last time. Off the appetizer portion of the menu we also tried the Aguachile; hiramasa (yellowtail), red pearl onion, radish, lime, cilantro, chive, served with crispy tostada chips and a package of crackers which the server explained was how they eat ceviche in Mexico ($19).
We enjoyed this spicy fish ceviche and the Celery Salad; stems and seeds, parmesan, soft quail eggs, lemon, olive oil ($13), which the waiter sent out with our main course. Yum!
For our main course, we ordered the Rib Eye; dry aged 24 oz. bone-in, avocado, pickled sweet peppers, scallions, salsa verde ($62), which was plenty for three people. The ribeye was perfectly cooked (medium rare), but came with only three tiny tortillas in case you wanted to roll up the meat to eat it. For $62, they could have thrown in a few extra tortillas. I’m guessing we could have asked for more, but my mouth was stuffed with a perfectly cooked rib eye.
We finished off yet another delectable meal with the Banana Sundae topped with a birthday candle.
Cocktails are expensive these days at high-end restaurants, and for some reason I was enticed to try the most expensive one; the $20 Dama Old Fashioned, which included an ice cube that could have sunk the Titanic. If you wait for the ice to melt a bit, the cocktail does become larger (patience is not my long suit). The waiter explained it was so expensive because they purchase an entire barrel of Four Roses single barrel bourbon. On the plus side, it was a very good Old-Fashioned.
The wine list is not overly large and does not have many inexpensive options, so we stuck with wine by the glass, although you can bring your own bottle for a steep $35 corkage fee (I think I’m jaded about local restaurant wine prices because of the fantastic and inexpensive vino we ordered in Italy on our recent trip). However, I will say the Malbec I ordered on both occasions was terrific.
The service at Dama is friendly (but not over-the-top), and the staff was incredibly knowledgeable about the menu. The food came out at just the correct rate. We never felt rushed, but it was prompt. The venue is lovely, and now that Rossoblu has reopened I imagine the interior courtyard should have quite a vibe to it. The clientele was mostly young and hip, so we fit right in. Hey, at least I didn’t wear Dockers. Our dinners were expensive; however if you don’t order the entire menu like we seemingly did, you can get out of here without too much damage (or the need to purchase an Expando belt).
Although we shared many of Dama’s dishes, we still want to return soon. This time to perhaps order the lamb chops, shrimp cocktail, and possibly the rotisserie chicken (and, of course, some more of that corn and bread, and everything else!).
Mai Tai Tom Rating … 4.85 maitais (out of 5)
1100 San Pedro Street
Los Angeles, CA 90015 • Phone 213.700.5253
Dinner Hours: Sunday/Monday 5 p.m. – 10 p.m. • Tuesday/Wednesday 5 p.m. – 11 p.m. • Thursday – Saturday 5 p.m. – Midnight
Bar Hours: Sunday – Wednesday 5 p.m. – Midnight • Thursday – Saturday 5 p.m. – 1:30 a.m.
Friday/Saturday 11 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. • Sunday 11 a.m – 9 p.m.
Parking: Valet $8