Come to L.A. for…the Food?

photo by Cedric Angeles.

Until recently, when you thought of Los Angeles restaurants, one sound came to mind: buzz. Never mind that L.A. boasts the same agricultural bounty as foodie San Francisco. Or that two of the most influential chefs of the past thirty years—Wolfgang Puck and Nobu Matsuhisa—had Hollywood starts. In the public mind, L.A.’s eateries were about preening and flirting, seeing and being seen. But there is another sound restaurants can have, and it’s the one I heard recently at Osteria Mozza, one of two restaurants opened in the past year and a half on the corner of Melrose and North Highland by New York’s Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich and local legend Nancy Silverton. It’s the deeper thrum of diners talking with their mouths full, passing dishes back and forth, sighing contentedly. Increasingly, this is the sound of what it means to eat in L.A. In ways large and small, formal and casual, serious eating has finally come to the City of Angels.

At both Mozzas—Osteria and Pizzeria Mozza next door—you find the Batali-Bastianich blend of equally robust flavors and noise levels. Silverton, meanwhile, brings flair and craftsmanship. Most nights she’s behind the long, cool marble mozzarella bar, turning out small plates like gnocco fritto—piping-hot squares of fried dough draped with ribbons of prosciutto and lardo—and fiore di latte (a fresh cheese in the mozzarella family) on a bed of iceberg lettuce, salami, olives, and peperoncini, kind of like a great Italian sub without the roll. Along with the meat-and-cheese bar at Suzanne Goin’s A.O.C.—one of the progenitors of L.A.’s food movement—a stool at the mozzarella bar is among the finest restaurant seats in America. It helps that both offer views of attractive, serious women operating meat slicers that gleam like Corvettes.

Osteria Mozza 6602 Melrose Ave., 323-297-0100

Pizzeria Mozza 641 North Highland Ave., 323-297-0101

Meanwhile (and as I’m a Brooklynite, this pains me to say), Silverton’s crust at the pizzeria is unbeatable—thin, chewy, pocked with bubbles of char. Anything tastes good on it, but I think the spirit of the place is best matched by the most traditional toppings, like soppressata and smoky Fresno chilies. It makes you wonder why the pizza at Batali’s joint back east, Otto, is so bad.

One sure sign of a food renaissance is when serious eats pop up where they are not strictly necessary. Like Bar Marmont on the Sunset Strip, which recently hired chef Carolynn Spence away from the Spotted Pig in Manhattan. Fancy-pants entrées and bar snacks like hot, fluffy gougères are never going to outdraw the trysting celebs, the barely clothed waitresses, and the Tales from the Hipster Crypt decor. But they will almost certainly leave you more satisfied.

Across town another New York transplant, Craft, has dramatically upped the culinary standards of the power lunch. Located in the chilly corporate park known as Century City and, more important, across from the headquarters of Creative Artists Agency, the latest outpost in Tom Colicchio’s empire is most fun at lunch. That’s when sunlight streams through the huge windows and suits sit in the three-sided banquettes, making deals, wining and dining stars, or just sharing romantic meals with their BlackBerrys. Hopefully, they all appreciate Colicchio’s pristine but unfussy celebrations of excellent ingredients: diver scallops served with vermouth butter, roasted quail cut with tart huckleberries, a cloudlike banana-cream pie.

Of course, not all new L.A. restaurants have New York roots. Chef David Myers has long been celebrated for the fastidious dishes at his first restaurant, Sona. Last fall he opened a bright, pleasant faux-Parisian bistro named Comme Ça. At lunch the place seemed dull; if you’re going to turn out T.G.I. Vendredi staples like frisée salad with lardons and onion-soup gratin, you’d better nail them. But returning late night, I was greeted by the funky, ripe smell of the cheese counter—a risky aroma but always a good sign. The cocktail menu was serious and creative. And the place hummed in a way that was downright, well, Parisian.

A.O.C. 8022 West 3rd St., 323-653-6359

Bar Marmont 8171 West Sunset Blvd., 323-650-0575

Craft 10100 Constellation Blvd., 310-279-4180

Sona 401 North La Cienega Blvd., 310-659-7708

Comme Ça 8479 Melrose Ave., 323-782-1178

The Best Cocktails

Forget Swingers. Actually, thank that movie and its portrayal of L.A. cocktail culture. It probably helped pave the way for a new generation of serious-minded mixologists who have made themselves indispensable at so many of the city’s new restaurants. “Cocktails are becoming the next gourmet movement,” says Eric Alperin, a veteran of New York’s Milk & Honey who came west to intoxicate customers at Osteria Mozza. Not far away, Brian Summers of Comme Ça serves up a take on the classic South Side called the East Side: gin, mint, cucumber, and lime. He’ll also decide for you, if you order the Dealer’s Choice. Trust the man; he knows what he’s doing.

Taking his fine-dining pedigree even further downscale is Sang Yoon, who quit his job as chef de cuisine at Michael’s to open Father’s Office, a “redefined” pub in Santa Monica. There are always long lines of eaters waiting to order Yoon’s meat-heavy creations, especially the Office Burger. The strict house policy of no modifications or deletions seems to represent the most obnoxious impulses of food love (especially if you consider the caramelized onions piled on the burger to be cloyingly sweet); on the other hand, the burger itself—and its other toppings—represents the best. It’s a pillow of aged beef covered in Gruyère, Maytag Blue cheese, bacon compote, and arugula. A second location, in Culver City, will open this spring.

