If you follow me on Instagram, you probably already know that I spent last week traipsing around sunny California with Rene. He’s studying in Los Angeles this semester, which is great for me for exactly one reason: I got to escape what was hopefully the last week of NYC winter gloom. We spent a few days in LA and then drove up to San Francisco to visit some friends.
I’d been to LA once before but didn’t really get it. I believe you can’t really get to know a place unless you walk through it, which is nearly impossible to do in LA. But this time, the city made a tiny bit more sense to me – and, shh, don’t tell New York, but I really, really liked it. Or maybe it’s just the sunstroke talking.
I’m not sure if it’s because Rene is living there and I’m paying more attention to it, or because LA is just having a moment right now, but I’ve been hearing more about its restaurant scene than ever lately, so I was super excited to eat there. We were lucky to get into some restaurants I’ve been ogling for a long time, and here are some things I noticed they have in common:
- Amazingly fresh produce. Literally, you can taste the sunshine.
- Breakfast all day. Breakfast is served until 4pm seemingly everywhere. I strongly agree with this because breakfast = life.
- Slow pace. Everything is slower in LA. Nobody is in a hurry. I mean, does anyone even work there?
Now without further ado, below are some gastronomical highlights of this trip.
1. Gjelina: Thanks to its laid-back Venice attitude, rustic “farm-to-table” sensibility, and well-received cookbook, Gjelina has gained a cult following in the last couple of years. I was so excited to go that I made Rene drive straight there from the airport while I made a swift outfit change in the backseat (a first in my 26 years of life!). Gjelina’s menu features a ton of vegetable plates and salads that are meant to be shared, and a dozen or so mouth-watering thin crust pizzas. We devoured the slightly charred Housemade Chorizo Pizza, which is topped with tomatoes, cream, thinly shaved fennel and basil. But I must say the best thing we had was the Smoked Trout Salad, made with the best arugula I’ve ever tasted, grapefruit segments, thinly sliced avocado and red onion, and a citrusy vinaigrette. I loved that it was light yet assertive – the perfect “Welcome to California” plate.
2. Madcapra at Grand Central Market: This dressed-up falafel stand inside Grand Central Market (a mecca of international cuisines under one industrial roof) was co-created by Sara Kramer, a Natural Gourmet Institute grad, so I was curious to check it out. They offer four riffs on the classic – traditional chickpea falafel and grilled-to-order pita bread are the foundation of the four options, but the fillings vary from Middle Eastern flavors like harissa, labneh, tahini, tons of fresh herbs and lots of pickled things. I went for the “Green” sandwich, filled with finely chopped cauliflower, pickled fennel (a genius condiment!), labneh, cilantro, mint and crunchy black sesame seeds.
3. Kismet: I was so antsy to go back to Sqirl for Sunday brunch, but as we spotted the around-the-corner queue, we agreed that we were too hungry to do that to ourselves. We decided to drive a few minutes down the road to Kismet, and I’m so glad we did. It’s owned by the same team as Madcapra, so it offers a similar nod to Middle Eastern cooking. The Daytime menu is grouped into Baked, Salad-y and Dishes headings, with the Turkish-Ish Breakfast and Flaky Bread each being their own categories. We started with this baby potato and harissa spring onion tart that arrives piled with a combo of the freshest dill and pea tendrils, which is the official taste of spring as far as I’m concerned.
Next, we shared the young potato salad with fennel and radishes, a rhubarb-poppy seed scone, and, drum-roll please… the flaky bread with a soft-boiled egg, raw tomato sauce, labneh, and housemade zhoug, a traditional condiment of chilies, fresh herbs, dried spices, and lots of raw garlic. Kismet’s specialty flaky bread is a cross between a Chinese scallion pancake and a pan-fried flattened croissant. It’s buttery, crispy, chewy, and the perfect vessel for pretty much anything. Help me locate the recipe and I’ll be your friend forever. *insert desperate face emoji*
4. The bar at Manuela at the Hauser & Wirth gallery space. A midday Lillet Blanc on ice – my ultimate grown-up treat.
5. Petit Trois. This French bistro is the celebrated casual counterpart to Chef Ludo Lefebvre’s Trois Mec. It’s located in a strip mall, basically in a parking lot next to a doughnut shop. It has a small open kitchen, about 12 bar stools, and zero tables. We showed up for a very early dinner were luckily seated without a wait. We ordered “the Sunday poulet special”, a roast chicken similar to what Ludo’s mom used to make every Sunday, as we were told by our server. The perfectly roasted chicken – crunchy skin with juicy, falling-off-the-bone meat – is served simply in its savory jus and garnished with persillade (a parsley-garlic condiment). A chicken like this is the pillar of the ideal Sunday supper of our collective carnivorous dreams.
Somewhere between LA and SF