Patric Kuh is the restaurant critic for Los Angeles Magazine and the author of The Last Days of Haute Cuisine: The Coming of Age of American Restaurants. He's also one of the most thoughtful food writers I know, so I knew we would get a unique perspective on dining experiences in Los Angeles when I caught up with him a couple of days ago on the phone.
"What I look for when I eat in Los Angeles is an authentic LA experience, not a New York experience, not a Las Vegas experience. There's a certain kind of laid-back luxury that LA has perfected, that would seem forced and out of place in New York or some other place."
"I know it sounds kind of weird, but the fantastic produce grown in California year-round plays a significant role in the restaurant-going experience in Los Angeles. Because we have such great produce, I'm particularly interested in what a chef is trying to express or say through the produce he or she uses. Every chef knows the farmers and the farmers' markets inside and out, so really it's what they do with that produce that counts."
"As far as whole notion of restaurants as theater is concerned, the restaurant world in Los Angeles is one big theatrical experience, but it's not about star-spotting. The real Angeleno would not deign to notice a star, we're not going to craning our neck at the stars."
"Contrary to what many people might think, we're not health obsessed weenies. We eat lots of cheese and beef and ice cream when we go out to eat, so I would say the flavors derived from fat figure heavily into our restaurant experience. Finally, amateurishness and pretension bother Los Angelenos. This really is a company town (the company is Hollywood), so we don't like amateurish productions masquerading as restaurants"
"If the sommelier is a stuffed shirt with a windsor knot it's not going to work here because the guy ordering the 61 La Tour is wearing a t-shirt and jeans."
After the jump, some of Kuh's quintessential Los Angeles dining experiences.
Lunch at Lucques
"It sort of defines laid-back elegant LA dining. The food here is all about a good chef's (Suzanne Goins) ability to convey something about herself in the way she cooks with produce and other locally sourced ingredients." 8474 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles CA 90069; 323-655-6277; lucques.com
Pastami sandwich at Langer's
"New Yorkers think they have lock on Jewish deli food, but they don't. A hand-cut pastrami sandwich on double-baked rye is simply as good as a pastrami sandwich gets anywhere, and the Langer family has been making them for sixty years. I love the fact that Langer's has been in this old LA neighborhood, MacArthur Park, for all these years, a constant in an ever-changing neighborhood." 704 S Alvarado Street, Los Angeles CA 90057; 213-483-8050; langersdeli.com
Giant burrito at El Tepeyac
"The burritos at this East Los Angeles mainstay feed six people. What do I like about El Tepeyac? Everything. I like all the people coming back to the old neighborhood to eat, I like to watch the families eating together, I like to listen to everyone on line talking about the Lakers, and thankfully they have a lot to talk about this year." 812 N Evergreen Avenue, Los Angeles CA 90033; 323-267-8668
"Nishimura Sushi is the epitome of LA dining cool. It's a sushi place without a sign in West Hollywood. You sit at the counter and let the show unfold. Hiro Nishimura is the unassuming star of the show. He does everything from preparing to serving to clearing. Watching him slapping a live scallop into submission is a wonderful bit of restaurant theater, and it appears completely natural instead of orchestrated. It's Los Angeles dining theater at its finest." 8684 Melrose Avenue, West Hollywood CA 90069; 310-659-4770
"I love the energy at Mozza. The place is so alive it's practically vibrating. I love how the co-owner Nancy Silverton starts with simple fresh Italian cheeses like burrata and sends flavors in so many different directions. Her approach to food is about, among other things, coloration and sensuality. She just seems to know what a little lemon peel or a toasted hazelnut can do for a piece of cheese. The things she does are very subtle and satisfying." 6602 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles CA 90038; 323-297-0100; mozza-la.com