It would be criminal to talk about an L.A. food movement based on high-quality, lovingly treated ingredients without mentioning the one culinary area in which the city has long led the rest of the country: sushi. Urasawa is about as far from anything resembling a buzz establishment as you can get. Instead, you’ll hear the other sound that denotes the presence of serious food: the Reverent Hush. Urasawa’s walk-in-closet-sized space on the second floor of a Rodeo Drive mall was once Ginza Sushi-ko, the domain of Masayoshi Takayama. Five years ago, Takayama went to New York to open Masa, and his apprentice Hiroyuki Urasawa took over, keeping the master’s formula intact: only ten diners per night, no menu, lunatic prices, and a monastic devotion to the precise art of traditional sushi-making. Starting at $275 per person, the prices are indefensible by any standard, but it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience to sit at the raw-cypress counter (sanded daily), chat with Urasawa himself, and have him serve you some of the most beautiful fish you’ll ever set eyes on. It’s even more once-in-a-lifetime if catfish sperm sac is in season; as with Father’s Office, there are no substitutions.

Father’s Office 1018 Montana Ave., 310-393-2337

Urasawa 218 North Rodeo Dr., 310-247-8939

BLD 7450 Beverly Blvd., 323-930-9744

The Best Breakfast

The L and D in BLD stand for “lunch” and “dinner,” but it’s the B that turns us on. Breakfast at this comfortable Hollywood spot ranges from light (grapefruit brûlée) to heavy (the Ode to Butterfields, a flatiron steak and two poached eggs sitting on an English muffin and smothered in Cabernet Sauvignon hollandaise). Or like the two stylish, sunglasses-wearing, clearly hungover young ladies dining there one recent morning, you can opt for two Bloody Marys and two sides of bacon.

Urasawa doesn’t have much to say about Western chefs. One exception is Michael Cimarusti at Providence. It’s easy to understand the affinity, not just because Cimarusti is a wizard with fish, but because he ardently seeks perfection. The Hush is much in effect at Providence’s oversize, somewhat frosty set of dining rooms. The quiet makes it easier to concentrate on extensive tasting menus (up to twenty-two courses) on which every item is perfectly composed, from an appetizer of cold Dungeness crab brightened with piquillo peppers to a mind-blowing homemade salt-caramel petit four.

And then there’s CUT, the new steak house from Wolfgang Puck at the Beverly Wilshire hotel. Like most of the new generation of steak houses, CUT finds its macho spirit in cool, clean modern rooms—this one a multitiered design by Richard Meier—and a menu that goes both high and low with its reverence for all things beef: Kobe sliders give way to roasted marrowbones, then Indian-spiced Kobe short ribs, and finally, the steak, brought raw to the table, the better to compare different grades and price points. At the top is a white-marbled $160 Japanese Wagyu rib-eye steak, more pleasure and fat than any man should consume in one sitting. Meanwhile, an improbable soundtrack of stoner rock plays loudly: Pink Floyd, Allman Brothers, Neil Young. It’s a little-known fact that the combination of beef fat, excellent West Coast wines, and Frampton Comes Alive! exactly mimics the feeling of having just smoked a giant bowl.

The thrilling parade of waiters bearing platters of meat; the anxious head-swivels every time someone new makes an entrance; Puck himself bouncing from table to table; the full, satisfied glow of being in exactly the right place at exactly the right time—there’s only one word for this: buzz. And it is damned tasty.

Providence 5955 Melrose Ave., 323-460-4170

CUT 9500 Wilshire Blvd., 310-276-8500

Joan’s on Third 8350 West 3rd St., 323-655-2285

The Best Takeout

Joan McNamara has been serving baked goods and prepared foods to Hollywooders at Joan’s on Third for years, but a recent expansion has turned her shop into a full-service food emporium. There are hearty salads and well-constructed sandwiches, moist cupcakes and simple breakfasts like soft-boiled eggs on toast. But the real sell is a neighborhood vibe hard to come by in L.A. Some customers may actually even walk there.

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FOOD-AND-WINE WISDOM IN ALAN RICHMAN’S ARCHIVE AND BLOG GQ.COM

Craft Applying the final touches to a dish of roasted Scottish salmon and cucumber at Craft.

Pizzeria Mozza Egg, guanciale, radicchio, escarole, and bagna cauda pizza.

Osteria Mozza Osteria’s Eric Alperin.

Osteria Mozza The mozzarella bar at Osteria Mozza

Comme Ça Man at work at Comme Ça’s cheese counter.

Bar Marmont More than just pretty waitresses. Seriously.

Bartender Brian Summers at Comme Ça.

Father’s Office Home to L.A.’s most fetishized burger.

Providence bigeye tuna with salt-roasted parsnips and wasabi.

Providence Chef Michael Cimarusti (left), sous-chef Sam Baxter, and a really big striped bass

One smart diner starting his day off right at BLD.

CUT The American Kobe porterhouse steak with wild field mushrooms and béarnaise.

Must eat! The cupcakes at Joan’s on Third.

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