Los Angeles is the cradle of the faddish diet, peopled by pole-thin wannabes, and notorious for frowning on calorific over-indulgence. But now it's rebranding itself as a top foodie destination
Reckon Los Angeles is simply about traffic-choked freeways, smog and celeb-spotting coach tours of Hollywood? Then think again, because it is rapidly, if not hungrily, rebranding itself as a foodie mecca.
Innovative new restaurants are opening up and militant foodie campaigns are being waged, while farmers’ markets are popping up in every neighbourhood and bars serving a selection of great ‘small plates’ are throwing open their doors.
To begin with, check into the excellent food-friendly Palihouse Hotel in centrally-located West Hollywood. This decidedly groovy establishment, all distressed bare-brick walls and designer furniture, has a trendy restaurant called The Hall Courtyard Brasserie, which has witty modern twists on delicious traditional bistro cuisine, such as a terrine served in a glass storage jar with a mound of pickles and steaming moules frites heaped in a big frying pan.
But there is a gluttonous choice of new eateries to visit. Check out Ford’s Filling Station. This is run by Benjamin Ford, son of actor Harrison, and claims to be LA’s first ever gastropub, loosely based on the British concept. Ford’s version is rather more gastro than pub, however, with proper table linen and fancier, ambitious dishes such as roast lamb with bulgur wheat salad and leek-date compote. Oh, and just for your information, Benjamin is indeed as rugged and good-looking as his old man, so worth the visit in itself.
Culver City is fast becoming a new 'restaurant row' in LA, and round the corner from Ford’s is Loteria Grill, a fabulous modern Mexican restaurant, with a bright, designer decor and a mouth-watering selection of regional mountain Mexican food on offer. I’m not a fan of Mexican, but this opened my eyes to the idea that it can taste good as well as blow your head off.
Also close to Ford’s is BottleRock. This is a novel new concept wine bar housed in a wine shop where drinkers can have any bottle in the store opened for them (prices range from $6 to $83 per glass). These then get listed on a blackboard, so everyone can see what everyone else is drinking. Fantastic 'small plates' or snacks accompany the wine, from briny white anchovies to foie gras on brioche with gooey fig jam, ensuring you don’t get too hammered on the wine.
Check out the laidback BLD, short for Breakfast Lunch Dinner, too. This stylish restaurant is an all-day breakfast/lunch hot spot and serves heroic portions of artisanal cheeses and cold cuts plus a selection of massive sandwiches and burgers, including the belt-tightening Cuban Style Pork Sandwich - a mound of shredded pork with porchetta, spicy pickles and melted Gruyere tumbling out of toasted ciabatta.
There are fine dining experiences too. Grace Restaurant is the posher sister establishment to BLD, and serves up more experimental, smaller dishes such as sautéed turbot with braised endive, celery root flan and black truffles. Chef Neal Fraser is a sustainability pioneer on the LA foodie scene, introducing such measures as the ban on bottled water because of the environmental cost of the plastic bottles (there is lots of this sort of stuff going on in LA).
Elsewhere, the Water Grill in downtown LA, located in the basement of the stunning 1921 Pacific Life Insurance Art Deco building (it feels like you are eating in the dining room of the Titanic), is one of the smartest seafood restaurants in Los Angeles. It has a coveted Michelin star and has clever Asian twists to spanking fresh seafood.
Speaking of which, any foodie visit to LA should include a trip out to the Sushi Institute of America. Run by a delightful, if slightly incomprehensible, Japanese businessman (who seems to supply most of the sushi restaurants in town, and there are a staggering 10,000 of them), it organises tours of its bone-chillingly freezing sushi cold rooms and demos of how to prepare the dishes. Just fascinating.
And trippers should squeeze in a visit to the farmers market at 'Third and Fairfax', too, which claims to be the world’s very first farmers market. Founded in 1934, it contains hundreds of stalls ranging from 1950s Americana-style ice cream parlours to authentic Mexican lunch-stops. It’s also a great destination for celeb-spotting, and enjoyed a mad flurry of publicity last summer when Victoria Beckham bestowed her presence upon it.
There are numerous other, smaller, markets in just about every LA neighbourhood that are worth a detour, highlighting the rich variety of immigrant cuisines and ingredients to the city, with stalls run by Cambodians doing a brisk trade next to Koreans, Ethiopians, Japanese and Thai.
So go to LA and eat - don’t just shop or tour the stars’ villas in Hollywood. To miss out on all these foodie treasures is to miss out on a genuinely new and richly varied culinary destination. How the Los Angelinos all stay so skinny beats me.
Ford’s Filling Station: 9531 Culver Boulevard in Culver City
Loteria Grill: 6627 Hollywood Boulevard
BottleRock: 3874 Main Street
BLD/ Breakfast Lunch Dinner: 7450 Beverly Boulevard
Water Grill: 544 S Grand Ave in downtown LA
Sushi Institute of America: 843 E. 4th Street
Third and Fairfax farmers market: West Third Street