The Kiwi is a walker and this one was adamant that no Uber was required to get me from Koreatown to Providence restaurant in Hollywood. It did take over an hour but the walk to Melrose at Sunset gave me perspective.
As I crossed the road between each block, I looked west, down long streets lined with tall, skinny palms to the flaming horizon. I turned a corner and LA’s diversity struck hard. Behind me, noisy, grimy, densely-populated streets of Brutalist, boxy, mid-rise apartments. Ahead, the sprawling lawns and gardens of large, decorative homes built in an American and European revivalist style.
Ahhh Hollywood, I wasn’t expecting to see you. I was here to feast on some of the newer Los Angeles food trends, but here you are all fresh-faced and dressed to kill. I stood in awe as I happened across the arches at the entrance to Paramount Pictures and was star struck and giddy as I walked in to the fine-dining environs of Providence restaurant.
Little more than 10 years old, Providence feels as though Hollywood has been dining here forever and the restaurant staff put on an Oscar-winning show I am sure Marilyn, Carey, Frank, et al wish they were still around for.
As I worked my way through a 14-course degustation showcasing a fresh and exciting selection of seafood (most of it gathered from American waters — sustainable seafood is chef/owner Michael Cimarusti’s passion), I realised this formal style of eating was actually my first LA food trend.
It feels so right here in Hollywood where presentation is everything — a Cuban cigar box is opened to reveal a cigar of wagyu and brik pastry; a nasturtium leaf is wrapped around sushi rice and sashimi, taco style; the shell of a Puget Bay spiny crab joined me at the table as I savoured its flesh with sea urchin roe, peas, pickled onion and caviar.
The food is inspired and chef allows the fresh, superior-quality ingredients to shine. A favourite is hard to define, it all had me, from the seaweed focaccia served with Normandy butter, to the cream of Santa Barbara mussel soup served with a wee mussel toast, to the brie (same guy who makes the butter) sandwiched with truffle and creme fraiche served with toast and truffle salad.
I was served meat in LA that would rival that from New Zealand. Belcampo’s string of butcheries with adjoining restaurants sells meat raised organically and processed on their own farm — no middlemen, no additives, lots of traceability.
Alongside the burgers, sandwiches and salad bowls at Belcampo’s Grand Central Market outlet they were serving cups of hot bone broth, which is part of the nose-to-tail philosophy they share with many others. At LAX before my flight home I had a filet mignon at 3 Forks Steakhouse. Only two per cent of the finest US Dept of Agriculture prime beef is selected to serve at their restaurants, to ensure a superior steak every time.
On Sunset Boulevard, Melburnian Curtis Stone has recently opened Gwen Butcher shop and Restaurant, where he has brought back the traditional craft and produce of the butcher for Angelenos to enjoy at home or in the restaurant.
But vegetables were where it was all at, with people describing their diet as “mainly meatless” a term that works for me — I’m not a vegetarian, I enjoy my meat, but I enjoy my veges more and my diet contains a higher proportion of meatless meals.
At Beverly Hills’ AOC Restaurant for the announcement of the 2017 James Beard nominations (the James Beards are America’s Oscars of food), owners Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne, who have had a fair few James Beard wins and nominations themselves, presented a breakfast buffet of wondrous proportions.
Vegetables featured heavily and included a Farmer's Plate (above) stacked high with roasted vegetables and served with a mahumarra, chickpea puree, burrata and grilled bread. I also fell for a brioche with prosciutto, gruyere and sunny-side-up egg (below).
Further down West 3rd at Son of a Gun the oysters, the lobster roll and the shrimp toast sandwich were good. The flakes of crispy sunchoke (Jerusalem artichokes) that topped a lemon fish poke, brilliant. The brussels sprouts, genius — roasted with cinnamon-y flavours they were served in a bowl with slices of raw turnip, fresh greens, peanuts and a poached egg.
Eggs were my choice from the Wexler’s Deli menu at Grand Central Market. In line with traditional Jewish deli protocol, Wexler’s smoke their own meat and fish every day, the pickles are barrel fermented in brine and it’s all sliced, very generously, and served right in front of you.
Eggs and pickles are a favourite combo of mine and the Ruskie — a mountain of egg salad and pickle in a Kaiser roll with a mustardy coleslaw on the side (pictured below).
Wexler’s neighbour, Eggslut, hero the egg in every sandwich they make. They also do a coddled egg with potato puree I could happily dip ciabatta into for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
“Put an egg on it” has been an American thing for a while. If a dish is lacking something or they want to take it up a level, they put a cooked egg on top of it. But I noticed burrata was giving the egg a run for its money. Burrata was going on everything — and it really does make the simplest of dishes irresistible.
Back to those veges, I stumbled across a Whole Foods Market in Downtown LA and it impressed the hell out of me. I can see why Amazon are offering $US billions to buy it. This store is only a couple of years old and perhaps a flagship but if anyone ever tells me Americans lack quality fresh produce, I am pointing them in this direction.
The place is wall-to-wall goodness, from beautiful vegetable, meat, seafood and cheese displays to bulk bins and shelves of packaged wholefoods. There are plenty of self-serve takeaway or eat-in meal options, including chef Roy Choi’s (of The Line Hotel, below) DTLA poke bar.
