San Francisco Has a Lot to Learn from Los Angeles
Waaaaa—do we really have to leave LA? We didn’t get to eat sushi or try Umami Burger, or explore the great ethnic eats in the valley. So much interesting food in this town, it's just impossible to even scratch the surface in one week. As we embark on the last leg of our CHOW Tour: Innovation, New York, it's time to take a moment to reflect on what we did see and do. And how it compares to San Francisco.
Best Meal: Chego! Good vibes man Roy Choi, of Kogi taco truck fame, serves up crazy portions in satisfying and creative flavor combinations (melon with chili oil and Parmesan! Chicken with fried egg and sour cream!) for rock-bottom prices.
Worst Meal: Besides the breakfast burrito at LAX this morning? Unfortunately, it was the overwrought, underdone food at Bistro LQ.
Best Desserts: We can't say Chego! again. The Langham Dining Room: lavender panna cotta with passion fruit, chocolate ganache with salty caramel, rum baba that tasted like chewing a piña colada. How can Michael Voltaggio be a chef, pastry chef, and baker all of extreme skill at the same time? Not fair.
Worst Desserts: OK, they weren't bad per se, but the generic Americana berry crumble and butterscotch pudding at Lazy Ox Canteen, a restaurant bursting with ethnic zest, were totally out of place. Not enough money to hire a pastry chef? Don't care?
WTFs and Observations
LA has terrible service. (Notable exception: the Langham.) You're forgotten about for large gaps of time, ignored, drinks forgotten. Kat Odell of Eater LA hypothesizes that this is because most servers are aspiring actors.
LA is more fun. In SF, maybe it's the perma-fog or the proximity to sanctimonious Alice Waters, but people—chefs and diners—are just so damned earnest. And as Vinny Dotolo of Animal observed, LA is, ironically, a city of happy excess. Would the Zen-like Daniel Patterson, of SF’s COI, ever serve something as campy as a miniature flowerpot full of tiny radishes and coffee-cardamom "soil"? And the SF population would probably boycott a restaurant with as much glittery flash as José Andrés's Bazaar before they even gave it a chance. LA to SF: Loosen up.
Ethnic fusion is the new fine dining. In the last two years, according to everyone we talked to, LA's food scene has gone from lame to hot. The big action is not in white tablecloth spots, or in Cal-Italian wood-fired pizza joints (thank God), like in SF, but in mash-ups of immigrant cuisine. Rice bowls, anything you can put Srichacha on or eat inside a tortilla. Take Starry Kitchen, for example with its pan-Asian comfort food, or Mo-Chica, the nouveau Peruvian joint inside a Mexican market, manned by a former sushi chef. Or Street, serving global street food.
Stuff is cheaper down here. A $5 batch of red velvet pancakes from a truck would have easily been $7 back home in San Francisco. Only $2.75 for a gigantic scoop of ice cream from Scoops. Under $150-something for food at Bazaar, where we tried 14 dishes. We know it's expensive to do business in SF, and I’m sure people aren't needlessly overcharging, but nonetheless it was nice to feel less stress on our wallets for a week.
New York, you've got big shoes to fill.