Dining Out With Willie Mitchell
On a recent October night, noted Los Angeles Kings foodie Willie Mitchell and teammates Jonathan Quick and Colin Fraser attended “Cut Your Teeth,” the underground art and food residency at the Santa Monica Museum of Art as part of the Wolvesmouth dining series hosted by Los Angeles-based chef Craig Thornton.
“For each meal at SMMoA, guests will come together to dine in a darkly wooded den, a feast for the eyes and stomach alike,” the event’s release states, SMMoA and knowing some of Mitchell’s eating tendencies, it was another rewarding experience set amongst an abundance of fulfilling nights at the dinner table.
Quick, on the other hand, had never taken part in such a unique confluence of food and art. Using the white plate as a canvas, Thornton’s dinners are known for having a bold color palate and stimulating diners in senses other than simply the taste buds.
Photo by Andrew Stuart
“It was very interesting,” Quick said. “I don’t know if I have the best appreciation for arts and stuff like that, but I enjoy food, and I enjoy eating, and the food was awesome.”
It’s an understatement that Mitchell enjoys food and eating. He’s also looking to widen his Kings-oriented dining circle.
“It’s been tough, because I’m probably the lone foodie on the team,” Mitchell said. “I’ve got a couple guys I’m breaking down. Fras is starting to get on board, and Quickie’s always down, too. So those two – I kind of lean on them a little bit.”
So is he venturing to develop Jonathan Quick into the team’s second dining aficionado?
“I know that won’t happen,” Quick said.
“Obviously it’s great, you spend a little time away from the rink with your teammates and have a good time. As far as being a foodie, I’ll pretty much eat anything, so I don’t know if that makes me a foodie or not.”
Mitchell has had the luxury of a long playing career, and with that comes the added value of sampling the regional cuisines of his former stomping grounds. Pacific Northwest cuisine often comes first for the Vancouver Island native, and the former Canuck places Hawksworth, a central Vancouver fine dining establishment headed by good friend David Hawksworth, as one of his favorite North American dining experiences.
Steak and chophouses don’t occupy many of the top slots on the list of Mitchell’s favorite restaurants, but Nick and Sam’s in Dallas’ Uptown is a familiar haunt for hockey players and provides another strong regionally representative option for the former Dallas Star.
Photo by Andrew Stuart
The team’s travels recently allowed Mitchell and his teammates to venture to Husk, a contemporary Southern restaurant that harvests a bounty of locally sourced ingredients and “redefines what it means to cook and eat in Nashville,” according to the restaurant’s website. husknashville
“Food tells a story, and to go to these places and learn about the culture, learn about what the traditional dishes are in certain parts of North America, and for that matter – whether it’s Japanese Cuisine, French cuisine, et cetera – it all tells a story.”
Of course, the best meals are often those served at home, and Mitchell has benefited from the broadening gastronomic endeavors of his wife, Megan, who progressed in her culinary school matriculation.
“She said ‘I’m kind of interested,’ so I said, ‘Let’s go check it out,’ and she went there and fell in love with it. She’s really creative,” Mitchell said. “Probably a lot of it has to do with our good friend in Vancouver. We’re best friends with him, so we’re around him a lot, and so we learned a lot about food through them. So she jumped in, and she’s rocking it. She’s doing really well, and I get spoiled because at home I get all this great food that you normally get at restaurants.”
“But she’s just enjoying it, and that’s actually really cool seeing her come back with a big smile on her face every day, kind of finding a passion. It’s really cool.”
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Mitchell offered reviews of his favorite Los Angeles-area restaurants – many of which are situated in close proximity to where he lives – as well as his favorite restaurants in other NHL cities.
Los Angeles area:
Gjelina - 1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, CA, 90291
It’s not overdone food, and by that I mean I think everyone in the food industry is trying to push the bar and push the envelope. People are doing molecular stuff, they’re doing everything, but I think what they do is just use good produce and product, and don’t overdo it, so it’s just not a thousand different ingredients. It’s just letting the ingredients speak for themselves and kind of using some acid and heat. That’s kind of my palate. I like that little acid heat, and a little bit of crunch. It’s just great food, and they use a lot of different grains that people typically don’t use, and stuff like that. For the most part, it’s fairly healthy food, too. There are a little bit of hints of Italian, but that’s what’s cool about it, too. They don’t really say ‘This is Italian food.’ It’s just good food.
