If you’re like me, meaning you follow the national food-and-wine scene the way a rabid football fan obsesses over the NFL Draft, then you know that Los Angeles doesn’t garner a ton of respect for its restaurant scene.
New York City, San Francisco, even Chicago and New Orleans, are regarded as great American restaurant cities. L.A.? It’s more like a square, with each side represented by a distinct type of eatery.
In one corner reside the trendsetters of a bygone time, places like Spago and Patina that ushered in the Cal Cuisine movement of the 1990s.
Next, you have the wheezing geezers, old-school joints like Dan Tana’s and Musso & Frank that draw a nostalgic crowd seeking a taste of old Hollywood.
Third are the often-caricatured New-Age vegan and raw food hangouts like The Springs, where, according to a recent article in The New York Times, you can sip a Himalayan rock-resin extract before getting your colon flushed on premises.
Completing the square are the slingers of delicious junk food, be it the city’s myriad food trucks doling out tacos and Korean burritos, or In-N-Out Burger, with its Double-Double Animal Style heart-stoppers.
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Outside this box, however, are the restaurants that you really should get to if you love flavorful, hearty, creatively prepared nose-to-tail delectables with well-curated wines to match.
During a recent trip to the City of Angels, I made a beeline to three such places where the food is outrageously good, the food-friendly wines are selected with care (and often international and obscure), and the customer set is devoid of Beverly Hills matrons and juice-seeking soccer moms decked out in Lululemon.
Bestia is L.A.’s hottest restaurant, and deservedly so. The main draw is housemade charcuterie and stout pizzas, pasta and meat dishes.
Along with chef Ori Menashe’s bullish cooking and desserts from his wife, co-owner Genevieve Gergis, an eclectic wine list overseen by Ryan Ibsen is a major plus.
In March, my dinner date, Etty Lewensztain, owner of the online retailer Plonk Wine Club, and I were shown a procession of funky, intriguing wines selected by Jesse Brawner, an enthusiastic player on Ibsen’s team. Veal tartare on toast with an auslese Riesling? Eye-opening! Caraccioli Cellars Santa Lucia Highlands sparkling rosé with uni-infused spaghetti? Revelatory!
Chi Spacca, part of the carb-pushing Mozza Group, is a meat-driven, Italian-leaning spot headed by its chef, Chad Colby.
It aims high with its menu, and everything we ordered was gigantic and bursting with flavor. A mini butcher block of house-cured speck overflowed like bougainvillea on a balcony. A salad simply called “Little Gem Lettuces” came with an explosive bacon vinaigrette and yummy add-ons like “sieved” hard-boiled egg and herbed breadcrumbs. And the house Tomahawk pork chop is the stuff of legend.
Beverage director Sarah Clarke’s all-Italian wine list features a mixture of greatest hits and in-the-know winners like Pietracupa’s 2011 Fiano di Avellino and an extremely well-priced magnum of Palari’s 2005 Rosso del Soprano ($150), a Sicilian red made from the local Nerello Mascalese grape.
Animal, from meat-loving chefs Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook, is the elder statesman of this group of restaurants, having opened in 2008. It’s arguably the restaurant that got L.A.’s full-flavored, risk-taking food-and-wine movement going, and it remains one of the city’s top spots for rustic, whole-animal cooking paired with a rocking assortment of wines.
So let The Springs cater to Gwyneth and her Goop gang. The next time you’re in L.A. and up for something downright delicious, you now know where to go.