They take their poke very seriously in LA and the stakes are high — people want it super-fresh and flexible, with options to switch out rice for kale, kelp noodles or even slaw and the topping options are endless. You could eat a radically different poke bowl every day and not get bored.
Angelenos love their sweets (don’t we all?) and they are blessed to have a large Korean community (a whole Koreatown!) sharing their sugary creations. At Madang Mall in Koreatown, Sul & Beans is a dessert cafe specialising in shaved ice. Called bingsoo, the ice is served in a bowl and topped with fruit, nuts and sweet red beans — the ice makes this dessert lighter in style but it is sweet, and many people pour over condensed milk to make it ridiculously so. They also do injeolmi toast — great big toasted sandwiches with sweet fillings.
At Madang you will also find SomiSomi, serving soft ice cream (above) in fish-shaped taiyaki cones. Your cone can be filled with the popular sweet red bean paste, custard or Nutella and your choice of soft serve flavours — the green tea (matcha) soft serve was flying out the door. Matcha was featuring heavily on menus throughout LA — like poke, it’s a trend that continues to grow.
There are matcha pancakes, donuts, cakes, buns, custards ... they mix this highly nutritious green tea powder in to anything. They will sprinkle it on your croissant, add it to your cocktail, juice or smoothie or you can sit and enjoy it brewed traditionally at one of many matcha cafes.
Even Thomas Keller’s Beverly Hills Bouchon Bakery, where everything from the tiles to the crockery is so very French, make a matcha macaron - a variation of this is shown below.
The fresh moles at Chiles Secos at Grand Central Market made me envious of LA’s home cooks. Try them all until you find a favourite — something more green, red, chocolaty, sweet, spicy — they come from various parts of Mexico, Oaxaca and Puebla included.
You can also buy every other ingredient needed for an authentic Mexican or Hispanic meal, if you need help on how to cook that meal, they’ll give you that too, and at the fruit and veg stand you can buy cactus paddles (nopales) — they even peel the spines off for you.
The Mexican street food offerings at the market are exceptional and I was mesmerised by the team at Tacos Tumbras a Tomas building tacos at speed for a snaking queue of customers, but my heart belongs to Guelaguetza.
Guelaguetza (gwa-la-getsa) is a Oaxacan restaurant and they share as much as they can from this region in Southern Mexico known for its abundant fresh produce and diverse food culture. Guelaguetza (photographed below) means to share, to give and receive and they have been sharing in LA since 1994.
Their philosophy is to sell food to Mexicans rather than try to Westernise it for Americans so it’s the real deal and the flavours are knockout — from the rendered pork fat paste and queso fresco (fresh cheese) spread on corn tortillas through to the signature mole and michelada, both of which they package and sell in the restaurant store and online. I didn’t have one mole I had a festival of moles — an assortment of four with rice and tortillas for dipping.
A mixed grill plate was laden with beef, chorizo, pork ribs, chillies and cactus and strewn with Oaxacan string cheese. Salsas, guacamole, chille rueno, sauteed crickets, horchata with pink prickly pear, tamarind water and a whole lot of mescal — which they also specialise in.
Guelaguetza is in Koreatown, where I started this four-day visit. They won the James Beard Award for American Classic in 2015 — and the James Beard Award 2017 Nominations were the reason for my visit. It is such symmetries that defined this trip to LA.
It is as young, innovative, fresh and dynamic as it is grown-up, glamorous and established and, thanks to a drift away from the city fringes to downtown (DTLA), it is all happening in a more centralised area and it now makes sense that the Kiwi would walk from KTown to Hollywood, from DTLA to the Arts District, and all the way along West 3rd from Beverly Hills to The Grove because there is so, so much for us eat and drink along the way.
Where to stay
The Line, Koreatown
Right in the heart of the hustle and bustle of Koreatown, where the staff are as laid-back as the concrete-cool minimalist interiors. It’s a hotel for the young-at-heart and those who appreciate mid-century/modern design and architecture. LA street-food legend Roy Choi reigns supreme with a series of restaurants within the hotel. Room service meals come in metal containers stacked tiffin style and tied up in beautiful pieces of cloth. Coffee is in a Stanley thermos.
Outside is an indigestion-inducing selection of Korean barbecue, dumplings, short ribs, bibimbap, kimchi and desserts heavy on matcha and red bean paste. There’s 24-7 nightlife, the Wiltern Theatre, Rose Bowl and the Bootleg Theatre. There’s Indoor bowls at the divey, but oh-so-fun Shatto Lanes. thelinehotel.com
Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills
An urban oasis that’s pure Hollywood. Rooms have juliet balconies with views from the Hollywood Hills to DTLA. From the king-size bed you can watch the king-size TV. Marble bathrooms are stocked with Bulgari toiletries and there’s plenty of peace and quiet.
The pool has city views and plenty of shady cabanas. You are in the heart of Beverly Hills here, Rodeo Drive is a couple of blocks away. Dine at Culina, the hotel’s modern Italian restaurant or head down West 3rd St to AOC and Son of a Gun. Stalwarts Spago and The Ivy are not too far away either. fourseasons.com
Where to eat