AXE - 1009 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, CA 90291
It’s my breakfast joint. Clean living, clean food. Kind of along the lines of Gjelina a little bit. There’s a nice patio in the back, so it sets a nice little ambience in there. It’s just good, clean food. Their breakfasts and lunches are kind of where I hang out down there.
Wurstküche - 800 E 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA 90013
625 Lincoln Blvd Venice, CA 90291
Purveyor of fine sausage. That’s my after-game spot. They serve late. There’s one downtown, and there’s one on Lincoln in Venice…It’s a cool space, cool atmosphere. Sometimes they’ll have a DJ playing in there, but there are no TVs so it kind of has that buzz of people talking. It’s just real simple, real good. A cold pint – you can definitely find one of those in there. A Belgian ale, or something like that, and great sausages. My favorite there is a rattlesnake and rabbit sausage. Seriously, it’s so good. It’s just buttery. It tastes great. It’s just simple food, but simple food done really, really well.
Superba Snack Bar - 533 Rose Ave, Venice, CA 90291
The pastas are really good in there. They do a sea urchin and uni pasta, which is ‘a big mouthful of ocean,’ I say. It tastes so good. That’s probably my favorite thing in there. It’s another one of my local jaunts, so we hit that up a lot.
Nobu (Malibu location) - 22706 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA 90265
They were the first to kind of bring that model of how they do sushi to the U.S., and a lot of people have tried to knock them off now. They do it really, really well, but they’re really, really expensive. I just like that place. I’m close to PCH where I live in Venice, so I can just jump on there and be up there in 20 minutes – 25 minutes, tops – and I have good, clean sushi sitting right on the water. The sushi’s great, but it’s more about when I have people in town, the ambience – they can go sit there on the patio and overlook the ocean, and to be honest, get lost there for a day. It’s such a nice spot.
Shima - 1432 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, CA 90291
They’re under the radar, if you ask me. I give it to Gwyneth Paltrow for this one. I read about it on her blog, because she’s a bit of a foodie. It’s like a brown rice sushi place, so if you really want to have healthy sushi – and when I say brown rice, it does not take like it at all. You would never know that it’s brown rice sushi. It’s just a little bit of a healthier place, and I’m talking a stone’s throw from my house. I just walk outside my door, so it’s another favorite spot for me.
On the road:
Hawksworth - 801 W Georgia St, Vancouver, BC, V6C 1P7
[David Hawksworth] is my best friend. He’s arguably the best chef in Canada. He’s a good mate of mine. Learned a lot about food off of him, and he kind of does food in a way where there’s a lot of depth to it. Like I said, it’s some acidity, some crunch and some heat. It’s Pacific Northwest, but he was taught a French way of cooking, so it definitely has that influence in it as well. Cool spot, cool atmosphere, really nice space.
Avec - 615 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL, 60661
Avec is a must for anyone. One of the best restaurants out there. It’s more family style. Go in, long tables, be prepared to wait. It’s just family style food. It’s really good. To be honest with you, it has been a long time since I’ve been there. I was out of hockey for a bit, so I haven’t been in a while, but I’m looking forward to going this year.
Nick and Sam’s - 3008 Maple Ave, Dallas, TX 75201
Nick and Sam’s is a good steak in Dallas. It’s kind of [a tradition] that hockey players like to come to it with the group. Going to a chop house all the time, personally I think Nick and Sam’s is the best steak of the steakhouses.
Sushi Yasuda - 204 E 43rd St, New York, NY 10017
Really traditional sushi in New York. Real cool space, and just like I said, it’s not Americanized sushi. It’s just not overly done, where you’re having paste and mayo and all that with your sushi. It’ more just that the rice is an art, and letting the fish speak for itself.